House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was rail.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for York South—Weston (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act May 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to what I view as not just a bad bill, but a dangerous bill. The bill talks about common sense and when we put “common sense” and “firearms” in the same sentence, one has to wonder whether this is really just a political bill and not actually something to make us safer.

I wish I had a nickel for every time a member opposite said, “This is our top priority”. No matter what we are talking about, whether it is the environment, public safety, rail safety, drug safety or food safety, everything seems to be the Conservatives' top priority, yet the evidence is that everything has suffered budget cuts under the government. In order to provide Canadians with tax cuts, it has had to cut public services and make Canadians less safe. That is something the New Democrats do not support. In a few months' time, the NDP leader and the party, with their experience and plan, will be able to replace this tired government and actually fix the damage it has done, including the damage this bill would do to the safety regime of Canadians.

The bill should be titled “relaxing guns laws in Canada”, because that is really what it does. It would not make some common sense amendments or find some way to make more sense. It is designed to relax guns laws, and that caters to a particular lobby that the Conservatives like to cater to and have done so since they took office in 2006. They have done a number of things over the years to make it less safe for Canadians.

Bill C-42 would make it easier to transport guns. Canada has specific and very strict rules about how to transport firearms. We do not want to become like the people in the U.S., where the transportation of guns is allowed openly and without any restrictions whatsoever, in most cases. This bill would allow people much more freedom to transport their firearms without having to first know where they are going. The police will have very little way of knowing what is going on when people are transporting their guns.

In addition, and perhaps more tellingly, it would give the cabinet and the minister the power to change the definition of what is and what is not a restricted weapon. I think this in knee-jerk reaction to a decision that was taken by others than the Conservatives that they did not like. Bill C-42 would give the cabinet authority to override firearms classification definitions in section 84 of the code by the way of regulations carving out exceptions. By regulation, cabinet could deem firearms that would otherwise by captured by the definitions of prohibited and restricted firearms to be non-restricted firearms. Similarly, cabinet could deem firearms that would otherwise be prohibited firearms to be restricted firearms. It would basically transfer authority over definitions and classifications to cabinet, rather than putting the emphasis on public safety.

As we all too poignantly recall from the disaster at École Polytechnique, the classification system in our country allows very dangerous weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens and when those ordinary citizens are not stable, disaster can result. It would also limit provincial powers to attach conditions of licence. Why are we touching provincial jurisdiction? The government claims to want to leave everything to the provinces to decide, but as much as it can, it will get out of housing or public transit and just give money to the provinces and tell them to do whatever they want. Yet here, it would actually remove the right of the provinces to attach conditions of licence, which is not a good thing. It is not more safe.

Finally, it would grant a grace period to persons whose licences expire. Every year I get a notice from the Ontario provincial government that says my car licence is going to expire and I had better renew it. Every five years I get a notice from the provincial government saying that my driver's licence is going to expire and I had better renew it.

If the same thing were to happen with firearms licences, there would be no excuses. Is this because the government does not want to bother finding people? Is it because the Conservatives do not want to bother reminding people, because it is something that, maybe, needs a bit of a reminder. To actually grant an exemption or a grace period is dangerous, according to some witnesses.

We in the NDP put public safety first. That is very clear in all of our positions and our comments on the various budget decisions that the government has made and in all of our positions on issues like food safety. The Conservatives were in power when the listeriosis outbreak took place. Public safety was put at risk to the point where people lost their lives. This is something that we should not and cannot accept. To cut the budget of the department that is responsible for keeping people safe, such as the food safety department, is an unconscionable act of neglecting the public safety that we on this side of the House are so determined to protect.

There was the E. coli outbreak. As far as we know, no one died. People did get sick, and our reputation with the U.S. was seriously harmed. At the same time, it was the budget cuts to the health and safety of Canadians and to the safety of the system that caused public safety to be put at risk.

Rail safety is another point where the Conservative government has actually lowered the safety standards to the point where 47people in Lac-Mégantic lost their lives in July, 2013, and the centre of an entire town was decimated. The government said that it had better fix things, but since that time, there have been several other major train derailments that have taken place in other parts of the country. Only by good fortune and luck did the government escape yet another massive disaster. What do we know about the reaction of the government? We know there is one new inspector out of the hundreds of inspectors. There is no determination by the government to make our rail system safer.

In keeping with the notion of gun safety, we have learned that the RCMP is sometimes ill-equipped with its own firearms to go up against the firearms that are available to other Canadians. Some of them lost their lives as a result, and that is shameful. We know the government has cut the budget for the RCMP to the point where it has to abandon good programs in order to focus on the programs that the government says are the priority. We cannot keep juggling without running the risk of leaving some people unprotected, and that is exactly what happens.

In my riding of York South—Weston, none of what is going on in Bill C-42 would actually make anybody any safer. In fact, the problem in my riding is the preponderance of handguns, particularly among young people. When I go to a grade 10 class and ask the students how many of them own an illegal handgun or know someone who owns an illegal handgun, half of the hands go up. That is absolutely astounding, and it has been not just once, not just twice, but on several occasions that I get the same result. It means that among the residents of my riding, there are illegal handguns in the hands of young people.

This is happening because the government has cut the CBSA. It has reduced the number of inspections that go on at the border. As we discovered this week, CBSA officers do not even have access to proper information to stop criminals from re-entering Canada and stop people who have no business coming into Canada from entering.

The NDP believes that public safety is one of the most important things a federal government should be in charge of and should ensure. For the Conservative federal government to abandon public safety at every turn is absolutely wrong, and we will not stand for it. This bill would do nothing to make people safer. It would make them less safe. As a result, we will be opposing this bill.

Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act May 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the answer to my question just a moment ago, about whether this bill would make us any safer.

In fact, as I read the bill, the bill would do a number of things that would lessen gun safety. It would make it easier to transport guns in a manner that is not known to the police. It would make it easier for cabinet to unilaterally decide to change the definitions of firearms, for the cabinet, against the wishes of the various authorities put in place to decide what firearms should be restricted, to make those restrictions null and void.

In addition, the bill would appear to give an ability for persons to have a six-month grace period to fulfill their licence requirements. Nowhere in Canada can I think of a place where someone has a grace period on a licence requirement, particularly on something as important as the ownership of a firearm. Right now, if I want to drive my car without a licence, I am in violation of the law. There is no grace period for driving my car without a licence or for not licensing my car.

Would the member like to comment on that?

Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act May 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's speech earlier. Given the history the current government has had of not protecting the safety of Canadians in almost every endeavour where the federal government is supposed to protect the safety of Canadians, and given also that this bill, in our opinion, does not actually do anything to protect the safety of Canadians, is it the position of the member and the NDP that this bill is actually making safety worse in Canada?

Infrastructure May 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Conservative mismanagement has also made a mess of the Canada 150 community infrastructure program. Ontario is warning that the program rollout has been so rushed, and the funding allocation so politically motivated, that the provinces will not be able to participate in the program or match funds. The $150 million fund was announced on May 15, and the deadline for projects is June 9, three weeks. That is ridiculous. Why are Conservatives playing politics with the infrastructure funding that our communities so badly need?

Petitions May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I too have a petition calling on the government to extend a 0% GST rate to menstrual hygiene products.

We note that the government has agreed, by voting with the NDP, on the elimination of the GST. We are in the middle of a budget debate, and we could very easily, successfully, reduce the GST on feminine hygiene products to 0% in this round of Parliament.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments. However, one of the things he talked about was this notion that somehow Bakken crude can be delivered in pipelines. It cannot, without the Reid vapour pressure of the materials being reduced significantly, which is an expensive process. They do not reduce the Reid vapour pressures unless they have to transport it in a pipeline because it is a big expense.

That is what I was referring to; it was Bakken crude. Bakken crude by itself has too high a Reid vapour pressure to be transported by any of the reputable pipeline companies, which is one of the reasons it is transported in rail cars.

That being said, the rail car system in this country is currently not safe enough for the transportation of these kinds of dangerous goods. The Reid vapour pressure and other parts of that Bakken crude are explosive, and the containers it is being shipped in are subject to being ruptured in even the smallest of collisions at slowest speeds. That is what we are hoping the current government will take some steps on, and to date it has not.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech from my colleague opposite. One of the things he talked about was the lowering of speeds for key trains, or trains carrying dangerous goods.

It has come to our attention that recently a number of disasters have taken place using even the newest models of railcars, and they have taken place at speeds significantly lower than the speed limit the minister has imposed. Does the member believe that the speeds the minister set are in fact safe for people in urban areas?

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Of course, Mr. Speaker, it was the Liberal government that brought in the Railway Safety Act, which in fact took away the responsibility of direct oversight from the federal government and turned it over to the railroads themselves.

However, in terms of pipelines, it is my clear understanding that crude oil has too much gas in it to be transported in any pipeline. It cannot be transported in a pipeline and has to be transported by rail. The maximum pressure that is allowed inside a pipeline to prevent a pipeline from bursting is 19.7 kilopascals, and this stuff generates greater pressure than that. As a result, the only option, without pre-treating all of the oil at great expense to the oil companies, is to transport it by rail.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, he is completely right. The bill is quite light on the whole issue of safety. It gives the minister a few more powers, but those powers require knowledge in the minister's hands. Clearly, Transport Canada is not doing the inspections necessary to determine whether the railroads are keeping the lines safe.

This bill is in fact a gift to the major railroads, CN and CP, which were carrying over $1 billion worth of insurance. They now only have to carry $1 billion, so they have had their insurance costs reduced, and above $1 billion they are not liable. They cannot be liable unless they acted in a way that was deliberately in contravention of safety regulations. It is only if they were deliberate about it.

Therefore, it is essentially a gift to the big railroads. It would fill in a gap for the smaller railroads that now have to carry more than $25 million of insurance, and it would provide for a fund. However, the fund will take 15 years to fill up, and even then we do not know if it will be enough.

The bill does not contain a whole lot to make us feel safer in this town of ours.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.

I note that the bill would adopt one of the things that the NDP has been calling for, which is the polluter pay principle, so that at any time there is damage to our environment caused by industry, or in this case by railroads and industry, there would be recognition on the part of governments everywhere that the polluter should be responsible for the cleanup and pay for the cost of the cleanup. The bill before us goes a small way toward ensuring that would take place.

Of course, we know the history of where the bill originated, and we have been talking about rail safety since the disaster at Lac-Mégantic. This was a tragedy that killed 47 people, wrecked the town and cost half a billion in cleanup. However, the rail system, as we have it now in Canada, has not been sufficient to protect towns, villages and cities along the way, and the people who reside in them, from the consequences of the enormous increase in the transportation of dangerous goods by rail.

Up until 2009, there were maybe 500 railcars transporting dangerous oil by rail. Since that time, the level of this material has gone up by something like 400-fold, so that we are now seeing 200,000 barrels a day travelling through our communities.

Originally, people thought those barrels of oil were fairly benign. Crude oil is a heavy, massive weight substance that does not catch fire very easily. However, little did we know, with the advent of fracking and diluted bitumen, we now have transportation of goods that are explosive, not just flammable. As a result, we are now transporting what people have referred to as “bomb trains” through our cities and countryside, and throughout the entire country.

The notion of bomb trains is not lost on the people of Canada, and when it happens, we need to have a regimen that actually keeps them safe. It is one thing to suggest, as some on the opposite side have suggested, that if we do not put it in trains, we could put it in pipelines and that we cannot have it both ways: we cannot be opposed to transporting it via pipelines and trains. However, in fact, this material is so dangerous, it is not allowed to be in pipelines. It has too much gas in it, which provides too much pressure. Therefore, the only way it can be transported is by truck and by train.

It is up to the Government of Canada to ensure that, if this is how we are going to transport our natural resources, the transportation is done in a way that is safe and in a way that protects the citizens of the country.

In my riding of York South—Weston, there are three separate rail corridors. Two are on the edges of the riding and one goes right through the centre of the riding. The one that goes through the centre and the one at the bottom edge are both CP main lines. Those corridors carry tremendous quantities of this crude oil in these big black tanker cars, which everybody learned the name of after Lac-Mégantic: DOT-111s.

The minister, shortly after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, announced new emergency directives where the rail companies were not allowed to have single-person crews, have these trains unattended or transport dangerous goods without having two people on the crew. She also announced that they would be eliminating the use of the DOT-111s within three years.

In what universe does that make us safer? For three years then we have to live with the reality that these bomb trains are going past communities, including my community of York South—Weston. Therefore, these bomb trains are still a feature of the urban landscape and something we have to be extremely vigilant about, and I do not believe that the current Conservative government has been vigilant enough.

The bill would do two things.

It would create a regimen whereby the rail company shares the liability with the shippers in terms of dangerous goods. Ultimately, the rail companies would theoretically be responsible for the entire cost in conjunction with the shippers. However, in regards to the cost at Lac-Mégantic, the government has made it very clear that the Province of Quebec will continue to be on the hook for that cleanup, because there was not enough insurance in the system before Lac-Mégantic took place. MMA, the railroad that was involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster, had $25 million of insurance which was quickly exhausted, and the governments then took up the rest of it, not shippers and not the rest of the railroads.

In terms of the dangers of these rail cars going past our communities, there have been some good moves by the government, but there clearly is not enough. Since Lac-Mégantic, there have been at least seven other massive explosions and collisions of these bomb trains in Canada and the United States. There has been Aliceville, Alabama; Casselton, North Dakota; New Brunswick; West Virginia; Saskatchewan; Gogama; and, more recently, Heimdal, North Dakota.

In some of those occurrences, the cars were not DOT-111s. They were the newer cars, the CPC-1232s. Apparently those newer cars, when they break in a collision, blow up just like the DOT-111s. That is what has been happening all across North America.

What is the solution? The minister has said we are going to replace these with the DOT-117 cars, in 10 years. We have now gone from a 3-year window, which is quickly running down, to a 10-year window before our communities will start to feel safe. We do not even know what is safe about these new DOT-117 cars.

The minister has also lowered the speeds through urban centres to 40 miles an hour, or about 62 kilometres an hour. All of the collisions in recent memory, including one of the two at Gogama, have been at speeds that were less than the speed the minister says is safe in urban areas. How is that to make us feel safe? It does not. The residents of York South—Weston do not feel safe and are demanding that the government do something more.

The government did ask the railroads last year to provide them with route analyses and risk assessments. The route analyses are because we are aware that in the United States, governments there have directed railroads to steer clear of major urban centres like Washington, D.C. They are not allowed to travel through that community.

However, here in Canada, the railroads were given the option to come up with a route analysis and decide for themselves whether it is too risky to go through towns. We asked to see those risk assessments that were done by the railroads for the ministry. Transport Canada said that they were the private property of the railroads. We asked the railroads to give us a copy of the risk assessment, and the railroad said that Transport Canada was free to give us a copy. Then the minister came to the committee and said that they are not. We are still no clearer.

I was at a meeting last week of emergency services on rail safety in the city of Toronto, called because the city has determined it would like to know what Toronto emergency services need. Toronto emergency services confirmed that they do not know what the railroads' risk assessments are. They do not know how risky it is, and where the hot spots are likely to be if there is a problem in a rail corridor running through the city of Toronto. They still do not know, except on an annual basis, at the end of a year, what dangerous goods are going through the city.

It seems ludicrous to consider that information to be private and confidential to the railroads when it is the life and limb of the residents of the city of Toronto, and other cities across this fair land of ours, that is at risk should something happen.

If the railroads have produced a risk assessment that says they should be going slower, then let us make them go slower. If the risk assessment says there are particular spots where they should not travel at all, that they should go around, then let us make them do that.

As far as we know, there has been zero action by the minister, by Transport Canada, by the Transportation Safety Board, or any of the agencies dealing with transportation in this country, to deal with the fact that when one of these tank cars breaks in a collision, and they break at speeds as low as 30 miles an hour, maybe even 25 miles an hour, they explode.

We have yet to hear the minister say that she will find a speed that they are safe to travel at. Until she does, the speed that these trains are travelling at through my community, through the rest of the city of Toronto, is too fast.

We are not going to create a system that is 100% safe. CN admitted that at the transport committee, after Gogama, when it said it could not make it 100% safe and can only do the best it can. We need it to be certain that these things are not going to explode in my community.