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Conservative MP for Thornhill (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 59% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Foreign Affairs December 14th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals embarrassed themselves yesterday when they donned Ukrainian traditional dress to praise an ally and then voted against recognition of the Soviet genocide of Crimean Tatars. Whipping MPs to cozy up to Putin is just another example of the Liberals muting Canada's principled voice on human rights this year, as with China, Iran, Cuba, Ethiopia, Syria, Congo, and the UN.
When will the Liberals stand up and speak truth out loud to tyrants and despots?
Petitions December 12th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition from Thornhill constituents who recognize and stress the importance of expanding Canada's international trade with Asia-Pacific partners as a top priority in building a stronger middle class and ensuring Canada's long-term economic prosperity. These petitioners call on the government to better inform itself and the Canadian public on the benefits of pipelines, specifically the Trans Mountain and the energy east pipelines, and to reconsider the decision on the northern gateway pipeline.
Crimean Tatar Deportation (“Sürgünlik”) Memorial Day Act December 7th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today in support of my colleague from Edmonton Griesbach and his bill, Bill C-306. This is an act to establish a memorial day to honour victims of the Crimean Tatar deportation, the Sürgünlik, and to recognize the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 as an act of genocide. As my colleague stated when he tabled Bill C-306 in September, “The bill condemns a very dark chapter in history and takes a principled stand in support of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law”.
Some of my colleagues have wondered out loud, respectfully, why we in this House should create another day that memorializes a tragic chapter of history of which most Canadians are unaware, a tragedy commonly overlooked and lost among more powerfully documented and commemorated horrors and crimes against humanity that occurred during the Second World War. My answer to those who ask is that it is from the detail of history that societies learn the essentials of humanity and how to avoid repetition of such horrors today and in the future.
To those who question the relevance of another memorial day, asking how many Canadians of Tatar descent live among us, I answer, not many. Officially, according to the last census, there are fewer than 3,000. In fact, the numbers may be somewhat larger, given that many descendants of survivors of the Tatar genocide are incorrectly considered to be Russian. Whether 3,000 or more, the strength of this wonderful, diverse country is drawn from our community of communities, large and small, and respect among them for the histories, the trials and tribulations, and the stories of survival, of cruelty, and of gross inhumanity.
The Tatar people were, back in the 13th century, a dominant population in Crimea, a powerful trading crossroads of the Mongol Empire, later falling under control of the Ottoman Empire. From the 18th century, Catherine the Great annexed the Crimean peninsula as part of her vast expansion of the Russian Empire. During the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Crimea was the last holdout of the White Army.
The Crimean Tatars were not spared the horrors of the Holodomor, Stalin's man-made famine in the early 1930s that resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians. In 2008, as members know, Canada became the first country to officially recognize the Holodomor as genocide.
That brings us to the Crimean genocide. During World War II, after the Nazi army invaded the Crimean peninsula, thousands of Tatars were conscripted into the German army, along with Russians and Ukrainians. When the Germans were expelled from Crimea in 1944, the Russians took vengeance on the forced collaboration, even though many more Tatars had fought on the Russian side, a number of them awarded Hero of the Soviet Union medals. Nonetheless, Stalin declared the entire Tatar nation, including non-combatants, women, children, and thousands of men still fighting in the ranks of the Red Army, izmeniky rodina, traitors of the motherland.
Then, on May 18, 1944, Soviet Red Army troops and soldiers from the dreaded NKVD, Stalin's secret police, surrounded the tiny Tatar communities, hamlets really, in the south Crimean mountains and on the coast. They rounded up men, women, and children, shooting all who resisted, packed them onto train cattle cars, and transported them to destinations deep in Soviet central Asia. Many thousands died on that journey, their bodies simply dumped from the cars.
One massive group of deportees arrived in the desert Republic of Uzbekistan, where they were dumped and died by the thousands of starvation and exposure. Survivors remained in secret police labour camps until 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev opened the camps, allowing them to try to make their way home. Barely half of the Tatar people survived.
Tragically, when those who did survive arrived home, they found that their communities had been expropriated by Russians. They were denied resettlement and were dispersed around eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
However, this Tatar diaspora taught its children well, ensuring that future generations would know their true homeland. For a brief period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed as though they would be able to return. Some 250,000 Crimean Tatars did return, and from hundreds of original squatter camps, new communities were built. Returning Tatars gradually came to compose at least 12% of Crimea's population.
Then came the Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The Tatar legislature, the Mejlis, was banned, Russia calling it an extremist organization. So the centuries old Russian marginalization, persecution, and depression of Tatars continues today.
That brings us to the question of commemoration of the tragic, inhuman 1944 deportation. On November 12, 2015, the parliament of Ukraine recognized the 1944 mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet regime as a genocide. With this recognition, the Ukraine parliament established May 18 as an official day of commemoration.
Passage of Bill C-306 would similarly designate the 18th day of May each and every year as the Crimean Tatar deportation, or Sürgünlik, memorial day in Canada. The bill has been endorsed by a number of highly respected organizations. The League of Ukrainian Canadians, for example, says that the timing for passage of Bill C-306 could not be more appropriate. The league points out that while the Russian government is conducting purges today of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian patriots in occupied Crimea, the bill would send a strong message to Crimean Tatars living under occupation, that the world, that Canada, has not forgotten them.
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people writing to the sponsor of the bill, the member for Edmonton Griesbach, says that this is yet another way for Canada to determine its solidarity with Ukraine and its people and, when passed, the bill will create a precedent in the western world and hopefully be taken up by other countries.
The League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, in a letter of endorsement for Bill C-306 wrote, “By recognizing the deportation of Crimean Tatars as an act of genocide, the Parliament of Canada would show its continuing leadership in defence of human rights and the protection of indigenous people”.
The letter continues, “The present-day regime of Vladimir Putin aims to punish Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian compatriots for their principled position and non-recognition of the occupation”.
The letter concludes, saying, “we...call on Members of Parliament from both sides of the aisle to take a principled position and support the bill in the name of recognizing the wrongdoings of the past to prevent their repetition in the future”.
That says it all. I would urge all members of the House to support this worthy bill, Bill C-306.
Foreign Affairs December 6th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, Lebanon has long claimed to be the only democracy in the Arab world, but we know dark forces are constantly at play inside past and current governments. The minister just held what were called productive meetings with Lebanon's president and foreign minister, and he announced $8 million in security and defence assistance for Lebanon.
Did Canada's minister offer this generous aid fully aware that the Lebanese foreign minister is on the record equating what he called ISIS and Israeli terrorism?
Israel December 5th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, most Canadians recognize that, at its extremist core, the boycott, divest, and sanctions movement seeks to eliminate Israel by destroying its economy. That is why, in August, Canadian Jewish community groups were supported by citizens across the religious spectrum in condemning a Green Party resolution to embed BDS as official party policy.
This weekend, the Green Party passed a rewritten so-called compromise resolution that is in fact its most anti-Israel position yet. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, CIJA, said that the resolution confirms that the Green Party has been co-opted by extreme activists who, in an obsessive campaign of prejudice against Israelis, threaten the party's own credibility and relevance in Canadian politics.
Earlier this year, by a large majority, the House formally condemned the demonization of the state of Israel. I hope MPs will reaffirm that powerful statement today.
Business of Supply December 1st, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's remarks. Many on both sides of the House have commented today on Canada's constructive engagement over the decades by previous Conservative and Liberal governments. The minister did forget to mention that in fact it was our government that enabled the re-establishment of communications between the United States and Cuba, which led to at least a temporary rapprochement.
I think the minister, like so may of his Liberal colleagues, is drifting somewhat off the topic of the motion before us, which is to reject the over-the-top nostalgic statement of condolence issued by the Prime Minister last Saturday. It has made Canada the laughingstock of the world.
While we know that the Liberals are engaged in an indecent pursuit of Security Council votes from countries both democratic and despotic, when he refers to Canada's “influential and trusted voice”, I hope that he realizes today that that influential and trusted voice has been sadly bruised by the unbalanced remarks by the Prime Minister last Saturday.
Business of Supply December 1st, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I know that there are a number of members of the Liberal government who were as outraged as those on this side of the House as those around the world, and certainly those in Cuba who are still under the communist boot of oppression, that there was not a single word about the Cuban people in that statement.
The relationship with Fidel was glorified. The meeting with Raúl was described as an honour, and this man is even more ruthless than his brother, and has reversed some of the minor improvements in human rights on the island that Fidel brought in.
I would suggest that my colleague should perhaps go back and take a look at that statement, and then look at the statement made by Prime Minister Harper on the death of that other dictator in the Americas, Hugo Chávez, which were much more appropriate remarks.
Business of Supply December 1st, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I must say that I pause and can only wonder at what the statement of condolences might have read like, had the NDP had the pen.
In answer to the question about Rights and Democracy, during our Conservative government, it was found that the organization, which was originally a worthy organization championing human rights around the world, had become very dysfunctional. There were financial management issues, and questions about the appropriate relationships of some members of Rights and Democracy with some unsavoury organizations and regimes around the world. It was decided that the organization had had its time, and it was closed down.
Business of Supply December 1st, 2016
That, in light of the regrettable comments made by the Prime Minister on behalf of Canadians on the death of Fidel Castro, and in an effort to send a clear signal to Cuban people and the international community that his comments do not reflect the true sentiments of Canadians, the House: (a) reject the comments made by the Prime Minister on November 26, 2016; (b) recognize the past atrocities and repression borne by the Cuban people under the rule of Fidel Castro, including his long and oppressive regime of imprisoning critics and reported beatings during arrest, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the suffering and restrictions placed on the press, minorities, and the democratic process, including the LGBT community; and (c) express its hope and full support for the people of Cuba, that they may now begin to see freedom and a commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, in order to ensure a brighter and better future for the Cuban people now and for generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary Shepard.
The debate on the motion before us today will enable members of all parties in the House to send a clear message to all of the people of Cuba, as well as to the international community, our democratic allies, and Canadians whose true sentiments are not reflected in the Prime Minister's regrettable condolences regarding Castro.
The Prime Minister, in expressing his personal sorrow at the passing of Cuba's communist dictator, made no mention at all of the Cubans whom Castro executed, imprisoned, tortured, and oppressed. The outrageously affectionate and nostalgic statement may be attributed to the PM's romanticized family connections; perhaps because of a shallow familiarity with Cuban history; perhaps due to the fact that he has never met a victim of Castro's tyranny; or, that he, on his recent quick trip to Havana, was wined and dined by Cuba's communist 1%, and that the representatives of civil society whom he met were not representative of Cuba's long-suffering, impoverished, under-employed, and oppressed society.
Today, we will remind our Liberal colleagues not of an idealized, cherry-picked, or confected Cuban history, but the facts.
It is true that Fidel Castro was a revolutionary hero. He overthrew a corrupt, brutal military dictator, Fulgencio Batista. But then Castro betrayed the Cuban people and rival rebel groups that had shared the revolution's victory. There were firing squads, prisons, and re-education camps for decades. Then armed and emboldened as a proxy of the Soviet Union, Castro enabled the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, which precipitated one of the most perilous moments of the Cold War. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the Cuban dictator exported revolution widely. Castro sent tens of thousands of his soldiers to fight in a variety of Marxist revolutions and wars in Angola, Congo, Bolivia, Ethiopia, North Vietnam, to Syria and Egypt against Israel, and to Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The Prime Minister said in his overwrought condolences of last weekend that Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation. Well, he did. Cuba has a world-class literacy rate and a health care system that is the envy of the developing world, but that is within and under the oppressive confines of a repressive communist regime. Doctors and nurses very often work part-time in unskilled jobs that pay better than their professional state wages. The Cuban education system is also notable for hosting revolutionaries from across the Americas and the Caribbean over the decades, providing technical and military training, propaganda skills, and political indoctrination.
That brings us to the fact that while educated and healthy, the literate, fine-fettled people of Cuba are brutally denied freedom of speech and freedom of association. Religion was banned for decades, and though recently restored, religious rights are very tightly controlled. The Communist Party of Cuba controls the army, all government offices, most civil institutions, all media organizations, schools, and universities, and even the official rigidly controlled gay rights organization. I will have more about that in a moment.
Although prisons today hold far fewer political prisoners than in previous decades, heavy-handed restrictions remain on any independent non-communist-approved organizations, unions, human rights groups, or political parties. Members associated with these groups are now the most often detained citizens. The systematic repression, for example, of Cuba's Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White, continues today. These are women, peaceful civil rights and human rights protestors, who regularly assemble silently in Havana's public spaces, where they are also regularly brutally harassed and detained or driven far into the countryside and dumped by the roadside.
I would like to speak now to the fact that Canada is one of only two countries that did not participate in the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Governments, both Liberal and Conservative, constructively engaged with Castro's communist government, albeit Pierre Trudeau's Liberals were flamboyantly and much more passionately and ideologically committed.
Canadian business and industry were allowed to participate in joint partnership with Cuban state enterprises, for example, in mining and tourism and services, partnerships that for decades were mutually beneficial. Sherrit International Corporation has been the largest Canadian investor, operating 50% jointly owned nickel mines in Moa, Cuba, and smelting and refining operations in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. However, in recent years, the investment climate in Cuba has changed for many Canadians and other international investors.
The Prime Minister said in his sorrowful tribute to the dictator Fidel on Saturday that it had been an “honour” to meet his brother two weeks prior, the successor dictator, and equally or perhaps even more ruthless, Raúl.
While the Cuban government has aggressively promoted new business opportunities in recent years, President Raúl Castro has launched a so-called anti-corruption campaign, using Cuban interior ministry forces, a secret police force modelled on the East German Stasi, to crack down not only on domestic Cuban corruption but also effectively steal foreign companies and their assets.
A constituent of mine, a businessman engaged in joint partnerships with the Cuban government for decades, who was even given awards of excellence by President Fidel, was detained under house arrest in 2011, including then in the notorious La Condesa prison outside Havana for more than three years, many of those years without formal charges. I visited the prison. It was a terrible place. He professed to his innocence throughout, despite intimidation and psychological torture. He was eventually convicted in a rigged trial on a range of flawed corruption charges, sentenced to 15 years in prison, with his $100 million in companies and assets seized, and then suddenly deported back to Canada, to Thornhill, because the bad publicity was hurting Cuba's investment campaign.
His is not the only cautionary tale for any Canadian considering investment in Cuba or joining in partnership with Cuban state enterprises. My colleagues across the House who are looking for Christmas gift reading might consider another similar equally outrageous true story of British businessman Stephen Purvis. His book Close But No Cigar has just been published and is available through Amazon U.K. The dustcover states quite accurately, “As tourists flock to Havana”, like our Prime Minister, for example, “to marvel at a city frozen in time, [Purvis] shows that despite reforms and international reconciliation the Castro regime remains a corrupt, dictatorial” regime. The book could also be relevant reading for those Canadians whose Cuban experience is limited to the cheap sand-and-sea resort bubbles, and who, like the Prime Minister, may have a romanticized perception of the regime.
I said I would return to the Castro regime's state-controlled gay community. Cuba no longer puts LGBT people in labour camps, as the communist regime did in the 1960s and 1970s, but publicly manifested homosexuality remains illegal, except and unless LGBT people are vetted and accepted as loyal communist revolutionaries. Raúl Castro's daughter Mariela is the director of the state-run Cuban National Center for Sex Education, and patron of the annual Havana pride parade. However, this event is a propaganda device, a tool designed to misportray a modern socially liberated Cuba.
I would be glad to address any number of questions in the moments that follow. However, in conclusion, I would like to offer a much better example of what the Prime Minister might have said last Saturday, using the template of Prime Minister Harper's statement on the passing of Venezuela's Marxist strongman president, Hugo Chávez, who was a protege of Fidel. If we substitute Castro for Chávez, this is how Saturday's statement could have read: “I would like to offer my condolences to the people of Cuba on the passing of President Castro. Canada looks forward to working with his successor and other leaders in the region to build a hemisphere that is more prosperous, secure and democratic.” Then our Liberal Prime Minister, speaking truly on behalf of all Canadians, could have said, “I hope the people of Cuba can now build for themselves a brighter, better future, based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
With that, I echo the thrust of the motion before us today in calling on the House to reject the comments made by the Prime Minister on November 26, 2016.
Canada Pension Plan November 29th, 2016
Madam Speaker, we in the official opposition are still waiting for the finance minister to explain his conversion on the road to higher taxes.
I think it is worthwhile as we face this closure vote to remember the words of his coauthor of The Real Retirement, Mr. Vettese, who said in the Financial Post, “Canadians are not facing retirement crisis, nor is such a crisis likely to arise”.
In a different piece, it has been said:
Instead of expending political energy on debating CPP expansion in the misguided belief that many middle- and upper-income Canadians are not saving enough for retirement, the focus of public debate should be on how best to help financially vulnerable seniors.
I wonder if the minister could explain to us how he is squaring the circle here.