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

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from my colleague opposite. One of the things he suggests is that the system would become safer because the minister would have the power to order a railway company to comply if she or he finds that the safety management system is not being properly implemented. However, as we have discovered from the Auditor General's report, Transport Canada has failed miserably at examining the safety management systems of the rail companies, and as a result was given a failing grade by the Auditor General in terms of the audits of those safety management systems.

How can the minister actually make an order if the Transport Canada folks are not even able to look at safety management systems to see if they are actually compliant?

Citizenship and Immigration May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has told Karen Talosig and her daughter Jazmine that they are not welcome in Canada because Jazmine is deaf.

Even though the BC Provincial School for the Deaf said that it has a spot for Jazmine, and the Burnaby public school board certified that no special funding is required for her education, to the Conservative government, being deaf apparently disqualifies her from becoming Canadian. That is so wrong.

Will the minister do the right thing and grant permanent residency to Karen and Jazmine?

Poverty May 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I offer a glimpse into the successes and struggles in my riding of York South—Weston.

Hammer Heads is an apprenticeship training program paid for by unions and operated by the Central Ontario Building Trades in my community. Over the past five years, Hammer Heads has launched a career for 194 young adults, focusing on disadvantaged and first nations youth. It has saved over $1 million in welfare costs alone. It is so successful that 20 of these young adults have been able to buy their own homes. It is a remarkable example of a homegrown solution, but it is only 194 people.

Meanwhile, George Harvey Collegiate Institute in York South—Weston has run a breakfast program for 12 years, feeding children who would otherwise not get to eat. Over 150,000 breakfasts have been served. Program sponsors estimate that in my riding, 38% of children go to school hungry each day. On my visit there this morning, I met the volunteers, like Vince and Imad and his family, who do this to help kids be able to learn.

While the success of the Hammer Heads program is something to celebrate, the grip of poverty in my riding shows that we have much more work to do.

Criminal Code May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to yet another Conservative gun bill. We seem to have had a lot of Conservative gun bills in this session of Parliament. Maybe that is because they like them so much, but it is also because the Conservatives are trying to whip up Canadians into a sense of outrage about the, as they call it, red tape around firearms.

It is not red tape when the laws of this country are designed to protect people. The laws of this country are designed to protect people, protect police officers and protect ordinary citizens. One of the ways we protect people is by keeping dangerous firearms out of the hands of people who intend to do bad things with them.

We also protect people by making sure that we cannot confuse, in this case, a BB gun with a real gun. That is part of what would happen as a result of the Conservative amendments to the Criminal Code about firearms storage and transportation. It would become possible for a police officer to become confused over whether or not a gun sitting on somebody's car seat is a BB gun. We do not want a situation to happen where weapons of this ilk become something that could cause confusion and could cause something bad to happen.

The biggest issue facing the folks in my riding with regard to guns is the proliferation of handguns. The proliferation of handguns has happened because the government has reduced the number of people working at the border of this country. As is documented on many occasions, handguns are coming into this country in large numbers, into the hands of children in my riding.

Nothing in the bill would change whether or not the government has the effective resources at the border of this country to prevent children and young people from possessing and using much more dangerous firearms.

I am surprised the Conservatives did not bring the bill forward as a government bill rather than a private member's bill, but that is another problem we are dealing with. Conservatives like to bring forward private members' bills to do government business so there is not enough time to properly debate it.

The bill is part of another process of making sure that the Conservatives can deregulate and de-red tape, in their view, the use of firearms in this country.

In many cases the guns that are being exempted by the government from these regulations could cause serious bodily harm. If they could cause serious bodily harm, they need to be handled safely, transported safely, I believe, in the same manner we would transport any other firearm. However, the government would like some firearms to be exempted from the storage and handling requirements.

It is perhaps a little difficult for some members opposite to understand that these things can, in fact, cause serious bodily harm. While at the same time, we have a porous border that allows literally thousands of handguns to flood the streets of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and other places, we have the government focused more on making it easier for people to transport guns generally.

This is only one of a series of bills on gun control and gun legislation that have done nothing to protect people, and that is part of what a government is supposed to do, protect people.

The Conservatives have made it easier for Canadians to own guns. They have made it easier for Canadians to own dangerous weapons. They have made it easier for Canadians to not have to let the police know about those guns. They have made it easier for the criminal element in this country to get handguns by getting them across the border, because the border has become so porous. We no longer have the ability to stop these things at the border.

When I go to a grade 10 classroom to talk to them about politics, I ask these 12, 13, 14, 15-year-old kids how many of them own an illegal handgun or know somebody who has one. Half the hands go up in the class. That is the reality we face in my riding. The proliferation of handguns is enormous The current government has done absolutely nothing to stop that flow of handguns at the border. I have not ever gone into a class and had them say, no, nobody has a gun any more. In fact, they repeat it every time I go, and that is because it is becoming so easy to acquire these things.

What is the government doing about it? It is passing laws that would penalize people by putting them in jail for having one, yes. First, however, we have to stop them coming into the country. They are all illegal. The way to stop them being used is to stop them coming into the country. We are not doing that. These are not guns that are being manufactured in a Canadian facility and being given to grade 10 kids. No, that is not what is happening. They are being traded on the black market, in the city of Toronto. That black market is getting literally thousands of firearms from firearms shops in the U.S. that do not care whether or not somebody has proper ID or proper certification.

Anything that the current government does to lessen public safety is something that we will be opposed to. We have analyzed the bill and part of what the bill would do is to lessen public safety.

We do not like lessening public safety when it comes to meat inspections. That has happened under the current Conservative watch.

We do not like the lessening of public safety when it comes to the rail system in this country. We have seen what lessening of public safety does when we had a train derailment in Lac-Mégantic. Forty-seven people were killed and a town was destroyed in Lac-Mégantic. What the Transportation Safety Board, very clearly, said is that the current government had failed, that it had failed to enforce and keep up with the systems that were necessary to ensure that the rail system is safe in this country. It is not getting any better. The Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board said that rail safety in this country is in a perilous state, as we have seen with the spate of wrecks in the past two years since Lac-Mégantic. We have had Gogama, we have had Gogama a second time, we have had a wreck in New Brunswick, we have had wrecks in Saskatchewan and we have had wrecks all over the States.

These systems that the government claims are the rail safety systems of the future are not doing the job. They are not preventing the massive fireballs that happened. Those trains are still rolling through the centres of cities.

The notion that we should use legislation to make Canadians less safe is something that I will oppose. One of the functions of a proper government, of a government that will be in place in October 2015, when the NDP takes over, will be to protect Canadians, to protect their health, to protect their well-being, to protect their ability to live near a rail corridor, because many Canadians do, and to protect people from illogical and unthought-out changes to the Firearms Act.

It is all well and good to suggest that the changes to firearms storage and transportation is only about BB guns, and that everybody knows that BB guns cannot hurt anybody and why are we getting so upset about BB guns. These things are made to look like real guns. That is what they are. They are real guns. They are something that will hurt somebody quite seriously. When I was young, I was hit with a pellet gun. Luckily, the wound was very superficial because it hit a piece of leather on my shoe before it hit my foot. I was not hospitalized as a result, but I very well could have been. It was merely one of these toy guns that the Conservatives suggest do not need regulation at all.

They can cause serious bodily harm, their confusion makes it difficult for the police to sometimes know what they are and, therefore, we will be opposing the bill.

Citizen Voting Act May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this is clearly part of an overall plan. Suppressing votes is key to extremism in Parliament, and that is what the government is doing. It is suppressing votes at every stage of the way. We learned through various court cases that there was an active attempt to suppress votes in the last election and I expect this is just part of the same pattern.

Citizen Voting Act May 1st, 2015

It is true, Mr. Speaker, that committee deliberations to try to fix bills are challenging at best and impossible at worst. When a flawed bill goes before a committee in the current Parliament, it is almost impossible for opposition parties to have any say in trying to correct it. The exception is when there is something so egregious it is absolutely clear on its face that it will be a problem, and even then sometimes the Conservatives do not listen. That has been my experience until now.

We have gone through the same thing with Bill C-51, which is another extremely flawed piece of legislation and ought to be withdrawn entirely. The Conservatives have not accepted a single one of any of the amendments put forward at committee.

Citizen Voting Act May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, on the matter of the court case that gave rise to this bill, we think, although the minister did not say that, that court case said, or the end result was that every Canadian, regardless of where he or she lives, has a constitutional right to vote and it cannot be taken away by means of an artificial time limit. The government, with the other hoops that it is putting in this bill, would appear to be taking away that right to vote, not just for the people who have lived outside of Canada for more than five years, but for all persons who live outside of Canada, because it will now become effectively impossible for them to properly cast their ballots in a reasonable timeframe.

With Bill C-23, the government also made it more difficult for persons who are on the margins of society, those who do not have documentation, who do not have access to myriad personal information because sometimes they are homeless or not living in a place that is permanent and as a result, it will become almost impossible for them to cast ballots.

Citizen Voting Act May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as is the case when we are dealing with time allocation, usually that means that because the number of speakers is limited, York South—Weston is not represented in the debate on any particular bill.

By the way, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Usually York South—Weston does not get to be represented when there is time allocation because it limits the number of speakers in total to something like 5% of the members of Parliament and that is essentially what is happening here, although today, I happened to be here during the one day that the government has allowed for debate on the bill. On the 95th occasion, I think is a record for any Westminster parliamentary democracy in the world in terms of the number of times that debate has been curtailed or stopped in a sitting of Parliament.

The notion that we are dealing with this under time allocation means that a total of six and a quarter hours will have been spent on debating the bill over the course of its life in the Houses of Parliament and the bill has some serious flaws. We have mentioned already that the bill has eliminated the ability for there to be a permanent list of electors and that list is how people who live outside of Canada could remain on the voters list without having to go through hoops each time.

When asked why the bill was coming forward, the member opposite said it is because there are 40,000 non-Canadians on the list of electors, so estimates Elections Canada. That is not why the bill is coming forward. It is coming forward because the courts have told the Conservatives that it is illegal under section 11(d) of the Canada Elections Act to deny Canadian citizens the right to vote, which is what the law did. It denied the right to vote to Canadian citizens who happened to live abroad for more than five years.

We put forward Bill C-575, a good bill that would have repealed section 11(d) of the law in such a way that we would have done away with the requirement to be outside of Canada for less than five years. The Conservatives did not like that and brought forward their own bill and I think it is telling that the member opposite suggested that is not the reason for bringing the bill forward. The Conservatives are continuing with their appeal of the Frank decision to appeal the court decision that says that it is the right of any Canadian citizen to vote in an election. I agree with that right. I think it is the right of any Canadian citizen to vote regardless of how long they have lived outside the country.

However, the Conservatives, as is the case every time the courts tell them the laws they created were wrong, have created a system that makes it worse, that makes it more difficult and is going to apparently live up to the spirit of the decision, but not the letter of the decision because it will become incredibly difficult.

I asked the member opposite whether, given that Elections Canada will now have the responsibility in every election to process all persons outside Canada every time, it will be given extra resources to do that because it will not be able to spread that out over the period between elections as it now does. It has to do it only when there is an election. As a result, I do not believe Elections Canada is going to have the resources to do it, but the member opposite would not confirm or deny. All she said was they think Elections Canada has lots of resources. That is not a proper answer.

We believe that this change in legislation is going to make it more difficult for all persons living outside Canada, not just those people who are out there for more than five years, but all persons living outside Canada. The effect of that will be to further reduce the number of people who actually vote in an election. It seems to be the Conservatives' mantra to keep people from voting because if people vote maybe they will not get elected. That is apparently what drives a lot of what the Conservatives have done.

I am going to give the example of my brother who is a dual citizen. He was born in Canada to American parents, so the U.S. has determined he is an American citizen as well. When he was living in Canada some 15 or so years ago, he was a lawyer working for a big multinational firm that decided to move his job to the U.S. After much internal wrestling, he decided he had to go with that job and he has lived in the U.S. ever since. For the first five years, he was able to vote, but he has not been able to vote for the last 10 or so years. He would have been on a list of electors for some time.

Now, he would have to prove where he last lived 15 years ago. If I know my brother, he may have kept his rent receipts but I do not know. I certainly would not have. He has to prove it, and if he cannot prove it, if he has no documentation that shows his previous address, he has to find someone who lives where he last lived to swear that he or she knows him and that he did live there. That was 15 years ago and he lived in a small apartment building in downtown Toronto. I doubt very much that he knows anybody in that riding who can vouch for the fact that he lived there. The Conservative answer to the court decision is to make that become the necessary step by which someone would need to become registered to be a voter.

I come back to the problem that it has to all be done within the writ period. He cannot get the form until after the writs. He gets the form, finds somebody who remembers him when he lived in an apartment building in downtown Toronto 15 years ago and gets that person to swear out an affidavit because it has to be an oath. I am not 100% certain whether the person has to swear out an oath in front of a justice of the peace in Canada or if it can be somewhere else, but it is the Canada Evidence Act that the Conservatives are using. Those two hoops alone would eat up the first 15 days after the writ drops.

He has 14 days left, so he fills in the form and sends it off to Elections Canada by mail, or maybe by courier if it will accept things by courier. Assuming that there are 14 days left, because he only has 29 days to act on this, then Elections Canada has to put his application into its queue. There is no obligation on Elections Canada to process it in a timely manner, it just has to process it. The only requirement is that once Elections Canada has sent him the ballot he has to return it, such that Elections Canada receives it six days before the actual election day.

It is not likely going to happen that my brother would be able to meet all of these requirements in that 29-calendar-day time period, given the vagaries of Canada Post. There is no indication in this bill that Elections Canada would have to find some fast way to get the ballot to him either. If he needs to get a ballot within a short period of time, the most appropriate way would be to courier it to him but I doubt very much that the current government thinks highly enough of the voters living outside Canada to use couriers to get them the ballot.

It is a problem that is being created by the government to suppress votes again. That is what we have seen time and again from the Conservatives whenever they have talked about election reform and voting reform. It is to ensure that people do not have the ability to vote, that for people who are on the margins of society or, in this case, on the margins of Canada, who live outside of Canada, it would become extremely difficult for them to vote. I would be willing to bet that very few people who live outside Canada would be able to cast their ballot in a meaningful time frame and would therefore be disenfranchised by these rules.

That comes back to the court decision, which says Canadians, regardless of where they live, have a right to vote in a federal election. If the Conservatives put forward a law that would deny them that right through timing or other extraneous means, it would be in violation of the charter again, of the Constitution of this country. That is why Mr. or Mrs. Frank went to the courts in the first place.

I welcome any questions.

Citizen Voting Act May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this bill would actually make it very difficult for persons living abroad to actually register and vote. Currently people living abroad who have registered to vote stay on a list. All they need to do is change their address, if their address changes.

This would require them to wait until a writ is dropped before they could even apply to vote. That would do two things. First, it would discourage people from putting themselves on the list. Second, it would make Elections Canada's job that much more difficult if it only had 35 days to receive all the applications, check to see whether they were accurate, check all the data that would be submitted with those applications, and mail a ballot back, which according to this law, would have to be received in Ottawa before six days prior. Therefore, there would really only be 29 days to do all of this work.

Would the government be assigning more resources to Elections Canada to accomplish all this extra work during an election period?

May Day May 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is May Day, and as the rest of the world celebrates labour, some parties in Ottawa seem to think it is still the 19th century when it comes to labour rights.

The Liberals and the Conservatives voted together against job protections for firefighters. They voted against protection for pregnant or nursing mothers. The Liberals have now lined up to attack basic labour rights on Parliament Hill, by saying that unions should not be allowed space to work or to organize.

The president of the UFCW has said, “it...sends a message from the Liberal Party of Canada that unions and the labour movement can be abused in the eyes of the public, and in parliament”. The president of the United Steelworkers said that Liberals had “chosen to attack a fundamental trade union right for partisan purposes”.

Being friends of labour does not just mean putting on our best suits, showing up at the labour hall and calling people brother. It is about having our actions match our words, something we have never seen from either the Liberals or the Conservatives.