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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

Committees of the House March 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, while we on the opposition side do generally support the recommendations of the report, we have provided for the House a supplementary opinion, because we believe that there are a number of recommendations that are not made or that are omitted, and that there are number of recommendations that do not go far enough.

As an example, the railway companies should conduct risk assessments and route planning, and operate their trains at lower speeds where it is of risk to the public. In addition, we believe that the government should provide greater oversight to the railway companies and greater inspections.

Income Security March 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, in my role as NDP critic for persons with disabilities, I get to speak with disability groups across Canada, and repeatedly I get the same messages: This government should be working with its provincial partners to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it should be addressing income security issues facing the disabled, and it should be doing more to accommodate those disabled people who wish to work.

The NDP has already committed to implement the UN convention, but today I want to address the issue of income security for the disabled. The fact is that a person with a disability is twice as likely to experience poverty as other Canadians.

Today I have tabled a motion to establish a special committee of the House to review income security for persons with disabilities, to consult broadly with those persons and with disability organizations, and to report back to the House with concrete recommendations to improve their income security.

Canada's commitment under the UN convention is to ensure that persons with disabilities can participate fully in our society. One important step would be to lift them out of poverty. I hope all members will support this.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Only to the shareholders of VIA Rail, Mr. Speaker.

In terms of freight, Canada is actually number two in the world in terms of tonne-kilometres per capita that are transported. Russia is number one at 12,000 tonne-kilometres per person, and Canada is number two at 10,517. What does that mean? It means we have the infrastructure. We have the rail capacity in this country to move lots and lots of goods, but we are not using it effectively to move people. We are not using it in such a way that the people of Canada can actually make use of that infrastructure, some of which, if not all of which, was created with federal and provincial government money.

People in this country been asking the government to change its approach to the VIA Rail dilemma for the past several years, ever since VIA Rail started to do the bidding of the Conservative government by reducing service. In St. Marys, Ontario, Chris West and Lynn Hainer and the rest of an advocacy group there have been holding meetings on a regular basis and invited VIA Rail to the meetings to find out why their service had to be cut when the service had lots of passengers. The answer they had was, “Well, we just decided.” There is not really an answer.

We know that there is something going on from the government side that is perhaps pushing VIA Rail to remove itself from what the government might call non-competitive routes, or non-filled routes, but that it has made it impossible for individuals in the area between Toronto and Sarnia to get to Toronto or to get to Sarnia. As a result, the farmers and residents of rural Ontario are now forced to drive, and they do not want to drive. They want to take the train, but they can no longer take the train. It is no longer possible. The trains have been cancelled.

There are residents of New Brunswick and in the Gaspé region who are begging the government to reinstate their rail service. We have it in New Brunswick, although it runs very slowly, and in the Gaspé it is still not there. On Vancouver Island, a rail service was put in place as a result of the sale of a CP Rail system to the people of Vancouver Island so that they could put a rail service in between Victoria and Comox. There was a huge tax benefit to the CP Rail system, but that rail system is now languishing because repairs were necessary. CP had left it in a derelict state. It received a huge tax benefit for the so-called donation, and now where are we? We do not have any rail service. It is not running. There was agreement locally that there would be, but VIA Rail has not come forward with its side of the agreement.

In four areas of this country—the Gaspé, New Brunswick, southwestern Ontario, and Vancouver Island, rail service is disappearing under the Conservative government. We had it and we are losing it, and that is the crime of the government's approach to rail service. While the rest of the world is moving toward rail service, this government is moving away, in such a way that it is sometimes irretrievable.

My colleague for Acadie—Bathurst pointed out how long it takes for trains to get from A to B there, and the same is true in southern Ontario, except that the federal government gave a private rail company money to upgrade the line. It did not bother to do it, so the train takes two hours to get from Kitchener to Toronto, whereas it takes about 45 minutes to drive that distance. It is yet another example of the government's waste. The government sends money freely away, supposedly to upgrade a service, and then watches the money disappear when the service does not actually get upgraded.

This is an excellent bill. It would give us a start in putting VIA Rail back on the footing it needs to make Canada competitive in the transportation business with the rest of the world.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support for an excellent private member's bill, to create a legislative framework for the provision of national passenger rail services.

Canada is a laggard, an outlier, in the provision of passenger rail services in the world, on the planet. We have a system that is owned by the federal government somehow, without legislative oversight. It has recently cut service so drastically that it is now almost laughable in some parts of Canada. All other modern economies, whether that is the U.S., Europe, Asia, or Australia, all have robust and thorough passenger rail systems.

That is not so with Canada. Canada has decided, starting with the Mulroney government, and now with this government, to cut our passenger rail systems and to cut them in such a way that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The argument is that there are not enough passengers so they cut service, which then causes there to be even fewer passengers. That then causes the government to say it should not be subsidizing the fewer passengers.

Rail service is one of the ways that we, as Canadians, can reduce our use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases that we would normally be putting into the atmosphere through the other transportation systems we use in the country, through cars, airplanes, trucks, and other vehicles. The rail system in Canada is ideally suited to take over that role of transporting individuals. However, we do not have a government that believes in transporting individuals by rail. We do not have a government that believes in very much, but the system of transporting individuals by rail is one of the things that we are certain it does not believe in.

In terms of us being a laggard, there are statistics around the world about what countries do in terms of billions of passenger kilometres in a year. India is by far the leader, with over a trillion passenger kilometres. On that list are countries like Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. Canada is not on the list at all, and that is because we have almost no passenger rail service in the country because it has been cut by successive Liberal and Conservative governments.

That is the crying shame that we are here to try to start correcting. It is going to take time, but at least with a legislative framework for VIA Rail, we can start rebuilding it.

The parliamentary secretary talked about one aspect of the bill that would harm our freight rail system by giving passengers priority. Well, the last time I checked, there were not too many people on a freight train who might be late for a meeting if they had to wait for a passenger train to go through. The rail companies have systematically eliminated their sidings. We used to have a system in Canada where freight trains would move on to a siding while a passenger train went through. Now they run trains that are too long for their sidings. In my riding of York South—Weston, they are actually removing the siding because they cannot get the trains on it anymore. Therefore, these two-mile long trains full of oil or grain are preventing passenger trains from travelling at a reasonable speed.

In addition, we have a government that has subsidized the freight rail system in our country to a large degree. The most recent example was the money it spent, reportedly on VIA Rail. It spent half a billion dollars on VIA Rail upgrades by giving money to CN. CN put in a beautiful new third line between Toronto and Montreal. Who uses it? It is used for freight. Who has to stop and wait for the freight trains to go by? VIA has to wait, even after the government put that rail in.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, even though we the taxpayers paid for the line, which is you, me, and everyone else in this room, and everyone else in Canada, VIA Rail still has to pay rent on that line. Does that make any sense to you, Mr. Speaker? Does that make any sense to anyone in the room?

Taxation February 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the government is double-taxing the disabled. That is a Conservative failure.

Canadian-American citizens are being taxed twice, once by Canada and once by the U.S., when contributing to their child's disability savings plan. Money invested is meant to increase the financial security of children living with a disability throughout their lifetime.

Why is the minister not listening to families and amending our tax treaty? Why are Conservatives penalizing parents for saving to secure their children's futures?

Poverty February 6th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, he did not answer the question, because 12,000 full-time jobs disappearing and 47,000 new part-time jobs does not do anything to end poverty in Canada.

There are 4.8 million Canadians who struggle to make ends meet. That is one in seven Canadians. This week, the Dignity For All campaign released its plan to end poverty in Canada. It believes that if Canada commits to a plan and takes reasonable steps, the eradication of poverty is within reach.

Why is the Conservative government refusing to develop a comprehensive plan to end poverty in Canada?

Rail Transportation February 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, first let me say that I do not vote against budgets that increase rail safety; I vote against budgets that decrease environmental protection. I vote against budgets that deliberately do not protect Canadians from environmental disasters. That is what we are voting against, and not specifically the cut to rail safety. When it is all put together, one has to vote against it.

On the issue of the cause of Lac-Mégantic, the new director of the Transportation Safety Board said again today that the result was not because of an individual. She said in a speech at the Economic Club of Canada that there were 18 separate causes and that even if the individual had followed the rules, which he admittedly did not, it would not have stopped the train, because the regulations were not sufficient and Transport Canada's oversight of that particular railroad was not sufficient. Transport Canada was in fact partly to blame.

Rail Transportation February 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the events in Lac-Mégantic more than 18 months ago have caused the Canadian public to wonder just how safe our railroads are. Many communities like mine in York South—Weston grew up around railroads, as railroads were a key driver of economic growth for them. Alas, that economic driver has long since left my community, but the railroad tracks remain and are perilously close to houses, schools, daycare centres, seniors' facilities, and other sensitive locations throughout the riding and the whole of the city of Toronto.

Railroads began shipping crude oil in quantity in 2009 and have increased that amount more than five hundredfold since then. This means that trains with several hundred carloads of crude oil whiz through our neighbourhoods several times each day. Until the Lac-Mégantic accident, people did not pay much attention to this. We thought of crude oil as the sticky tar we saw on television on beaches after Exxon Valdez or the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Who knew it was more like gasoline and that the effects of an accident could be so deadly?

When we learned at committee that even carloads travelling as slowly as 20 kilometres an hour ruptured and exploded at Lac-Mégantic, I demanded action from the government. The scathing report of the Transportation Safety Board found no one individual at fault but 18 different causes, including massive failure by Transport Canada, which reports to the Minister of Transport.

The Transportation Safety Board recommended that alternative speeds and routes be explored to move trains around major cities. This was one of many recommendations. This is done routinely in U.S. cities like Washington and New York.

The government's response was to lower speeds to 60 kilometres per hour in cities and to demand that the railroads do risk assessments and analyses of alternative routes to be provided to Transport Canada.

The results of those government-demanded risk assessments and route analyses were provided to Transport Canada last fall. At committee I asked Transport Canada to provide a copy of those assessments to the committee as part of our study of the transportation of dangerous goods. The City of Toronto also requested copies of those reports. Imagine my surprise when Transport Canada replied to the committee that it would not release the risk assessments, that they are somehow the property of the railroads and are somehow protected, confidential information.

These reports and assessments were demanded of the railroads by the government as a necessary part of the determination of the level of risk the railroads were exposing populations to. The government can and should treat these reports as publicly available information and should have clearly indicated this to the railroads when these were demanded. To suggest now that residents of my riding or any riding through which a railroad runs cannot know the potential risk of the railroad to them, based on speed, routing, and the use of rail cars with a long history of rupture, is an affront and unacceptable situation.

To suggest, as the parliamentary secretary has done, that Transport Canada will only share notices and orders issued to the railroads with municipalities does not deal at all with the need for individuals and municipalities to know specifically what risk there is, what mitigation measures are available, such as rerouting and speed reduction, and any other information that may be disclosed by a risk assessment.

Residents of York South--Weston and beyond have learned that Transport Canada has not been a very good steward of the safety of Canadians. The Transportation Safety Board and the Auditor General of Canada were highly critical of the actions of Transport Canada. We deserve to see the evidence, and until it has proven itself worthy of our trust, we need to see these risk assessments.

Victims Bill of Rights Act February 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but notice the kind of hypocrisy that the government shows about this bill when it took it eight years to bring it forward. The government has been talking about this since 2006, and yet eight days are all we get to talk about it. That is a 365:1 ratio in terms of the amount of time involved.

In addition, if we take the amount of time that we have spent debating time allocation motions, there have been 43 hours of time allocation motion debate. That is far more than the debate for this bill, which the minister himself says is very important, has had in the House.

It is hypocritical and disrespectful of this great chamber to limit the debate on something so important. I, for one, have not had an opportunity to speak. I have not had an opportunity to present my own views. There are serious flaws in this bill that I would love to be able to speak about and portray to the government, but I may not get a chance because the government has decided that the debate is almost over and that it is time to move on before we are done.

Employment February 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, that plan is not working. The job losses are piling up, and middle-class families are falling further behind.

On top of thousands of jobs lost in retail, 383 workers at Wrigley Canada just found out that the Wrigley manufacturing plant in Toronto is closing. They are losing their jobs, and the Conservatives have no budget and no plan to fix the damage they have done. When will they do the right thing and agree to the NDP's plan to kick-start manufacturing and job creation?