House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was poverty.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply June 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, universities across Canada, including in Quebec, have applauded the federal government's moves in the last number of years to invest in research and innovation. That is what has made a huge difference.

He asked whether we should be bringing in a dedicated education transfer. It is something the government has promised. We have not seen any evidence of it yet or any money allocated to it. I would support a dedicated education transfer, but I would always argue that a dedicated transfer itself is like an empty glass if there is no money in it. Where is the money? If the money goes all to the provinces, that would do nothing to bridge the gap between the rich provinces and the poor provinces. Nova Scotia and other provinces like it would continue to suffer.

We have shown through research and to a limited way in direct student assistance that the federal government has a role to play in assisting Canadian students. Going forward I want to see that federal role continue because Canadian students need the assistance and they deserve the assistance.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have worked with the member in committee. He is usually much better prepared than he is today in suggesting that we have not done anything for students. Really and truly it is not that hard to find out. There is the Canada learning bond, the millennium scholarships, increased education credit, Canada study grants. We have done a number of things for students and they have been targeted at students who need assistance. What we have done on a more macro level in education is to go from the worst in the G-7 to the best in creating jobs for Canadians through innovation and research and reversing the brain drain. It is absolutely wrong to say we have not done anything.

We do have an issue now of accessibility. We addressed it last year. Bill C-48 took a little step, but it was enabling legislation. We followed that up with the economic update which had sweeping investments in students who most needed the help.

I have heard the NDP suggest that it was only a difference of two months. In that two months we would have passed the economic update. We would have helped the aboriginal Canadian students. We would have helped low income students. We would have helped students with disabilities. We would have had a review of the entire student financing. For the sake of two months, with NDP support, Canadians could have enjoyed their Christmas and we could have passed these massive investments for Canadian students and made a huge difference for those who need assistance.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the distinguished member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the gentleman who last night brought forward a great private member's bill that I hope the House adopts.

I welcome this opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague and good friend from Halifax West. For me there is no more important issue in Canada today than this one, the education of all Canadians at all stages of their life, but in particular, educating and preparing young Canadians for the globally competitive world in which we now exist.

The motion speaks to this in a way that has not been addressed by the government in its own narrow five priorities. In fact, it is staggering to me and I think staggering to a lot of Canadian families that education is not considered a priority by the government.

I have spoken on many occasions in the House about the value of investing in education and research and, in particular, investing in young Canadians. It is unfortunate that the recent budget put politics above policy. It seems that it is more important these days on the government side to be seen to be doing something rather than actually making decisions that would impact Canadians in a real and positive way.

The heart of the challenge that faces Canada, which is to increase productivity and to continue a standard of life for Canadians that frankly we have become accustomed to, is going to be, more and more, a challenge in a world that no longer offers a free pass to success.

As Jeffrey Simpson said recently:

The world out there isn't standing still. Only by improving the human skills of the population and making the investment climate more attractive can Canada compete better. By that standard, this [federal] budget is strangely irrelevant.

Other members will speak to the great success that we have achieved as a nation in the areas of research and innovation in the past seven or eight years. In fact, members of the government will no doubt agree with their own budget documents, which state the following on page 36:

--the federal government has increased its support for post-secondary education research, with nearly $11 billion in incremental funding. These investments have assisted Canadian universities in strengthening their research capacity and building a global reputation for excellence, which has helped reverse the “brain drain” and attract leading researchers to Canada. Canada now ranks first in the terms of research and development....

Of course those are not my words. Those are the words of the current government, which quite rightly applauds the work of the previous government on this issue.

In my capacity as chair of the government caucus on post-secondary education and research, I had the opportunity last year to travel Canada. I heard similar stories from coast to coast, stories of universities that were facing difficult times but were saved by these direct federal investments and that in fact have thrived under these investments.

These investments have had a huge impact in a positive way on our universities, a huge impact in a positive way on our nation and a huge impact in a positive way in our regions. For example, ACOA and the Atlantic investment fund have done a great job of building capacity in Atlantic Canada. These investments also have had a great and positive impact in our communities. In my own community last year, Research In Motion, RIM, announced that it would be setting up a plant in Halifax and it credited the ongoing commitment of the federal government to research and innovation as the key reason for its success.

The day after the Conservative budget was released, the Globe and Mail outlined how successful Canada's economy has been in the last number of years and also offered some free advice to the government. It listed the areas that were most important for investment in Canada if our success is to continue. The top two areas it cited were education and the environment.

We all know what the Conservatives have done to the environment agenda by eliminating the Kyoto protocol and going with its made in Canada solution, which is really no solution whatever, but like the government, I am not focusing on the environment. Unlike the government, I will focus on post-secondary education and research.

I want to talk about student access. Providing access is essential.

In a recent op-ed piece, Ian Boyko of the Canadian Federation of Students stated:

--the Government of Canada estimates that 74% of new jobs created this year will require post-secondary education. Sadly, the government today lacks its predecessor's vision for access to education.

I agree with the CFS on a wide range of issues, perhaps not all but most, and I have worked closely over the past couple of years with its leadership. It rightly points out that despite our efforts in the past, and some successes, we remain a nation where it is the case that access to education is still a national problem.

It is certainly a problem in my own province of Nova Scotia, which has the highest tuitions in the country. In the maritime provinces, student debt skyrocketed by 33% in five years. I am not advocating that the federal government has a direct role in setting tuition. To me, that is not the case at all.

However, the federal government does have a role, along with the provinces, in the area of student assistance. We can do this by implementing across the board grants that would bridge the opportunity gap between those who have and those who have not. These direct investments, along with other measures, would assist Canadians most in need.

When it comes to post-secondary education, we are talking about low income Canadians, persons with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians. Last fall I was very proud when the finance minister introduced his economic update, which included massive investments into direct student assistance. It included a number of elements: $1 billion to the provinces and territories for post-secondary innovation; $2.2 billion for student financial assistance, targeted to low income Canadians; and over a half a billion dollars to expand the Canada access grants for low income Canadians to cover all years of an undergraduate education. It included, and to me this is very important, $265 million to assist Canadians with disabilities, as well as $2.5 billion in new funding to sustain Canada's leadership in research.

There were a number of investments. Overall it was a $9 billion package to invest in upgrading Canadian skills and capabilities. I think it was the single biggest plan for post-secondary education and research that has ever been introduced in Parliament.

That federal economic update was a sweeping plan for post-secondary education that built on Bill C-48 of last year, the arrangement between the government and the New Democratic Part that was included in the budget. Bill C-48, as many will recall, included an element of post-secondary education, and said that it was “for supporting training programs and enhancing access to post-secondary education, to benefit, among others, aboriginal Canadians, an amount not exceeding $1.5 billion”.

The fall economic update went way beyond Bill C-48. It would have made a huge difference in the lives of Canadian students. Unfortunately, of course, it is gone, replaced by an election and a new budget that provides little if anything for most students, certainly nothing for students most in need. On the issue of accessibility, there is nothing.

In the finance committee last week when the Minister of Finance appeared, I asked him regarding Bill C-48 what happened to the money, what happened to the $1.5 billion? His first response was that it was not $1.5 billion, but a billion. I said, “No, I have it here, Mr. Minister”. I asked him if the investment in infrastructure, which is really all there is in the budget, was from Bill C-48 and if that equated to student access. His response was that it did. In my view and in the view of most Canadians, infrastructure does not equate to access.

We do need investments in post-secondary infrastructure and research. We have made them and we will continue to make them as a nation, I hope, although the budget of the Conservative government has one-tenth of the money dedicated to research that the economic update had.

We need investments in research and we need investments in infrastructure, but one cannot suggest, based on any evidence that I have seen, that investments in infrastructure equate directly to investment in student access. A tax credit on books and scholarships simply makes no difference to those most in need, many of whom do not make enough to pay income tax anyway.

The evidence shows that federal education tax measures disproportionately favour high income earners and do not do enough to improve access to post-secondary education. The tax credit on books is $80. As for $80 for a student in my home province of Nova Scotia who is paying anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, I would suggest that not only is it not particularly helpful, it is actually insulting.

We have come a huge way in Canada through direct federal investment in our post-secondary institutions. We have reversed the brain drain, built capacity and spurred economic growth. Our challenge now is to ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that Canadians have every opportunity to develop their skills. It will not happen through tinkering with taxes.

We have taken some steps, but now there is a confluence of events with the emerging economies, the productivity crunch, the investments made to date, and the massive surplus. It is time to take action. Direct support to students in need is good for students, but it is very good for Canada as well. I would say that it is absolutely vital. The government is asleep at the switch on this critical issue. It is time to wake up, follow the lead of the Liberal government and invest in our students now.

Petitions June 7th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present another petition to the House from people in my area who are very concerned about the government's plan to kill the national child care program.

The petitioners, among other things, call upon the Prime Minister to honour the early learning and child care agreement in principle and to commit to funding for a full five years.

I thank Pat Hogan for her ongoing work on this front, but more particularly for a lifetime of work in the not for profit child care sector. She has been a real champion. She is very concerned and has done a lot of work to get these signatures.

Petitions June 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to stand again and present more petitions. They are flooding into my office from people concerned about the abandonment of child care in Canada.

Not only do the petitioners not believe in the allowance the government is proposing but they believe it discriminates against the least fortunate in favour of the most fortunate in many circumstances and income categories. They want to express their concern through these petitions in the House today.

Petitions June 5th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure of presenting petitions from people in my community who are opposed to, and maybe even appalled by, the government's plan to kill child care. These constituents are particularly concerned about the unfairness of the child care allowance and say that it disproportionately benefits those who need help the least and hurts working, dual income families. They want to express that concern to the House of Commons.

Government Policies June 1st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, more “harpocracy”:

Number 91, abandoning working parents by scrapping the provincial child care agreements.

Number 92, abandoning working parents with a bogus promise to create child care spaces.

Number 93, abandoning working parents with a broken promise that he will not scale back the Canada child tax benefit to pay for his child care allowance.

Number 94, abandoning working parents by cancelling the young child supplement to pay for his child care allowance.

Number 95, abandoning a commitment to create additional child care spaces by offloading the responsibility to businesses and communities.

Number 96, misleading Canadians about our early learning and child care initiative by claiming we did not create a single space, even though he knows we did.

Number 97, abandoning Saskatchewan preschoolers by forcing their junior kindergarten program to the cutting room floor.

Number 98, abandoning Manitoba's special needs children by leaving them to languish on waiting lists.

Number 99, abandoning innovation in Canada by cutting funds to the granting councils.

And number 100, abandoning Canadian students by cancelling direct investment for post-secondary education.

One hundred days of shame.

Business of Supply May 30th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I think the member and I are coming from largely the same place, but I do appreciate his question. It was our government that took a leadership position in gathering support for the UNESCO convention on cultural diversity. We believe in that. We have always been strong supporters of Canadian content regulations. Last year I personally lobbied against the satellite radio decision. Of course the decision last year was taken by the Minister of Industry, who is now across the floor, but I thought it was the wrong decision. I thought it meant that we would have less Canadian content regulations. I thought that was wrong.

In terms of the CBC, its budget is stabilized. I indicated that there were cuts when times were difficult. We might not have liked that at the time, but now, in an age of booming surpluses, there is no reason whatsoever to cut the CBC. We are firmly committed to it. I believe, as do many Canadians, that it is the national institution that most holds us together as Canadians.

Business of Supply May 30th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this hearkens back to how I opened my comments, which was to say that there is always something that seems more pressing than arts and culture. Hiring 200 police officers is important. We also could compare this to money that goes into health care. We could compare it to the universal child benefit that is going primarily to richer families in Canada. We could compare it to the budget's reduction in taxes that is going to Canadians making over $150,000, which is more than 12 times as much as the reduction going to the lowest income families.

There is always a comparator. My point is that we always neglect arts and culture. We do not put the value on arts and culture that is represented in communities in celebrating the heritage of where we have been, and quite often it reflects where we are going. I honestly believe that we are made up of a lot of different things. Communities are made up of police officers, but communities are also made up of local theatre groups and dance groups.

If the member is going to compare, I would ask why we would have a credit for hockey but not for dance or violin or some other kind of artistic expression. Not all children play hockey. My son plays hockey, but he also plays the piano. I think it would have been a good start if we had treated those equally. Arts and culture and sports are both very important to the community.

Business of Supply May 30th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's motion on a very important topic in Canada.

When I saw that the motion was to be debated it brought back a pleasant memory from the 2004 election campaign, the election in which I was first elected. It was a warm summer evening in June and I was sitting in Mildred Richardson's backyard with a number of people, a number of whom were former Progressive Conservatives who had come together to talk about issues of importance to them.

We talked about a lot of things. I remember most clearly, and it was a pleasant night as it always is in Milly's backyard, Joan Forshner, a great champion of arts and culture in the community, leaning over and quietly making the plea, “Don't forget about arts, culture and heritage. Nobody ever talks about it in Parliament and they should”. She was right. I think about that episode quite frequently.

I was pleased that the first official function I had as a member of Parliament was to welcome Madam Frulla, the minister of heritage in July 2004, to a round table in my community to talk about arts and culture. There were participants from Neptune Theatre, Symphony Nova Scotia and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There were people from the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and people representing the Mi'kmaq community. We talked about the contribution to Canada that is made by the arts and cultural community both economically and socially.

I know there are people who will ask why we are talking about this subject when there are so many other important issues. That may well be a good question, but the simple fact is there is always something more pressing and more urgent that requires more immediate attention than this. That is why arts, culture and heritage, as well as the cultural industries, always get put on the back burner.

I remember being on the board of Neptune Theatre in Halifax about 12 years ago. We were raising money to build a new theatre. The provincial government of the day, wisely led by my father as premier, committed money to the project. I remember somebody asking him, “How could you do that? The economy you inherited from the Conservatives is probably the worst in Canada. Premier Buchanan left you nothing. We need the money for health. How could you put money into Neptune Theatre?”

His answer, and I believe he was right, is that we cannot segregate everything out in life. We are composed of lots of different things. There is a holistic approach in communities, just as there is in individuals. We need health. We need universities. We need economic development. Today we need a better budget than the one that was delivered in the House to work on the productivity of Canada and a more equal distribution of wealth in Canada. But we also need to focus every now and then on arts and culture. I applaud the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this motion forward.

We need to recognize our heritage and understand that studying our heritage will help us make better decisions about the future.

A perfect example of this holistic approach has been taken in my province by the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. Obviously it is an institution where medical professionals are trained. Their training is important. That is what they do.

In the last number of years, under Dr. Jock Murray and Dr. Ron Stewart, a former health minister in Nova Scotia, and through the department of medical humanities, the Dalhousie medical school chorale has been developed. Health professionals who are being trained at Dalhousie have formed a choir of more than 100 students and faculty members. They perform all around Nova Scotia and around the world. The point they are making is they are using arts and culture, in this case music, as a way to complete the training of health professionals. It is the holistic approach to training health professionals.

In the same way, we as a society need to make sure that arts, culture and heritage are recognized and integrated into our communities and into ourselves. It is a mistake to ignore the importance of arts, culture and heritage.

I come from a province, as does the member for Cape Breton—Canso, where arts and culture are very important. People have heard of the Rankin family, the Barra McNeils. Now they hear of Joel Plaskett. They hear of Matt Mays and El Torpedo from Dartmouth, the best rising group in Canada. They also know about the Cheticamp hooked rugs. They know about Maud Lewis, the painter who overcame such incredible hardship. They know about people who celebrated local cultures, created products based on their heritage and rooted in their communities. Nova Scotia even has a premier from the musical industry, an excellent fiddler, but he is not quite as good a premier. In fact, he is fiddling his way through an election campaign as we speak and he cancelled the Nova Scotia Arts Council a few years ago which was a shame. All this shows the importance of arts and culture to Nova Scotia.

I know that every member of the House can point with pride to arts groups, cultural organizations and heritage societies in their own ridings and communities that have helped to build Canada and make Canada what it is today.

In my own community of Dartmouth, the Eastern Front Theatre is a perfect example. It has become to some extent an economic engine of downtown Dartmouth, but more important, it is an expression of what makes Nova Scotia, Dartmouth and Cole Harbour so special. The former member of Parliament from the NDP, Wendy Lill, has had her plays shown and produced there, and rightly so, as she was always a passionate advocate for the importance of arts and culture.

One of the first things I spoke about in the House was the heritage of my community, as many members often do. In fact, as for Dartmouth, I am glad that the member for Kingston and the Islands is not in the chair today, because Dartmouth was in fact the birthplace of hockey. I am also glad the member for Kings—Hants is not here, because it is the only thing he often gets wrong.

The Shubenacadie Canal has an amazing history of commerce in the development of Nova Scotia. People like Bernie Hart, Allan Billard and Jake O`Connor are working to make sure that heritage is preserved. It is worthwhile. It is important work for a community where we had the famous Starr Manufacturing plant, which was a world leader in producing skates. Advocates like Paul Robinson have argued passionately, often in frustration, at the inability of governments to recognize how important art and culture is to a community.

At Alderney Landing this summer, we will be promoting the Dutchie Mason Blues Festival. We have had a large number of great prime ministers in the House, mostly Liberal, but there has been no greater prime minister than the prime minister of the blues, Dutchie Mason.

All members can speak to the importance of arts and culture in their communities, but I think it is pulled together nationally and forms the backbone of Canada. A lot of the artists I mentioned owe their success to Canadian content regulations, which gave them their start and enabled them to grow and develop in their own communities across Canada and now throughout the world.

I remember a few years ago asking somebody about what defines Canada. That is a tough question. What defines our nation? I remember a person saying to me that Peter Gzowski defined our nation. I think a lot of Canadians would say that was true, and maybe it still is true after his passing, but that speaks to the importance of the CBC. It binds us together, not just because it speaks to us, but because it comes from us and because it is important to us as Canadians. It speaks to Canadians and it speaks to Canadian diversity. It recognizes that Quebec is different from B.C. and Nova Scotia is different from Alberta, but there is a common bond, and I believe it is brought to Canadians through the CBC.

The CBC is a public broadcaster and it should stay as such. There have been cuts to the CBC. Our government made cuts and reductions to the CBC in times of difficult economic circumstances, but they have been restored. In a time of huge economic surplus, it would be a shame and a disgrace if the CBC were cut.

Arts and culture speak to Canadians because they come from Canadians, because they represent who we are, where we have been and, most important, where we are going. I am proud here today to stand to support the motion, and I congratulate the member for Ottawa—Vanier, so that for once the House discusses the importance of art and culture and puts it in its rightful place. I hope all members of the House will support this important motion.