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

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments about the bill, which is being rushed through. It is 460 pages and is yet again an example of the Conservatives trying to do with an omnibus bill the kinds of things that require considerable scrutiny in this House.

One of the things that worries me considerably is the notion that for refugee claimants who have failed one test but have not passed another, the bill would allow provinces to stop giving them social assistance. These refugees would perhaps have to go to dumps to find food, as they are in the north already. As Canadians, we are not comfortable with this kind of approach.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on this part of the bill.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2 December 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague and whoever else can answer it. It concerns some quite obscure changes in the tax legislation in this bill that purport to allow the government to deem a capital gain in a trust and then tax it in the hands of the deceased when a person dies. I know that not very many deceased people vote Conservative, so they can say they will not be taxing some Conservatives. However, the fact is that I believe it is unconstitutional to tax people after they are dead.

Would the member like to answer this question? Is it constitutional and will it survive?

Rail Transportation November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, while Conservatives boast, the TSB says the government simply is not getting the job done on rail safety.

Yesterday the president of the Transportation Safety Board, Kathy Fox, said, “...actions taken to date are insufficient”. She said, “...a weak company safety culture and inadequate Transport Canada oversight contributed to the Lac-Mégantic accident.” She said that Transport Canada still has problems with oversight and inspections.

In light of all this, why is the government still cutting funds for transport safety?

Housing November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is quite typical of the government to claim credit for stuff that does not belong to it. The $1.7 billion that is currently in the co-op and other long-term agreements predated the current government. The almost $2 billion a year it has taken credit for over the last eight years was actually money Jack Layton negotiated with Paul Martin to have put into the budget, and the Conservatives voted against it. It is all very specious.

The fact of the matter is that there are 90,000 families in Toronto that are on a waiting list for affordable housing. Those 90,000 have not received a single nickel of this federal money and are not likely to, because there is not going to be enough building. At the rate we are building, which is about 5,000 units a year, it will take another 20 years before there is enough built to actually house those 90,000 families, and that is way too long to wait.

We need to act now. We need to take the money that maybe some of those long-term agreements do not need and reinvest it in building affordable housing for Canadians who need it.

Housing November 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, on October 29, I asked the minister about homelessness in Canada, about homelessness strategies that the government was not employing and the fact that homelessness was getting worse, not better, under the government. The minister's answer was somewhat glib and somewhat non-specific to what has become a crisis in our country.

Homelessness costs Canadians $7 billion. Beyond that, there is a critical housing shortage.

When my colleague presented Bill C-400 in the House last year, the Conservatives voted against it because they that said it would cost $6.2 billion. The purpose of that bill was to find a way to ensure that everyone in our country had a home. The $6.2 billion is less than $7 billion, so it would have been cheaper for the government to have adopted Bill C-400.

In my riding of York South—Weston, close to half the residents are renters and of those, more than 36% spend more than 30% of their income on housing, which is the standard by which the government and the banks determine when people are spending too much. Almost 90% of the renters living in those big concrete towers, which is 45% of my riding, have some form of insecurity attached to their housing, yet the government says that everything is fine.

Close to one-third of those renters are in critical risk of homelessness. They have four or more aspects of their housing that is on the edge, that is either insufficient for the number of people in their household or is costing way too much for them. If they miss one paycheque, they and their children will be out on the street, and nobody wants to see that happen.

In the past few years, the government has signalled that it will not renew some 600,000 affordable housing units that are provided through the co-ops that have agreements with CMHC, with the government. These are coming to an end over the coming years. Many of those co-ops will be unable to continue. They have huge bills that have mounted up over the years because they have been living on the edge and they will be unable to continue once that funding ends.

It is almost criminal for the government to suggest that the funding will end, that the money will return to the treasury and that everything will be rosy when in fact, it has admitted, through its responses on Bill C-400, there is a $6.2 billion gap in the housing in our country, a $6.2 billion need for housing. There are 1.2 million households that have some kind of housing need. Those households have an average of $4,779 of need and the government has decided it will not provide it. It is not going to talk about it because it does not want to know. That is no way to address a real problem.

Some answers have been given to us by those who have written the “State of Homelessness in Canada 2014” report. I would like the government to at least consider these recommendations: a new framework agreement that sets clear priorities and requires local planning between the federal, provincial and municipal governments; increased housing first investments that target chronic and episodic homelessness through an expansion of the homelessness partnering strategy; direct investment in affordable housing programs, specifically, federal funding for social housing, co-ops, non-profits, as operating agreements wind down; a housing benefit for those who face a severe affordability problem; a new affordable housing tax credit; and a review and expand involvement in aboriginal housing both on and off reserve.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the tough-on-crime agenda of the Conservative government belies the fact that it is not smart on crime. We on this side of the House want to be smart on crime. We want to prevent crime before it happens instead of merely announcing that we are going to punish people for longer.

I, as a Canadian, would rather that there were fewer crimes against children than more, but the evidence is there in front of us, and the minister agrees, that sexual crimes against children have gone up. As Statistics Canada reports, it is one of the very few crimes in the entire ambit of crimes against Canadians that has actually gone up in the past few years. The overall rate of crime is going down generally, but somehow, we have it wrong, and I mean “we”, because we are all parliamentarians. We have not successfully managed to find a way to treat the crimes in such a way as to prevent their happening in the first place or to prevent the recidivism that goes on when these criminals are eventually released.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the point. Sex crimes are driven not by greed or financial gain but by impulse, and those impulses need to be watched and controlled and treated. By removing the resources from our communities, from our prison system, and from our corrections system generally, those individuals who could be helped are not being helped. They are not being corrected. Just putting them in jail does not change their behaviour. Announcing to the world that the penalties will be higher is not going to change behaviour. What are needed are more resources than the government has put forward and a return of the kinds of resources that are required to prevent these crimes in the first place.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this government bill, the short title of which is the tougher penalties for child predators act, which does not make Canadians any safer but does make the penalties longer and more arduous for those who commit these crimes.

I would say at the outset that we support this bill and will be supporting it at second reading in order to study it at committee. We need the ability at committee to determine whether the provisions in this bill would make Canadians safer. We need the ability to hear from experts in the criminal justice system, experts on sexual crimes, and experts in the medical and psychological systems to determine whether this kind of approach is an effective way to deter crime and treat criminals and to make sure that this kind of crime goes down and becomes less of a burden on Canadian society.

Since this Parliament began, we have noted that when the Conservatives become tired of something or when they determine, for some reason unto themselves, that they wish to end debate, they institute time allocation. As this bill was introduced first in February, nine months ago, we hope that time allocation will not be necessary. It is entirely within the government's control to determine when this bill will be debated. The government controls that agenda. To suggest that we have had enough time, when we have only debated it on a couple of occasions since it became a government bill, is a phoney and unbelievable approach, so we hope that will not happen.

Because this is an important measure and issue, we also hope that at committee, there will be lots of time to hear from lots of witnesses who can talk to us about what changes to this bill may be necessary. We also hope the Conservatives will listen to those witnesses at committee and to the opinions of the experts in the field about what needs to change in this bill.

We have also noticed an alarming tendency on the part of the Conservatives to suggest that only changes they agree with are changes worth making and that any changes proposed by any member of any opposition party are absolutely not to be included in any bill. Their tendency in everything, unless there is a clerical error, is that they are right, without any kind of criticism on the part of the opposition parties.

The NDP has a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of a sexual nature against children. That goes without saying. That has been our policy and our practice. What we would rather do is prevent them. Prevention of crimes against children is obviously the most important thing we should be doing. If it can be shown that increasing penalties, which is what this bill essentially does, would somehow prevent crimes against children, that would be great. I would love for that to be the case. I would want to hear what the experts have to say, but up to this point, that has not been the case.

Clearly, we have seen a government whose approach has been to increase penalties, to increase jail time, to introduce mandatory minimums, to introduce longer maximums, and to introduce a period of time spent in jail as a way of protecting Canadians.

All the people who are convicted of these crimes will get out. They will all be released into society. Unless and until appropriate medical and psychological treatment is given to these individuals while in prison and beyond, we will have done nothing to make Canadian children safer by introducing mandatory minimums.

The facts speak for themselves. Since 2006, there have been new mandatory minimum prison sentences for seven existing Criminal Code offences, including assault, assault with a weapon, and aggravated assault where the child is under 16. The government has made it illegal for anyone to provide sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence against that child; made it illegal to use computers or other means of telecommunication to agree with or make arrangements with another person to commit a sexual offence against a child; strengthened the sex offender registry; increased the age of protection, the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity, from 14 to 16 years of age; put in place legislation to make the reporting of child pornography by Internet service providers mandatory; and strengthened the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous offenders.

These are all acts that have been taken up by the government since it came into power in 2006. What is the effect of longer sentences and more minimum sentences and of introducing new crimes to the Criminal Code? The effect has been that the crime rate has actually gone up for these offences.

The Minister of Justice stated, on supplementary estimates, that sexual offences against children has increased 6% over the past two years. According to Statistics Canada, that is pretty much the only category of crime that has gone up in the past years. In fact, in the case of sexual violations against children, luring with a computer rose 30% in 2013. Sexual exploitation rose 11% in 2013.

I am not the expert who needs to testify at the committee on what these effects will be, but I can see with my own eyes, from the evidence the minister brought to the supplementary estimates and from the evidence that appears to be in the Statistics Canada reporting, that the Conservatives' actions to date have had a negative impact on the number of crimes of a sexual nature being reported by children.

If one bashes one's head against the wall and it hurts, does one keep doing it? Does one actually keep taking the same wrong-headed approach every time, thinking things will be different? Does one keep introducing more mandatory minimums or longer jail terms and think it will be different? That is one of the things we hope to discuss at committee. One of the things we expect the experts will tell us is that it is not necessarily so.

What is necessary, both in prison and after, is treatment, both psychological and medical, of the individuals to properly return them to society, because they are going to be returned to society. It is not good enough to just say that we will keep watching them. That may make the Conservatives feel good. It does not make me feel good to know that individuals who need treatment are not getting it.

I am the father of seven children and the grandfather of four. The four grandchildren are young Canadians under the age of 15. I do not want them facing an increase in child exploitation. I do not want them to feel less safe in Canadian society as they get older. I want them to feel more safe. If the actions of the government do not do anything to make them more safe, then we are doing something wrong.

We have seen the government do other things that make Canadian children less safe. We want to make sure, when we study and debate this bill, both here and in committee, that we are doing things to it to correct the mistakes the Conservatives have made in the past. We want to actually make a world in which children can feel safe and are safe, not one in which the Conservatives can go to a fundraiser and say, “Look at me, I have just increased the mandatory minimums for sexual offences”, if, in fact, the rate of sexual offences goes up.

No one wants to be a victim. No one wants their children to be victims. If we cannot prevent the crimes in the first place and prevent recidivism by treating these people once we have found them, then we have not done our society a justice, and we have not done our children a justice. We will not have corrected the wrongs to our society.

I look forward to questions from my colleagues.

Youth November 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, at a time when youth unemployment is high and skilled trades are in demand, apprenticeships provide an important opportunity for young workers to get a good job. The hammerheads program connects underprivileged youth with training and jobs.

In Budget 2013, the Conservatives promised to support the use of apprentices in infrastructure projects receiving federal funding, but eight months later, young Canadians are still waiting.

When can we expect the minister to finally deliver on Jim Flaherty's promise to connect infrastructure spending to training more young Canadians?

Housing November 20th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, as we mark National Housing Day this weekend, Canada is experiencing a housing crisis. One in four Canadians spends more than 30% of their income on shelter. For too many, this means living in poverty. Conservatives are refusing to renew social housing agreements, and 200,000 Canadians risk losing their homes. Concerned Canadians from across the country are gathering in Ottawa Friday. Will the minister listen to them, take steps to fight poverty, and make real investments in affordable housing?