House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was asbestos.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 28% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Health June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is not okay to put poison in our food just because it is properly labelled. Banning trans fat will save lives, full stop, period, yet 11 years after Parliament directed government to ban trans fat, we are still clogging our children's arteries with this toxic goop.

The United States has taken direct action and banned trans fat in all its forms. Will Canadians have to wait until the NDP forms the next government before we can protect consumers from this public health hazard?

Committees of the House June 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, in relation to its study on the programs and the activities of the Canadian General Standards Board.

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Canadians may be even more concerned that the total budget for the Senate is more like $90 million. The House of Commons gets to vote on the $57 million in vote 1, which is the appropriation for the Senate, but some of its funding is in fact statutory.

The fact is that Canadians are wondering why they are paying anything for it. Not only has there been a pattern of abuse, but it serves as an undemocratic barrier to the will of the people as expressed by those elected representatives in the House of Commons, time and time again. There are 133 examples that the researchers at the Library of Parliament found for me where bills were vetoed by the Senate which were passed in the House of Commons.

Nobody elected those guys to make legislation. Senators should have no right to interfere with the will of the House of Commons, and they certainly should have no right to generate bills.

More and more bills that we are dealing with in the House of Commons, as members know, are not called Bill C-51, for example, but rather Bill S-6, Bill S-13, or Bill S-33. The bills are originating in the Senate. Here we are dutifully debating bills that are generated in the other chamber. It is completely upside down. It is completely absurd. If Canadians think about it, this is an affront to democracy and everything that is good and decent about our notion of democracy.

When Sir. John A. Macdonald first crafted the Senate, to cut him some slack, he was two years away from the American Civil War. He was looking south of the border thinking that he could not give too much authority without some checks and balances or God knows what could happen. North America was traumatized. However, that happened not in the last century, but the century before that.

We do not need to be bound by the limitations of John A. Macdonald's thinking when he made that terrible quote about how “We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor”.

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have dropped the ball on the Senate, and I share the frustration. We have to give them credit for trying, and they did try. I went with the Prime Minister on the day he introduced the bill in the Senate regarding limiting the term to eight years. I was curious to see how the public and Senate would react. The fact is that it is now put on the too-hard-to-do pile. The Prime Minister has washed his hands of any commitment to reform the Senate.

I remember when the old Reform Party used to bring out the Mexican hat dance and the mariachi band, and play outside the Senate, criticizing those senators who spent all their time on the beach in Mexico. That was when we had people who were committed to reform the Senate, and we joined them in their enthusiasm.

However, the fact is that tonight we are voting on sending another $57 million to the Senate with no more accountability than the last pile of money that it abused.

Canadians have to ask themselves if they want us to spend their hard-earned tax dollars this way, and if so, why?

I ask all members of Parliament if, deep in their own conscience, they are accurately reflecting the will of their constituents if they vote in favour of funding the undemocratic, unelected, under indictment Senate.

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, what I was referring to was how much I enjoyed the exercise leading up to the Charlottetown accord. What an honour it was, as a carpenter by trade, to be chosen as an ordinary Canadian, going through what was an incredible learning experience, learning about the fabric of our country.

As my colleague knows, the Charlottetown accord was not limited to the future of the Senate or the reform of the Senate, although substantive recommendations were made. If my memory serves me, the accord proposed that each province would be assigned six senators and each territory one, and additional seats would be added for the representation of aboriginal peoples of Canada, an idea that we borrowed from the country of New Zealand, where the Maori have representation, and that elections would take place under the federal jurisdiction at the same time as elections in the House of Commons.

Those were interesting developments arrived at by consensus-building in six meetings across the country, talking to ordinary Canadians.

The initiative failed, but at least the government of the day did not put it on the too-hard-to-do pile. It embraced it as an issue and as a subject that Canadians wanted to talk about.

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the commitment has been, and it has been made very publicly as recently as this weekend, that the leader of the official opposition would consult with Canadians and would consult the premiers for the purposes of finding collective interests in abolishing the Senate and meeting the requisite numbers where the Senate could in fact be abolished, as per the lower chambers. All the provinces that used to have second chambers have gone bicameral, those will testify and admit that their lower chambers were not diminished by abolishing the upper chamber; in fact, they were strengthened.

However, the mandate of senators comes into question, too, and it needs to be addressed as it is part of the problem that we are facing today and part of the abuse that we are going to hear declared by the Auditor General when he releases his report tomorrow. It has to do with the fact that the mandate of senators, as they see it, is so open-ended that the mandate of a senator is anything the senator deems to be his or her mandate. They are spending money freely, without any oversight, without any scrutiny, without any control even by the rule of reporting.

If the ruling party has senators in its caucus, surely the ruling party could exercise some control over those senators so they do not abuse the system and abuse their expense accounts. Where is the accountability on the part of the ruling party and the Conservatives?

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, on your request, I would be happy to withdraw it and replace the word with one big fat “insult” to the Canadian people, if that is more palatable to those present.

That whole group, the whole Conservative war room, could continue its purely partisan activities with $140,000-a-year salary, staff and office space, and incredible travel privileges. It is wrong and unfair on so many levels that I do not even know where to begin.

Also, the Conservatives are by no means alone in this. The Liberals have been equally guilty over the years of stacking the Senate with their political operatives, so that the partisan activities of the party are passed on to the taxpayer. It is an abomination and an affront to democracy.

Earlier I referred to the early years of our democracy when the Senate would veto much of the legislation passed by the House of Commons. I spoke about how the Senate arbitrarily vetoed J.S. Woodsworth's Old Age Pensions Act of 1926. We spoke of the Senate vetoing funding for the new unemployment insurance act in the 1960s. One would think such a thing could never happen today, but one would be wrong.

I refer members to Bill C-311 in the last Parliament, Jack Layton's climate change accountability act. For five years, over two minority Parliaments, Jack Layton massaged and encouraged his climate change bill through the lower chamber, only to have it unilaterally and arbitrarily struck down in the Senate without a single hour of debate and without a single witness being heard. Now Canada, at the G7 discussion on climate change, hangs its head in shame, because it has nothing to bring to the table. No legislation has ever been brought forward on the subject of this existential threat to the world. It is no wonder Jack Layton called the Senate “outdated and obsolete...a 19th-century institution that has no place in a modern democracy in the 21st century.”

I refer also to the member for Wellington—Halton Hills and the very modest parliamentary reform act that he encouraged members of Parliament to adopt. I believe the vote was 270 to 17 in favour in the House of Commons and, sure enough, it has gone to the Senate to die, I believe. I put it to everyone that we will not see that bill succeed in the 42nd Parliament.

The third bill was already mentioned by my colleague from Windsor, which I believe you put forward, Mr. Speaker, on sports betting. It has languished for three years in the Senate, probably never to be seen again. The last bill was introduced by my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, a bill on transgendered rights, an important bill that was nurtured through the House of Commons, a very real social issue, again dying an unnatural death in the Senate.

After years of failed attempts and a frustrating Supreme Court ruling, Senate reform is now sitting squarely on the too-hard-to-do pile. The Prime Minister would have us believe that there is no appetite among the provinces for what he calls another round of constitutional wrangling, but how would he know? He has never called a first ministers meeting. He has never asked them. It has been 23 years since we had a go at amending the Constitution. Does he think that is too frequent to consider the well-being of our federation?

The Constitution is supposed to be a dynamic document, a living, breathing thing, not static and rigid. I think the Prime Minister is wrong. I believe there is a real and growing appetite for reopening the Constitution to discuss any number of things, from interprovincial trade to revenue sharing, to the Canada pension plan, to yes, even the future of the Senate of Canada.

I took part in the constituent assemblies leading up to the Charlottetown accord led by Joe Clark. I was one of the ordinary Canadians who wrote a letter to The Globe and Mail and 160 of us were chosen to learn more about the Constitution of Canada and embrace some of the issues that the federation was facing. I can inform members that it is a healthy exercise to take the pulse of the federation from time to time and try to address the legitimate concerns and grievances that inevitably grow in a federal system of government. It is healthy to come together to reaffirm the resolve that it takes to keep our loosely knit federation intact.

It was a worthwhile and important effort that almost had me convinced that the Senate could be fixed. I no longer believe that. I now share the view of the premier of Saskatchewan that it is irredeemable and should be abolished.

Let me close by quoting, once again, Mr. Greg Thomas, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, in his recent article in the Toronto Star:

The Senate is a disgrace to Canada. The Senate doesn’t make our nation better; it makes it worse. And unelected assembly of landowners has no legitimate right to rule over the rest of us, no matter what the Constitution says. The Senate is a constitutional institution, to be sure. But then, so was...the slave trade, in Britain, in the 19th century.

Democracy in Canada could be enhanced by abolishing the Senate.

I say to my colleagues, through you, Mr. Speaker, by voting nay on vote 1 of the main estimates tonight, members of the House of Commons will put this issue on the national agenda. I urge members present to vote tonight, reflect upon what is best for democracy, reflect upon what their constituents would want them to do and vote accordingly. I suggest that leaves them with no choice but to vote no on vote 1 of the main estimates 2015-16.

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today on behalf of the New Democratic Party to oppose vote 1 in the main estimates, the appropriation of $57 million for the Senate of Canada, and to urge my colleagues in the House of Commons from all parties to do the same.

We simply cannot keep giving them money. It only encourages them. I put it to members that while we may not have the authority to unilaterally abolish the Senate, we can cut off its blood supply, curb its activities, and limit the ability associated with this wholesale waste of money and abuse of power.

Let us face it, Canadians have just about had it with the upper chamber. The Auditor General's forensic audit, to be released tomorrow, is not going to improve the public's opinion of this outdated, undemocratic vestigial appendix of colonialism. In short, the jig is up for the Senate of Canada. No amount of tinkering is going to convince Canadians that it is worth preserving. No amount of bafflegab from the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister is going to take the stink off recent developments in the Senate of Canada.

I want to know the answer to the question I did not get a chance to ask. Why did the parliamentary secretary end up making this speech instead of the person who moved the motion to adopt and fund this appropriation, which is the President of the Treasury Board? It may be revealed later in the day.

This latest round of expense account shenanigans may be the catalyst for the public's latest outrage. Stories of wretched excess and gluttony never fail to offend the sensibilities of hard-working Canadian taxpayers, but the pure patronage pork of the Senate appointments process since its inception has been unworthy of any western democracy, and it is a disgrace.

Greg Thomas, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calls it a “wretched bordello of back-scratching”.

However, there are more serious reasons why the jig is up for the Senate and why we should not only cut off its funding but find a way to abolish it altogether, and I will address those reasons as we go forward in tonight's debate.

I want to say at the outset that there is a great history and tradition of the member of my riding opposing the vote in the main estimates funding the Senate. The former member for Winnipeg Centre, J.S. Woodsworth, began efforts to abolish the Senate and oppose its funding when he was first elected as the member for the Independent Labour Party in 1921.

Woodsworth opposed funding for the Senate, because he knew what the Senate stood for and why it was really created. It was created to keep the democratically elected House of Commons from passing laws that may have a deleterious effect on the interests of capital and the wealthy. Sober second thought meant curbing the misguided ambitions of the great unwashed, like members in the lower chamber, who may seek to legislate in the best interests of ordinary Canadians not just in the best interests of capital. He knew that the Senate was not just an expensive nuisance. He knew that it was an obstacle and an impediment to democracy

Apologists will say that the Senate is there to protect the rights of minorities. What they do not say is that the minority they are talking about is the rich and powerful elite. In the words of Sir John A. Macdonald himself when debating the creation of the Senate:

We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor.

It was created as a check on the democratically elected chamber in case they got too uppity. In the first decades of our history as a nation, the Senate vetoed almost half the legislation the lower chamber sent up to it. J.S. Woodsworth and the Independent Labour Party got burned themselves by the Senate. I want to share this example with the House.

In 1925, the Independent Labour Party offered to support the minority Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King in exchange for one simple thing: a promise to create an old age security pension. Mackenzie King agreed, and a famous letter sealing the deal is on file at the NDP headquarters on Laurier Street as we speak. The legislation was passed at all stages through the House of Commons, only to be rejected in 1926, vetoed by the Liberal-dominated Senate.

The will of the people as expressed by the democratically elected members of the House of Commons was thwarted and undermined by the unelected Senate. As a result, Canadians went into the Great Depression with no old age security.

It should offend the sensibilities of anyone professing to be a Democrat if the will of the people, as expressed by their democratically elected representatives in Parliament, can be vetoed on a whim by unelected, self-serving partisans appointed by the ruling party.

That is what rubbed the Reverend J.S. Woodsworth the wrong way. As early as 1926, there is record of him calling for the Senate's abolition.

J.S. Woodsworth, as many here will know, went on to become the founder and the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP. It should surprise no one, then, that at its founding convention in Regina, 1933, the party called upon an amendment to the British North America Act to abolish the Senate. The Regina Manifesto is worth remembering today. It says:

In its peculiar composition of a fixed number of members appointed for life...It is a standing obstacle to all progressive legislation, and the only...satisfactory method of dealing with the constitutional difficulties it creates is to abolish it.

When J.S. Woodsworth passed away in 1942, the good people of my riding elected another United Church minister and long-standing advocate of the social gospel movement, the Reverend Stanley Knowles. He remained the MP for Winnipeg North Centre for 42 years. During that time, he faithfully continued the tradition established by Woodsworth of trying to defund the Senate as an interim step toward its ultimate abolition. He put forward motions and bills to abolish the Senate at least 18 times that my research can find. I am proud of the history and the tradition of the Independent Labour Party, the CCF and the NDP in my riding of Winnipeg Centre.

I can say with all humility that every day I take my seat in the House of Commons, I am very aware of the honour that is mine to stand in the footsteps of these two great men, two of the greatest champions of social economic justice and democracy that this country has ever known. It is a great honour for me to uphold the Winnipeg Centre tradition of opposing any further funding for the Senate in the main estimates of this year or any other, and to work toward the day that the institution is abolished and excised from the Parliament of Canada once and for all.

I am not going to indulge today in any bashing of individual senators because, notwithstanding some ethical lapses by some, the real problem lies with the institution, not with the individuals. As Stanley Knowles said in 1964, after the Senate killed a bill to fund the unemployment insurance system, many members of the Senate are decent and even “outstanding Canadians. Many of them have rendered great service to this country. That is not the issue. The issue is the power they possess.”

He went on to say:

The Senate of Canada, whose members are appointed for life, has powers greater than those of any such body in any democratic state. The British House of Lords can delay the passing of a bill for only one year. Our Senate could veto a Commons measure year after year to the end of time.... The House of Lords cannot reject or even delay a bill providing money. Our Senate can...

It just did, with the unemployment insurance bill of 1964.

Should non-elected people be in a position to veto or delay the will of those elected by the people?

I believe it should not. That is why my party and I have long favoured the abolition of the Senate.

I was reminded today of Mikhail Gorbachev's reaction when he was touring our Parliament with Eugene Whelan and how stunned he was that Canadian senators were not only appointed, but appointed for life. He was shocked, according to The Toronto Star. A member of the politburo in a communist dictatorship was aghast at what an affront that is, just as we all should be shocked. It is unworthy of any western democracy. It is an embarrassment and it is a national disgrace.

The appointment process has offended Canadians perhaps even more than the bogus expense claims. No prime minister in the history of Canada has abused the appointment process as much as the current Prime Minister. It is ironic and, perhaps, even poetic justice that his first broken promise to Canadians, “I will not appoint unelected senators”, has now come to be perhaps his greatest headache, his greatest liability and hangs like a great stinking albatross around his neck. He has appointed 59 senators and counting. It seems that it did not take him long to learn, like other prime ministers before him, that patronage is the K-Y Jelly of politics.

Members will remember the notorious day when, in an absolute orgy of political patronage, the Prime Minister appointed ten failed Conservative candidates, the campaign manager of the Conservative Party's election campaign, the president of the Conservative Party, the communications director of the Conservative Party and the chief fundraiser of the Conservative Party.

Pretty much the whole war room of the Conservative Party's election campaign was appointed to the Senate as one big fat “eff you” to the Canadian public and there they could continue their purely—

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have a very short and specific question. The debate we are having now is on a motion in the name of the President of the Treasury Board, seconded by the member for Central Nova, or Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, which is what he does now that he has announced his retirement.

My question is, why did both of them take off like jackrabbits when it came time to speak to the motion? Why did they leave it up to the parliamentary--

MAIN ESTIMATES 2015-16 June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my concern is again on the issue of relevance. We are wasting valuable time that is dedicated to the deliberation on vote 1, which is an appropriation of $57 million to the Senate. I am interested in asking a question of the parliamentary secretary. He is wildly off topic. I wonder if you, Mr. Speaker, will rein him in, call him to order, or ask him to sit down so that I can ask a question of him.