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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was tax.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Victoria (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 42% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply February 7th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauport—Limoilou.

I am honoured to speak today on this important motion by my colleague, the member for Parkdale—High Park, our opposition finance critic.

This motion calls on the government to do two distinct things: first, to extend the mandate of the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page, until his replacement is named; and second, to make the PBO a full, independent officer of Parliament. I am going to speak to both of those issues.

I think we would all acknowledge that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has played, and continues to play, a critical role, one that is necessary for this Parliament to do its work and is ultimately making it easier for us to fulfill our responsibilities as parliamentarians in a functioning democracy.

However, if a replacement for the current Parliamentary Budget Officer is not named prior to the completion of Mr. Page's term on March 25, it is possible that the PBO may cease to function, with the staff effectively being returned to the Library of Parliament, we understand. That would be absolutely unacceptable.

The PBO has produced an outstanding body of top-quality work with very limited resources. We understand there is a skeleton staff of some 14 people. They have already exposed gross mismanagement of our economy to parliamentarians such as the true cost of the F-35s, the sustainability of the old age security and guaranteed income supplement program, and more.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer was a position created by the Conservatives and received, in principle, support across party lines. It is an independent officer, as I said, but as I will describe later, it is a very different kind of officer than the classic independent officers, such as the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner. I will try to delineate those distinctions in a moment.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's responsibilities include providing an independent analysis of the state of our economy, the nation's finances and the government's expenditure plan, and an analysis of the estimates of expenditures of any government department or agency when requested to do so by a parliamentary committee that is reviewing the estimates.

The officer is also mandated to provide an estimate of costs for any proposal that falls within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada.

Now, I am urging members across the floor to support this motion. Many of them, if not all of them, supported the creation of the office in the first place. Therefore, surely they would share the same concern and understand why it is so vitally important to make sure there is no vacancy in that office.

The New Democratic Party is committed to sound public administration and as such believes that Canada requires a strong and independent Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is why my colleague from Parkdale—High Park moved this important motion, and that is why I felt so strongly that I would speak to this matter today.

On March 14, 2008, the government House leader first announced the appointment of Kevin Page as Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer. The government announced:

The appointment fulfills another commitment made to Canadians during the last election. “As promised in the federal Accountability Act, the Parliamentary Budget Officer will provide independent analysis to Canadians on the state of Canada's finances,”

said the hon. House leader:

“With his expertise in economics, Mr. Page is a fine choice to fill that position.”

We agree. We therefore say that he should remain until his successor is named. He has proven over time that he has the confidence of Canadians in exercising his duties and informing the public on the state of the economy and how our tax dollars are spent.

For the sake of accountability, it is our position that it is crucial that parliamentarians, who are ultimately responsible in the coming months for providing input and oversight on the government's budget, continue to benefit from his invaluable advice.

Conservatives have attacked Mr. Page because he has continuously highlighted financial and fiscal mismanagement on many files.

These constant political attacks only serve to underscore the need for a strong and independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.

On November 21 of last year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer felt compelled to refer questions to the Federal Court to seek the court's guidance as to whether work requested by the leader of the official opposition was within his jurisdiction. The work requested that the PBO analyze the government's estimates to determine if the savings contemplated were achievable and/or had long-term fiscal implications, critical for him to do his very vital work.

The creation of the PBO was supported, I reiterate, by all parties in Parliament. However, it appears the current government has decided that it no longer considers fiscal accountability as a priority.

At the finance committee on February 5 this year, a committee of which I am a member, the Conservatives used procedural tactics to block the extension of the Parliamentary Budget Officer's current term. This action was disappointing, to say the least, particularly when they know as well as we do how important and cost effective this officer has been.

Let me give examples. The PBO has a grand total of 12 full-time staff, I am advised, with two interns. Contrast that with the Congressional Budget Office, which has 200-plus staff. The budget of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is $2.8 million. The budget of the Congressional Budget Office: $46.8 million. Yet, in its very short existence, the PBO has published over 150 analytical reports. That's not bad for such a small operation.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer, in our view, provides tremendous value to all Canadians, by ensuring the government meets the basic tenets of financial and fiscal accountability. He has played an essential role in protecting our seniors, for example, who are critical in my riding of Victoria, by reporting that the OAS and GIS programs were sustainable prior to the Prime Minister's cuts to the program.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer regularly updates Parliament on the long-run fiscal sustainability of our country, an important type of study to ensure that young Canadians will not inherit a fiscal economic mess. In fact, the PBO has also pointed to Finance Canada's failure to provide intergenerational impacts on budget cuts.

Yet, the Conservatives have attacked anyone who has dared to disagree with them: Statistics Canada, our scientists, labour organizations, charities, and now, sadly, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

In conclusion, New Democrats want to strengthen the already outstanding work of the PBO. We want to ensure there is no disruption to the continuous operation of this officer. To this end, we want his term to be extended until a replacement is made.

I want to now turn to the second of the issues I want to address, which is the need for the independent officer of Parliament status for this important office. We want this process to be open and transparent. There are widespread fears among Canadians that the government will either fail to fill the position or appoint someone unable or unwilling to act as effectively as Mr. Page has done. We want to further expand the outstanding work of this office in order for him to do his work without political attack.

This office is not the Auditor General; it is not like the Information Commissioner or the Privacy Commissioner. Each of them are officers of Parliament. What is the difference? They have a seven-year term. They are appointed upon joint address: a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Canadians have seen the value of an independent Privacy Commissioner working on behalf of all of us to look after that important issue.

There is a precedent. Like this, the office was initially situated in a government agency. Canada's first Privacy Commissioner, Inger Hansen, was within the Canadian Human Rights Commission at first, and then, under the Privacy Act, became an independent officer of Parliament.

Legally, Canadians need exactly that level of independence and integrity, and that is where putting it in a separate officer of Parliament statute would provide that guarantee. If we have an effective Information Commissioner, Auditor General, Privacy Commissioner, we say the Parliamentary Budget Officer should have no less of a degree of independence to serve all Canadians.

Canada Revenue Agency February 6th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are quick to brag about money they have recovered, but they do not know how much money has gone missing.

It is entirely possible to calculate how much revenue the government is losing as a result of tax havens. Other countries have done it.

So why will the minister not commit right now to finding out how much revenue the government is losing and to solving this problem once and for all?

Canada Revenue Agency February 6th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the NDP successfully pushed the finance committee to study tax havens. The U.K., the U.S. and Australia all have published official estimates of how much these tax havens are costing them, but the Conservatives' position is to cover their eyes and pretend it is not happening.

Could the Minister of National Revenue tell the House why she is not interested in finding out just how much of these tax revenues go missing?

Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act February 5th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-462, and I acknowledge that the bill was sponsored by the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. I thank her for her work on this important issue.

I will be supporting the bill because, like the member, I believe it is necessary to establish limits on the maximum fees charged by promoters of the disability tax credit. However, it is my view that a study is needed to clarify certain sections of the bill and to provide insights on how certain shortcomings of the bill might be best addressed.

In my community of Victoria, and across the country, many of our fellow citizens are living with disabilities and many simply do not have access to the supports that they need. I would like to stress that for people living with disabilities, some of the biggest issues relating to the disability tax credit are simply not addressed in the bill.

The application process for the tax credit is not transparent and people with disabilities have trouble obtaining it. I would also like to see more information in advance on the way in which the bill would be implemented and how the public would be informed as to its existence and to the protections it would create.

I would like to see a simplification of the application process for the disability tax credit to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. I would like to see better protection against financial abuse and restrictions on fees charged by promoters of a disability tax credit.

Disability organizations, such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the Canadian Association for Community Living and the myriad of organizations that represent specific disabilities, share our concerns about access to the disability tax credit.

It is my sincere hope that the Conservative members on the other side of the House will consider carefully the concerns that I and my NDP colleagues on this side of the House are bringing forward. I hope the necessary changes can be made to fill in some of the gaps in the legislation as it is currently drafted.

In this context it would be most appropriate for me to talk a little about my concern about the Conservative government's cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency, which have had a real impact on the services offered to all Canadians. Cuts to jobs and duties of regional program advisers, for example, put information sessions on disability tax credits at risk. These sessions facilitate the understanding of how to obtain the disability tax credit. Of course closures of CRA offices across the country have had a significant and ongoing impact on persons with disabilities who need access to the services provided by those centres.

Following major Conservative cuts to the federal headquarters, I understand that some 28 Canadian Revenue Agency counters were closed last fall. There is a fundamental issue to speak to on this point and a very serious question to ask.

If the CRA services were readily available for people with disabilities and if the process for accessing the disability tax credits were not so onerous in the first place, would the need have been created, which certain unscrupulous advisers have been induced to meet? In other words, if the forms and the statute were less opaque, the bill may not have been necessary, which is regrettable.

Ultimately, this should be approached as an issue of accessibility for people with disabilities. Ensuring accessibility is the work of so many incredible groups across the country. For example, in my riding of Victoria, I would particularly salute Inclusion Works, a family, grassroots-oriented group that recently won an award from the B.C. Ideas competition for social innovation and also won both the People's Choice Investments and Supporting People with Developmental Disabilities Investments awards.

In our view, the priority in order to ensure that persons with disability have equal access to disability tax credits should be to ensure that promoters cannot abuse the system. On this, I agree with my hon. colleague.

Persons with disabilities must receive the support they need. Unfortunately, the bill does not address the problem of accessibility. The CRA administrative process remains complicated and the tax credit difficult to obtain, especially when a person is not familiar with the application process. It is necessary, we agree, to establish limits on fees charged by promoters of this tax credit.

A “promoter” is defined as a person who, directly or indirectly, accepts or charges a fee in respect of a disability tax credit. I have concerns about this broad definition. It may be over-inclusive. For example, people accepting nominal gifts for their assistance would be caught by this definition.

We are not against all promoters. Some act as consultants to help people with disabilities obtain services and tax credits from the government, which they may otherwise not know how to obtain. However, we have serious concerns about a trend among less scrupulous consultants who seek to profit from a change in eligibility criteria. Following the 2005 changes to the criteria and specifically when the government started to offer retroactive tax refunds, promoters started to offer their services to taxpayers to help them maximize their refunds. There have been problems. An article on February 9, 2011 by the CBC exposed some of the abuses that people are suffering and to which my hon. colleague alluded quite clearly. Therefore, I have serious concerns about this situation as well.

It is my understanding that the bill prohibits promoters from accepting or charging a fee that exceeds the so-called maximum fee. It is important to clarify at committee just how and when maximum fees will be established and how the public is going to be informed about them. I would like to know how the Governor in Council will determine the maximum fee.

Unless otherwise exempted, promoters charging more than that fee will have to inform the minister of the fees charged. How will promoters know what the maximum fee is and how will they be made aware of the changes? What kind of promoter will benefit from an exemption? What are the criteria for such exemptions? Is there a danger of too broad a discretion being conferred on officials by this form of drafting? Similarly, does the formula for calculating the promoters' fee, as set out in section 3(2) of the bill, square with the fines set out in section 7?

I would like to know if the government has thought of clarifying the application process for the disability tax credit in order to address the real issue of accessibility and unnecessary complications associated with the current process.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I will vote to support the bill and hope that the necessary changes I have alluded to will be made to fix the problems with it. I will work to encourage those changes, but I return to my initial point. It appears to me that in conjunction with these legislative changes, government cuts to the CRA are creating a need for greater assistance and refusing to address the fundamental problem of the accessibility of the disability tax credit.

I would like to state again that we are not against all promoters. We recognize some act as consultants and help people with disabilities to obtain the services and tax credits from the government they would otherwise not know how to obtain and to which they are entitled. However, we do need to fix some of the fundamental problems that are creating this situation and I believe that the bill in its current form fails to do that.

Business of Supply January 31st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the omnibus bills address matters far beyond the purview of a normal budget measure. That is well known to all Canadians and a precedent that would seem to me to be retrograde.

The kind of legislative changes to environmental legislation, which are so critical in protecting the land, air and water on which first nations depend, integral to their culture, is something that obviously was faulty. The courts have said increasingly that legislation can also attract the kind of duties to consult and accommodate. The fact in particular, as I emphasized the treaty rights, not just aboriginal land rights, not just aboriginal rights that are founded in section 35, but the historic treaties on which first nations joined Canada and the royal proclamation of 1763 and the basis on which they became part of our national fabric, they were simply ignored in that process.

It is a matter before the courts and I would say the courts would find likewise. I suggest this lack of consultation applies to legislation of this kind when it is so integral to first nations, their culture and their way of life.

Business of Supply January 31st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, when the member says that this party and this member is opposed to the building of pipelines, that grossly overstates what I said. I had reference to only one pipeline, a pipeline that has been, if not universally, by a vast majority of people, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, rejected in British Columbia. It has been rejected because the kind of consultation that the government has undertaken has simply fallen short of the mark. That seems to be the key point to make in this regard.

Consultation has to start with the kind of meaningful recognition, the kind of respect of which I spoke during my remarks that I find lacking. Yes, there have been a process because the courts have demanded that there be process that is meaningful and that progress has occurred. It is simply not adequate as Idle No More and other first nation leadership have made so obvious to the government of the day. Yes, there has been a process and progress. Has that been adequate? Absolutely not.

Business of Supply January 31st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Churchill.

I rise today to deliver my first speech as the member of Parliament for Victoria. I am anxious to contribute to this historic debate on the plight of aboriginal peoples, but before doing so please permit me to begin by sincerely thanking the people of Victoria for giving me the opportunity to serve in this role.

As everyone in this place knows, there is no greater honour or privilege than to serve our fellow citizens. Being part of the Canadian democratic process up close and personal as a candidate recently was without doubt one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I did so with the support not only of my family but also with the help of virtually hundreds of dedicated and selfless volunteers. I want to pay tribute to them for their tireless work because I will never forget that without them I would not be here today.

I must also acknowledge the constant support of the former member of Parliament for Victoria, Denise Savoie, who was so well respected on both sides of the House. Not only was she a very successful Deputy Speaker, but her behaviour in this place was also a true example of the kind of civility and respect I desire to follow. On the basis of conversations with countless members, I can say for sure that she will be greatly missed in this place.

I wish to place my remarks today in context and tell members a bit about why I am so honoured personally to speak about the continuing quest of aboriginal people for justice.

I had the opportunity to work for governments, industry and first nations in consultation efforts before becoming an MP. I was a treaty negotiator for over a decade on Vancouver Island, representing the Province of British Columbia, and I have visited virtually every first nation community on Vancouver Island. I also worked with first nations and Inuit in Nunavut, as well as first nations in northeastern British Columbia in negotiating economic development agreements. I think this work has given me some familiarity with the sense of desperation that marks the lives of so many of our fellow citizens, not only those who live on remote reserves but also those who live in poverty in our major cities.

There is probably little value in repeating the litany of shocking statistics that we all know so well: the suicide rates, the dropout rates, the infant mortality rates, and the deplorable conditions of those living in communities like Attawapiskat or closer to my home in Victoria, the Pacheedaht First Nation.

In trying to come up with solutions, I also believe there is little utility in bringing up the failures and disappointments of the past. It does not help to bemoan the fact that the Kelowna accord was never implemented or that so little seems to have been done with the sweeping and excellent recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Instead, Canadians of good faith must work together urgently to seek fresh solutions, solutions that are grounded in the work of the past and the blueprint of the Dussault-Erasmus report, but only as a point of departure, because the time for action is certainly long overdue. Fresh ideas are desperately needed, grounded in the recognition of the constitutional rights of first nations to meaningful consultation and recognition of a nation-to-nation relationship between the Crown and first nation peoples.

It is about the word “respect”. All first nations I have been privileged to work with constantly remind us of the need for respect. For example, the language of the Nuu-chah-nulth people uses the word eesok to connote that concept of respect. First nations have demanded that we establish a new relationship grounded on this bedrock principle of respect.

There are two things I would like to speak to today in this context that are essential to meaningful, ongoing economic development that will work for the Inuit, the Métis and first nation peoples in Canada. They are consultation, and the recognition of self-government. The Conservative government simply must do a better job on consultation.

We all know the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, to accommodate aboriginal and treaty rights. However, it is not through endless lawsuits that the concept of consultation will be determined. It is not through these rote exercises of counting how many meetings one attended or seeing who was there, tallying it up and seeing if a court will later say it was satisfactory. That is not what it is about. It is about respect. It is about communication and it is about establishing long-term relationships. These are the three things that will ultimately make the difference.

Courts are not going to accept going through the motions and lots of words. They have not in the past. They will insist on meaningful consultation and, as they have reminded us recently, this is grounded in the honour of the Crown. This will always be the touchstone of our relationship with first nations going forward.

As the recent Idle No More movement and aboriginal leadership has so passionately argued, the current government has weakened the environmental protection laws on which first nation communities depend.

The regrettable omnibus budget bills have failed to take into account treaty rights, the basis of the historic relationship between the Crown and first nation people.

In some parts of the country, notably British Columbia and the north, there were no historic treaties, and so it is section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, that is the basis of aboriginal rights and aboriginal title, as enshrined.

Aboriginal communities simply have a right to participate in the management and disposition of lands and resources over which they have asserted claims, even if those claims have not yet been recognized by the courts or finally resolved.

In more modern times in British Columbia, the duty to consult and accommodate has simply not been observed by the government. For example, the application by Enbridge to build its bitumen pipeline from the oil sands to Prince Rupert has attracted vociferous opposition from first nations across the province. They are joined by the majority of non-aboriginal British Columbians in saying they oppose this deeply flawed proposal.

The vast majority of first nation communities have said no to this kind of dangerous pipeline and tanker project, as have the people of British Columbia by majority. The risks we are being asked to assume are simply unacceptable. As a recent candidate in a coastal community like Victoria, there is enormous opposition to this project by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike. I think it is time for the government as well to say no to the kind of shortsighted development that Enbridge represents. It simply has to do a better job with consultation.

Turning to self-government, what does that mean? It means, according to Stephen Cornell of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, three things: that jurisdiction counts, self-government matters, that effective governing institutions are essential and that these governing institutions must be appropriate for the cultures in which they are situated. In short, good government matters.

That is why I would like to salute the excellent work being done by Miles Richardson, former president of the Haida nation, who is now working as a senior associate with the Institute on Governance. The objective is to improve governance arrangements for first nations so they can be more effective partners in economic development.

As I mentioned, the government institutions have to be culturally appropriate and have the support of the people. As Professor Cornell states:

Institutions that match contemporary indigenous cultures are more successful than those that don’t.

In conclusion, I know that the Conservatives will simply say that budget 2013 is all about job creation and economic development and that first nations will benefit as other Canadians do. That is the mantra.

However, without the real application of the constitutional requirements of meaningful consultation and a recognition of self-government and government-to-government relationships, this economic development will not occur and will not be meaningful on the ground of first nations.

Canada Revenue Agency January 31st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, without warning the Conservatives have cut the direct mailing of tax packages to Canadians, which has a disproportionate effect on seniors. The Conservative plan to get more people to file their taxes online has security experts raising alarm bells that the new system is opening up greater chances for fraud.

As the Privacy Commissioner now conducts her investigation, would the minister commit to sending tax packages to Canadians until the matter is resolved?

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012 January 28th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague, the member for Parkdale—High Park, on an excellent analysis of the bill, for which I am grateful.

My question is in respect of the member's role on the finance committee. Could she advise as to what the government is doing to ensure compliance by the public with the technical tax changes that are contemplated? Is the government being asked to change the way in which it seeks compliance with these admittedly very technical changes?

The Environment December 11th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today and represent the people of Victoria.

Against the wishes of many residents, Conservatives recently approved a mega-yacht marina in Victoria's inner harbour. A planned environmental assessment was cancelled, yet another victim of last spring's omnibus budget bill.

When will Conservatives stop ignoring the people of Victoria and start consulting with them?