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

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would have to say the most striking difference between the Conservative government coming in and when we took power in 1993 were the conditions we inherited. In 1993 we inherited probably the worst economy in the history of Canada. The Conservatives had wracked up the debt from $200 billion to $500 billion. We had $40 billion annual deficits as opposed to right now where we have handed over the most rosy economy in the history of the country.

A little while ago I asked the minister a question in the House about what the government was going to do for students and he turned around and told me all about the wonderful things that Canada was already doing for students. We did those things. I appreciate his support but I know what we have done. However we need to do more for students now. We were going to do it in the economic statement. We have an opportunity now to do even more to build on the great record of prosperity that we left for the Conservative government. It is a wasted opportunity with worse to come.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006 May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the budget, a budget that a lot of Canadians look to as an indication of the type of government that we will receive from the Conservative Party.

Unfortunately, it confirms the concern and worry that many people have about the direction in which our country is heading under the government and, I would say, especially in Atlantic Canada. I say this because Canadians believe we have a responsibility to each other. These cannot just be words. We must demonstrate in real ways our commitment to actions, especially to Canadians who are most in need of a break.

It is a fact that some of our citizens have not reaped the benefits of our collective success as a nation in the past decade or so. That should challenge us to do better. Under previous governments, both Liberal and Progressive Conservative, we have made inroads in social equality and justice.

Today, Canada is a world leader. In fact, the day after the budget the front section of the Globe and Mail had a big banner in the middle which said, “Canada is a World Leader”.

This was not the case some 13 years ago when the consensus was that Canada was an economic basket case. It was clear as a country we could not continue down that path of financial ruin. In the early days of our Liberal mandate in 1993, the new government was confronted with the crippling reality of $40 billion-plus annual deficits and growing debts. It was so dire that one influential American newspaper suggested that Canada was on the brink of financial collapse, in fact, third world status.

Tough decisions had to be made. Those decisions were borne collectively and at times painfully by all Canadians. In retrospect, though, most of those tough policy decisions were right. Today, we have witnessed a tremendous financial dividend off those decisions.

The fiscal decisions of the mid-nineties were made in the national interest. They were decisions that put policy ahead of politics; not easy, but right for the country.

We can compare that to the situation today where politics trumps good public policy. Unlike the Liberals in 1993, the Conservative government took office with the best economy in Canadian history, a vibrant economy with annual surpluses that provide an opportunity to plan for our future prosperity by investing in people and by investing in our social infrastructure.

That is not what government members chose to do, though, with the opportunity presented to them. It could have invested in students, in social programs like child care, in our aboriginal communities or in the environment but it chose not to.

To me, the budget represents a lost opportunity with worse to come. It is a budget that gives too much to the rich at the expense of those who have less. Low and middle income Canadians, as well as students and aboriginals, all of whom were shut out in this era of unprecedented prosperity.

I cannot support a budget that does not invest in real child care and instead, offers a taxable individual benefit that really has not even been targeted to those most in need. The previous government had a plan that would have made a difference in the lives of families across the country and was widely supported by governments of all stripes in Canada. It was a plan that recognized that government has a responsibility to help to provide every child with the opportunity to learn and, for parents who work, we provided an early learning and child care program based on the quad principles which have become so well known in the child care community. A real child care plan involves investing our financial capital in order to enhance our human capital.

The Caledon Institute of social policy indicates, as an example of how wrong this new policy is, that a two earner couple making $30,000 will end up with a net benefit of $199, while a one earner couple making $200,000 will see a net benefit of $1,076. That is unconscionable. It is not in fact a child care plan. It is an allowance that will be disproportionately allocated.

I cannot support a budget that ignores post-secondary education so much and, in particular, students. The budget offer,s as a crowning achievement, an $80 tax reduction on books.

The previous Liberal government invested close to $13 billion in research and innovation in the last decade. We now lead all G-7 countries in per capita investment in university research and these investments have had a huge benefit to our economy, a huge benefit to the development of new technologies and to retaining and attracting top researchers. We have in fact reversed the brain drain.

The issue now is student accessibility. Last November, our government proposed sweeping investments in students in the form of direct assistance. These billions in investments called for extending the Canada access grants from one year to the entire four years of study, targeted toward low income students, those most in need, aboriginal students and persons with disabilities. That economic statement went miles beyond Bill C-48, providing much more for students than Bill C-48 did.

Again, a real plan for students involves investing in our financial capital in order to enhance our human capital.

I also cannot support a budget that makes little mention of the environment. The abandonment goes far beyond Kyoto. It hurts individual Canadians. For example, the EnerGuide program for low income housing was cancelled. This was a $500 million five year program that provided grants to low income Canadians so they could evaluate their houses and make repairs with the goal of conserving energy and reducing their personal energy costs. I do not believe it is fair and I do not believe it is appropriate to cancel that program. Now all of EnerGuide is gone.

What is more galling is that when the government was in opposition it voted for the very legislation that funded EnerGuide for low income families. I think it shameful and it is counterproductive to cancel that.

Again, the day after the budget was presented in this House, the Globe and Mail had a two page spread that broke down the budget. The article argued that in order for Canada to maintain its strong economy there were two key areas of investments: education and the environment. Can anyone guess what was missed out in the budget?

This budget goes in the opposite direction, paying scant attention to education. Its environmental proposals seek to abandon Kyoto while cutting programs like EnerGuide, which is a made in Canada solution and actually works.

Again, it is politics above policy.

Let us have a look at the celebrated GST cut. Jeffrey Simpson, in the Globe and Mail, referred to the Conservative commitment to cut the GST as a $5 billion political bribe. “As politics,” he said, “it's great; as economics, it stinks”.

It was not just him. Herb Grubel, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, a former member of this chamber and a former Reform Party finance critic, said:

Cutting the GST rather than business or personal income taxes may be good politics but it is definitely very bad economics.

Andrew Coyne, in the National Post, no friend of the Liberal Party, said:

A Conservative party that was prepared to blow $8.5-billion a year...on such a transparent electoral bribe, sacrificing every principle of sound taxation and severely limiting the chances of major improvements in Canada's productivity in the bargain, would have announced in very clear terms that it was no longer interested in being a party of principle.

In other countries there is a move to tax consumption because it is the most fair way of taxing. New Zealand, for example, has moved from 10.2% of taxes on general consumption as a percentage of GDP to 25.3% in the last quarter century.

The government talked about broad based tax relief. We see in the brochure that touts this budget that a family making less than $15,000 gets a $96 saving and a family making $100,000 to $150,000, which includes everybody in this chamber, saves $1,228. I do not think MPs deserve 12 times as much of a break as somebody struggling to raise their family on $15,000.

This budget misses the mark in two key areas.

First, it is dumb. It is a dumb budget economically, according to all the economics, and it ignores productivity, which we need, in favour of a GST cut.

Second, I would suggest that it is just plain mean. For decades our federal governments, and I am talking Progressive Conservative as well as Liberal, introduced measures to make Canada more equal, more fair and more just, a society that recognizes success but also recognizes our responsibility to those who are disadvantaged.

This budget represents a turning away from that ethic in favour of measures to help those disproportionately better off. The more one has, the more one spends, the more one gets. Average Canadian families do not become the major beneficiary as they should.

I do not dismiss the appearance of benefits to some families but when we examine it we find that more than ever before these budget measures will do nothing for the poor and little for the middle class.

This financial plan for Canada takes us backwards. The GST cut is dead wrong, according to leading economists; ignoring the need to invest in students is a critical mistake; turning back on the environment is a colossal blunder; and abandoning children is hugely misguided.

In short, this budget offers some sizzle but no steak. It invests in the wrong areas, cuts the wrong taxes, assists many of the wrong people and turns back the clock on real progress for Canadians.

Petitions May 15th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand again and present a petition from people in my riding who are very concerned about the government's plan to kill child care.

The petitioners say, among other things, that 70% of women with children under the age of six are employed. The taxable $100 a month allowance announced as a child benefit, a meagre one at that, will not establish new spaces.

The petitioners call upon the Prime Minister to honour the early learning and child care agreement in principle and to commit to fund it for five years.

I would like to thank Patricia Maynard for her hard work and dedication and commitment to child care in acquiring these signatures.

Business of Supply May 11th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleague a question which I asked somebody else earlier in the debate. It involves EnerGuide and specifically EnerGuide for low income housing.

All Canadians want to do their part to reduce emissions and to reduce pollution. Some simply cannot afford to do so. Because of the rising cost of energy over the last number of years, they have seen the percentage of their income that they spend on energy go sky high. Canadians with the lowest incomes pay the highest price as a percentage of their income.

Last year the whole House supported Bill C-66, I believe it was, the Energy Cost Assistance Measures Act, which extended EnerGuide to houses of the lowest income Canadians, some $500 million over five years.

I know EnerGuide works, as most people do. I used to be in that business. When I worked at Nova Scotia Power, we administered EnerGuide for houses in Nova Scotia. It worked tremendously well. It is a very efficient program. It is a very effective way for people to reduce their consumption. An evaluation is done and then work is recommended, whether it is retrofits, fixing windows, doors or whatever, or improving insulation. The problem was that the lowest income Canadians could not afford those renovations. Under Bill C-66 they could.

It seems particularly mean-spirited to penalize the lowest income Canadians who have started to access this program. We heard at one point in time it was because the administrative costs of the program were 50%. It has been confirmed that is not the case. The figure is something like 13%. The administrative costs that were referred to in fact are the audits themselves, the actual work of the auditor.

Is it not unconscionable to penalize the lowest income Canadians who are trying to do their part to reduce their energy costs and to reduce pollution in Canada?

Business of Supply May 11th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from Halifax West, a fellow Nova Scotian, on his speech.

I want to zone in on one specific part of the discussion, and that is the EnerGuide for houses, especially for lower income families.

There are two things with this budget. The first is the lack of investment in productivity and the environment. The other is just the sheer meanness of the budget. The EnerGuide for houses, specifically for low income families, was cut. Only a few months ago the then opposition, now government, voted for it.

I would like to read something that Judy McMullen, the executive director of Clean Nova Scotia, said this week. She said:

Nova Scotia needs the EnerGuide for Low-Income Houses program. It not only will help the environment by reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, it will ensure the energy security and comfort of the many low-income citizens who need it most.

I am getting reports today from Nova Scotia that there are further cuts coming to EnerGuide tomorrow in the A-base audits, which is even more concerning.

My colleague, being from Nova Scotia, perhaps knows the executive director. He certainly knows the situation and the scenario in Nova Scotia. What are his thoughts about the cuts to this very valuable program, EnerGuide, especially for low income families?

Petitions May 10th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure once again in this Parliament to present a petition from residents of Nova Scotia who are very concerned about the cancellation of the child care program.

I would like to acknowledge Cathleen Hilgenberg-Madgett from Nova Scotia who went out and collected these petitions, following up on her great concern. She suggests that 70% of women with children under the age of six are employed. A taxable $100 a month allowance amounts to a small child benefit. Child care is an everyday necessity. She calls upon the Prime Minister to honour the early learning and child care agreement in principle and to commit to fund it for a full five years. I thank Kathleen and I am pleased to present this petition.

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency May 10th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, ACOA has become a political football in the hands of the Conservative government. The part time minister for ACOA announced a project to provide clean water for the citizens of Canso, but can he give his assurance that the one-third contribution by the town is in fact in place? Or is the glass only two-thirds full for the very deserving people of Canso?

Will he assure the House that if Canso cannot provide its share he has developed some other source of funding to help the municipality? Or is this just another political deal designed to assist his Conservative pals in Nova Scotia in the run-up to this week's expected provincial election call?

May 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate his pride in our accomplishments but just look at the formula. In the economic update in the fall there was $2.2 billion for student financial assistance, $550 million for the Canada access grants, $3.5 billion for workplace based training, $1 billion for infrastructure, $265 million to bring people with disabilities into the workforce, $1.3 billion for settlement and immigration, and we offered a fifty-fifty plan in the election campaign.

The current government offers a tiny tax benefit on scholarships and books. It is $80. In Nova Scotia, tuition is $6,000 to $8,000 a year and students will get $80. That does absolutely nothing for the Canadians who need help the most. Tinkering with the tax system is not how education is improved. We must invest directly in it. This is an abandonment of Canadian students.

May 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the issue of education in Canada. My remarks will deal with a question I recently posed to the minister, a question to which she was unable to respond, leaving it to the finance minister and then the intergovernmental affairs minister.

Other than a recitation of Liberal accomplishments, of which I was already familiar, there was no answer provided on this hugely important issue. Why is education important? Well, it is. Early learning, child care, pre-k to grade 12, university, community college and upgrading of skills throughout life are critically important.

From an economic perspective, Canada's labour market faces a significant shortage of skilled workers. In an increasingly competitive global economy, these shortages will have a serious impact on our economy. Countries across the globe, certainly the emerging giants, China, India and Brazil, are investing heavily in research and in their universities and colleges. There is a growing recognition that maintaining our continued success in Canada will depend on our ability to compete in the global knowledge economy.

The previous Liberal government invested close to $13 billion in research and innovation over the last decade, information that the government boasts about in its budget documents. Canada now leads all G-7 countries in per capita investment in university research. These investments have had a huge benefit to our economy, to the development of new technologies and to retaining and attracting top researchers. We have reversed the brain drain.

As chair of the Liberal caucus on post-secondary education and research, I had the opportunity to travel the country and meet with students, professors, researchers and university and community college presidents. The entire sector acknowledges the hugely valuable contribution of the government. They also understand that we cannot let up. We need to continue to invest our financial capital in order to enhance our human capital.

Last week the Globe and Mail referred to the Canadian economy as a “world beater”. It then suggested that the two priorities to keep it that way were education and an investment in the environment. However, the recent Speech from the Throne did not even mention the word education and the recent budget paid little attention to real issues of education and the environment. it was a huge opportunity wasted, especially after the dramatic action introduced in our economic update and the record-breaking economy that the government inherited.

Last spring the government of the day, in consultation with the NDP, introduced Bill C-48. The bill would have provided $1.5 billion in new investments for post-secondary education but it was only enabling legislation outlining parameters in which moneys could be spent. It did not outline details. That came in the fall economic update which addressed students, particularly low income families, aboriginals and persons with disabilities. It contained billions of dollars for those most in need.

The economic statement went well beyond Bill C-48, putting much more investment in students, among other significant investments such as 10 times more in research than we saw in last week's budget.

However, much was lost when the NDP sacrificed principle at the altar of political opportunism. Sensing electoral gains, it helped defeat the government. The immediate impact was the cancellation of the provisions outlined in the economic update jeopardizing the spirit of Bill C-48 and the investments outlined.

In response last week to my question on post-secondary education, the current government did not offer a plan as to what it would do for education. Instead, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs said:

--the Government of Canada currently provides significant financial support for post-secondary education and training. The Canada social transfer provides $16 billion.... In addition, our government currently provides $5 billion in direct support for students....

Those are the words of the minister in the government. I knew what the previous government did and I share the minister's view that it is impressive.

What will the government do to build on that record, especially for students most in need?

The Budget May 9th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments with great interest and I appreciate them.

She mentioned the investment in post-secondary education and the tax cuts for books, scholarships and things like that.

In the economic update, which was introduced in the House in November, there were the following commitments: $2.2 billion for student financial assistance for low income Canadians; $550 million to extend the Canada access grants for low income Canadians; $3.5 billion for workplace based training; $1 billion for infrastructure; $265 million to specifically bring people with disabilities into the workforce; $1.3 billion for settlement and integration; and $2 billion-plus dollars for university research, 10 times as much as was in the budget.

We have already reversed the brain drain in our country and we have brought researchers back here in the last number of years, and that is mentioned in the budget document. The most important part of that for me is the issue of student access. There are hundreds of thousands of students across Canada who cannot afford university. Nova Scotia's tuition is $6,000 to $8,000. Does the hon. member really think $80 will help those students?