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

Criminal Code February 17th, 1998

Madam Speaker, the funding crisis affecting our colleges and universities threatens more and more young Canadians every day. Tuition fees are rising and federal funding is shrinking. The post-secondary education institutions of this country are increasingly becoming establishments for the rich and privileged.

The impact of federal cuts to post-secondary education are quite clear. Reductions in federal transfers of over $2.29 billion since 1993 have driven up tuition fees by 240% in the last 10 years.

Average student debt is now $25,000. In 1980 Stats Canada reported that tuition fees comprised 13% of university general operating income. Tuition fees paid in 1995-96 accounted for an average of almost 30% of general operating income and as high as 40% for universities in Nova Scotia.

Access to post-secondary education is being severely compromised and there is no getting away from the fact that the Liberal government is largely responsible.

It is shocking to hear the pious concern expressed by the Liberal government while more and more students are graduating into poverty. The recent national day of action organized by the Canadian Federation of Students was a clear demonstration of how students really feel about the hypocrisy and the cutbacks.

In a 1997 survey of high school students in the maritimes, 40% of students not going to university said they were not going because they could not afford it.

Young people are told how important it is to have a post-secondary education but then they get hammered with huge costs and debt. According to the CFS increases in tuition fees are now one of the major causes of inflation. What is the government's response? We have the announced millennium fund. What a convenient name but it does not help students who desperately needed assistance yesterday. They cannot wait for the year 2000 to suit the Prime Minister's political timetable.

We in the NDP believe that urgent changes are needed now to deal with the crisis of post-secondary education funding. Student aid must be grounded in the following principles. Accessibility must be a new national standard in higher education. Principles of accessibility and affordability must guide any reforms. Student aid must be based on need rather than on merit. A national system for grants for post-secondary education must be a priority with a tuition freeze.

Will the Liberal government admit that the millennium fund is a misguided political exercise? We do not need yet another scholarship program. Students need a national grants program now based on financial need.

I challenge the federal government again to follow B.C.'s lead and institute a national tuition freeze. It can be done if there is political leadership and commitment to make post-secondary education affordable and accessible. Students deserve nothing less. Student debt must be reduced and tuition fees frozen, combined with a national grants program. Does the government have the guts to really stand up for young people and advance the principle that post-secondary education is a right, not a privilege to only those who can afford it?

Housing February 13th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, recently in my riding of Vancouver East a Liberal cabinet minister came to undertake a public relations job to try to convince us, by announcing an extension of the RRAP program, that the Liberal government cares about housing in this country.

The announcement was a huge disappointment in the lowest income community in Canada and in other urban and small communities which are suffering desperately from the lack of affordable safe housing.

The extension of the RRAP program does not make up for the abandonment of the national housing program, our social housing in Canada, by the Liberal government in 1993. In B.C. alone we have lost 8,000 units since 1993 because of abandonment by the Liberal government.

People in my riding of Vancouver East, in the downtown east side and in other communities across Canada are demanding that the federal government renew its commitment and provide financial responsibility to ensure there is a housing program in Canada.

Supply February 13th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his comments. We in the NDP agree with the comments that have been made. The evidence before us in the House concerning the growing disparity particularly for families and for working people is something we should be ashamed of.

The hon. member mentioned the need for child care. I am sure we would agree that this is a priority which has been completely lost in the government's agenda. I remember well the promises that were made to women and families of this country, that the need for a national child care program was a key ingredient in ensuring that women could become part of the workforce and in ensuring that families were able to cope in today's society. This has been completely abandoned by the federal government.

Supply February 13th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. Frankly I am very surprised to hear that the Reform Party agrees that cutting transfers was a huge mistake and it has had a very negative impact on Canadians right across the country.

What we have heard from the Reform Party time and time again is that it also takes a slash and burn approach. When the member offers up Ontario and Alberta as examples of what should be done, my goodness, is there any other evidence that we need to understand the direction the Reform Party wants to drive us in in terms of throwing everybody into unemployment or into low wage jobs.

In response to the question as to what are the solutions, I would suggest the Reform Party might join the NDP in having the courage to stand up and say that to have banks which make profits of $7.5 billion is obscene, that there is wealth in this country and the solution is in how that wealth is distributed. If we could harness that wealth and make sure it is reinvested and redirected to help ordinary Canadians, then we would be a lot better off.

The response to the question is that we need to have fair taxation. The Reform Party promotes an agenda and a program of unfair taxation by basically letting off profitable businesses and saying that somehow this will not create jobs. The reality is that what this country needs is a program of fair taxation whereby businesses and corporations pay their fair share of the need to support a public infrastructure which is something that benefits all of us whether we are rich or poor.

Supply February 13th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, the NDP opposition motion before us today is an important one because it comes just before the introduction of the budget. It gives us an opportunity to take stock of the reality facing most Canadians.

There is more than enough evidence to show why the government should be condemned for promoting an economy where the gap between the rich and ordinary Canadians is widening. As my colleague, the hon. member for Qu'Appelle, has so eloquently pointed out, there is enormous statistical information and evidence in our local communities about what the impact of Liberal government policies has been in every part of the country.

The reality is that between 1973 and 1993 the richest 30% of Canadian families saw their share of the nation's income increase by 5.4%, while the poorest 50% saw their share drop by 9%. This represented a $14 billion transfer from low and middle income Canadians to high income Canadians. We have information and evidence to show that over the last decade there has been an enormous growing disparity, something that Conservative and Liberal governments have abysmally failed to deal with.

We hear a lot of rhetoric in the House about the growing concern for children living in poverty. We have to understand that because of the policies of the government we have seen an increase in the number of poor families in Canada. Most of us would find it shocking to know that in this wealthy country we now have five million Canadians who live below the poverty line. Recent statistics from the Canadian Association of Food Banks show that the number of Canadians who depend on food banks is now something like 2.5 million people.

At our last caucus meeting we had a delegation from the Canadian Association of Food Banks that rightly told us its mandate was to see that food banks were eliminated. The main issue in terms of what causes the need for food banks is income inequality, the lack of income for poor people, the working poor and the unemployed. That has to be addressed in the upcoming budget.

The reality is that in Canada there are now half or more children living in poverty. In a country such as Canada that has tremendous wealth and resources this is something we simply cannot tolerate.

We have to ask what are the reasons for this growing inequality. It was very interesting to read a recent Angus Reid poll in the Globe and Mail which showed that 69% of Canadians felt that the federal government was deliberating pursuing economic policies that were widening the gap between rich and poor Canadians. This growing understanding within local communities and within Canadian society as a whole has been completely ignored by the Liberal government.

The Minister of Finance and other members of government continue to say that they are the defenders of social programs, young people, seniors or the unemployed. The real evidence is in the changes to our employment insurance program. The report tabled yesterday in the House demonstrates in a very tragic way that 37% of people who contributed to EI are now eligible for it, whereas a few years ago it used to be 87%.

We have seen a situation where the cuts in the Canada health and social transfer have had a devastating impact on our health care and education programs. More than that, we have seen debate take place about the multilateral agreement on investment. There is a seriousness about that debate. Canadians understand the Liberal government is pursuing with an aggressiveness we have never seen before a race to the bottom or a race for globalization, which means there will be a transfer of power to vary powerful corporations and a growing income disparity within our country and in global terms.

The hon. member who spoke before me addressed the very serious situation of the last few weeks with the merger of banks or the proposal to merge two of Canada's major banks. It was a real test to see whether or not the Liberal government was willing to stand up for the people of Canada and to say that the merger was not in the best interest of any Canadian, that it was not in the public interest.

Instead we saw a response that was ambiguous, that was waffling, and that called for review and study. We want to see leadership such as we have seen from the New Democratic Party. The government should state clearly that the merger of these banks will fail the Canadian people and will increase the growing inequality in our country.

I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about some of the local impacts of the policies of the government and why its economic policies should be condemned by relating them back to my own riding. My riding of Vancouver East includes the lowest income neighbourhood in Canada, the downtown east side. Every day I meet constituents who come to me with their issues and concerns.

I am reminded of Frank who came in to see me and told me that his income was $770 a month. Of that he is paying $540 a month in rent. That is an issue of being one step away from homelessness. That is an issue of stark reality in my riding. It is not just my riding. It is right across the country.

There is also a man I meet on the street from time to time whose name is Gary. He lives in a cardboard box. He is homeless. He wishes the federal government had not abandoned the social housing program, our national program for housing, in 1993.

In my riding of Vancouver East every day I meet people who are living in what is called single occupant rooms in incredibly substandard housing that in any middle income or middle class community would not be tolerated. Yet the reason people are living in this kind of housing is that the federal government abandoned its social responsibility and its fiscal responsibility to provide a social safety net to make sure that no person goes hungry or homeless.

That is the real evidence of what I see in my riding of Vancouver East in an urban community as a direct impact and result of Liberal government policies.

I have also met many students at Carleton University, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University who have told me about their rising debt load. They are now carrying debts of $25,000, $30,000 and $40,000 as a direct result of the massive cutbacks to post-secondary education by the Liberal government of $2.29 billion since 1993.

Being a new member of the House and listening to the debate, I have heard many times members of the Liberal government talk about their professed concern for young people and the future. Young people are sick to death of waiting. They are fed up with the rhetoric. Their debts are climbing. Their inaccessibility to post-secondary education is growing. They understand clearly it is as a result of Liberal policies that have eroded our public education system.

A few months ago the NDP held a number of round table discussions across the country. One of them was on youth unemployment. Again the message was the same. Young people were saying they were fed up with government programs that provide a few months of training or a job opportunity and then there is nothing.

In speaking to the motion today as to why we should condemn the government for its policies, we want to say roundly and strongly that its policies have had a devastating impact on low income people, on poor people and on the middle class.

We have an opportunity today and in coming days to reorder the priorities and say that we are willing to set targets to reduce unemployment. We are willing to set targets to reduce poverty. We are willing to ensure there is a national child care program. We are willing to say there is a national housing program. As has been demonstrated by the alternative federal budget, these things are affordable to us if we have the guts, the courage and the leadership to say they are our priorities.

That is why we are condemning this government for the policies it has enacted.

Child Poverty February 10th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, the alternative federal budget also shows that the $1.9 billion needed to fight child poverty can be found. The Minister of Finance said in December and even today that child poverty is a priority. But it appears that the government is backing down and will recycle yet again last year's $850 million.

What hope is there for kids when the government's commitment is nothing more than headlines and recycled announcements? What new funds are being committed for the national child benefit?

Petitions February 10th, 1998

The third petition, Mr. Speaker, concerns the multilateral agreement on investment. It calls on Parliament to reject the current framework of MAI negotiations and instructs the government to seek an entirely different agreement by which the world might achieve a rules based global trading regime that protects workers, the environment and the ability of governments to act in the public interest.

Petitions February 10th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by citizens who are calling upon Parliament to rescind Bill C-2 which imposes massive CPP premium hikes while reducing benefits and changes the CPP financial arrangements to provide a payout to the Bay Street brokers and bankers.

The petition also further calls on the House to institute a national review for a retirement income system in Canada.

Petitions February 10th, 1998

Mr. Speaker, I would like to present three petitions to the House today.

The first one concerns the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is signed by citizens who are calling on Parliament to support the immediate initiation and conclusion by the year 2000 of an international convention which will set out a binding timetable for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Middle East February 9th, 1998

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate because it is a very important one.

The motion before us is whether or not we accept the invitation of the U.S. government to participate in possible military actions in the Middle East. The question that each and every one of us in the House has to ask ourselves is whether or not the proposed military action will actually solve the problem we are facing in Iraq and the Middle East and whether or not it will get us any further ahead.

We heard earlier today in the debate from our leader, the member for Halifax and from the member for Palliser that the NDP's point of view is a resounding no in this invitation. We say no because we understand and see what the legacy has been in our previous military conflicts in the area. The military action that has happened in the past has led to untold civilian deaths. We are also very concerned about the environmental implications of blowing up facilities and sites that contain deadly biochemicals, biological and chemical weapons.

Today the largest peace organization, the Canadian Peace Alliance, in a press release urged parliamentarians in the House to turn down the invitation and the pressure from the United States to become involved in military action. It knows, as growing numbers of Canadians know, that to rush into this kind of military madness means we are not placing enough energy, work and emphasis on what can be very significant diplomatic processes which by any means have not been exhausted. If one looks at a history of the gulf war and the gulf situation, Canada unfortunately has been part of an international process. We have actually broken our commitment since the 1991 gulf war to promote a regional peace process.

If the experience of the gulf war tells us anything, it is that a tragic legacy was left with 600,000 children dead. Some 1.2 million civilians have died from malnutrition and another 4 million people are at risk. They are severely malnourished because of the sanctions.

The Geneva conventions prohibit the destruction of vital systems for civilian populations. In the gulf war we saw that 84% of the infrastructure, like generating plants, water systems and sewage systems, were destroyed. These are the basic necessities of human life and survival. This is the real legacy of the military conflict in Iraq and in the Middle East.

We have to ask the question in the House why the Canadian government is even thinking of taking us down this path again. Listening to the debate today we are appalled to hear the position of the Reform Party. It basically comes out with a statement that says to kill people, to engage in military conflict, is all right if it means that somehow we will resolve this conflict. We reject the approach being put forward by the Reform Party.

We have to ask ourselves why it is the U.S. government is pushing a unilateral military solution. Is it to divert attention from domestic affairs, or is it really part of what has been a mounting campaign to assert U.S. control and military supremacy egged on by the arms dealers and the profiteers from civilian deaths? We too have a responsibility for the current crisis because we in Canada, our Canadian government, allows more than $1 billion worth of military exports to this area of conflict.

We have to say that military actions only serve themselves. They do not solve the problems before us and will only lead to further conflict. Therefore we must reject the invitation from Mr. Clinton. Canadians must stand firm and push the American government to back away from the brink of yet another gulf war.

We must do that by actively supporting the United Nations and multilateral efforts to develop workable diplomatic solutions. We must work to involve other countries, not just the United States, in the inspection process and to end American dominance in the process.

Canada has the credibility and the record to accomplish this kind of objective. We have seen that with the work that was done on land mines. We have seen that we have the credibility to seek an alternate path rather than military conflict.

In coming here tonight to this debate I was remembering back to the gulf war. During that war young people set up a peace tent outside Vancouver City Hall because they were distressed by what they saw as growing military escalation they had no part of and the leaders of the country were taking us into.

The question today is what do we teach our kids? Are we as Canadians willing to truly and genuinely work for global disarmament and global security, or will we sit by and participate with the American government in this growing escalation and conflict? The horror of the war is borne by those who survive the death of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes and communities.

The dictator this is meant to be about—and let us not forget it—retains power and grows even stronger. We need aggressive diplomacy. We need tough negotiations, for example, to encourage Iraq to come forward with compliance by agreeing to a timetable to end economic sanctions. We should be part of a middle power effort to bring about diplomatic solutions.

I have a question for the prime minister. Does the government have the guts and the courage to work for a peaceful solution? Does it seek to work for global disarmament? Will the Government of Canada rush to the slippery slope of human destruction based on military might?

We in the NDP implore the government to stop, to count to 10 and stop this madness of impending war. Canada will not be better off. The people of Iraq will not be better off. Nor will global security be better off. That is why the motion and the invitation have to be rejected.