House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was military.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Sackville—Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 34% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, sometimes when a lob ball is thrown, it is gets batted out of the House.

I can guarantee there are no security passes. Many constituents, including the Legion and the vets, including some Conservative members of Parliament, have been in my office, and they have had to use the phone. Oh, what a shock, that Conservative members of Parliament would be in my office and happen to make a phone call. In fact, they cannot live without their BlackBerrys constantly going off in my office.

The reality is Legion members have been in my office, and they have used the phone. I am a member of the Legion and the ANAVETS, and nine other veterans organizations. Does that mean every single one of them should be tainted by the fact that maybe they have been in my office, but only one of them should get to plug in their chair because he is a disabled veteran?

The reality is I really quite get a kick out of this, to be honest. If that is the extent of the hon. member's question, it is unbelievable. That shows the state of affairs in the Conservative Party of Canada. If that is the type of question we get from an hon. member of Parliament, who I have great respect for, who has served his country with great respect, something has happened to him now that he is a member of Parliament. To ask that type of question, it is really incredible.

I hope the member has a good night's rest and that tomorrow he understands that tomorrow should be a very good day for all of Canada's veterans.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, thank you. I appreciate that, and I will withdraw it. It was an absolute fabrication. In fact, the envelope was so stretched that it was incredible.

This is a disabled veteran from Niagara Falls who runs the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, and what does he do? The disability scooter that he has is paid for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He plugs it in to a socket in my office so he his battery is charged every time he comes up to Ottawa.

I have offered him the opportunity to put it in the hon. member for Durham's office, who has a much larger office than mine two doors down. However, I do not see the hon. member for Durham offering the same opportunity for a disabled veteran to park his scooter in his office.

That is quite offensive. For one veteran to attack another is simply unconscionable and he should be ashamed of himself. As a person who was born in Holland and whose parents were liberated by the veteran community, I have always thought that every veteran, regardless of when he or she served or how, should be treated with the utmost respect. Just because certain veterans disagree with other veterans who happen to be on the government's side, the disagreement should not result in slander in the House of Commons.

I invite the hon. member, whenever he wishes, either privately or publicly, to apologize to Mike Blais and the Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

There is another thing going on that is simply unconscionable. We heard the member say that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy actually accepted funding from “unions”. The fact is that it is an Internet veterans group that gets its funding from all kinds of people. One union gave it $2,000. That was one union, one time, yet the member said “unions”, which basically tried to make the slant that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy was just a union front. If, indeed, it is a union front, long live the union movement. However, the fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.

I only wish the hon. member for Durham, for whom I have great respect, could get his facts straight and understand that when veterans disagree with the government, it does not necessarily mean they disagree with him personally. It just means they disagree with the policies coming from his government.

That is fair. That is why they wore the uniform. That is why they stood on guard for thee. It was to be able to tell Canadians that even though we might disagree on political fronts, we at least had the right to agree to disagree.

Without hesitation, the last couple of months have not been a very good time for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. First, there was the meeting that he blew off and then came to Room 130-S. He completely embarrassed himself, the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians, for that matter, when he literally verbally abused veterans.

Then there were the events of the other day. The reality is that we heard the excuses that he did not hear the woman or that he was late for a vote. It was absolute nonsense. The reality is that I left the room five minutes after the minister and got here six minutes before the minister and still had ten minutes to spare.

He could have stopped and said that he was sorry, that he had to go to a meeting or a vote. He could have given her his card and suggested they meet in the future, but no. Not only did he not do that, but the parliamentary secretary rushed right past her. We can see that in the video.

During her press conference, two members of the minister's staff were watching her speak. The deputy minister walked by. Other staffers walked by. We would think that for one second, one member of the government or the department would have stopped and asked if there was any way that they could help her. However, no, they completely brushed her off.

What an absolute embarrassment. I, as a member of Parliament, was absolutely embarrassed that our government, even though I did not vote for it, treated her in this fashion. That is twice. Those members do not get a third time.

I can assure members not to worry. There will not be a third time, because when the election comes around, this party, the NDP, will be over on that side and we will ensure that veterans get treated with the respect they so rightfully deserve.

For example, every time I ask the minister a question, I give him the question well in advance. Today I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs, who I have great respect for, if he would he you at least meet with this woman at a time that was convenient for both of them for her to discuss her issues about her husband. The answer was that he would take it under consideration. In the House of Commons, the question was not answered. A member of Parliament from the opposition has the courtesy to give a minister the question in advance but does not even get a response.

What are people watching this expected to believe? I was not playing for political points. I was not playing any opportunism. I gave the minister the question in advance, as I always have done for 17 years. All I asked for was a respectful answer and I did not get it. What is Jenifer supposed to think now? Her husband has severe post-traumatic stress disorder and all she has asked for is a little help. Did she get it? No. She got the back of the hand of the Government of Canada, and that is shameful. Every member over there should hang their head in shame for that despicable behaviour. It is unbelievable and it goes on and on.

I have so many files on my desk from veterans across the country who are disappointed with the government.

Having said that, I hope tomorrow will be a very proud day for Canada. The Veterans Affairs committee, which I have been member of for many years, is releasing its report tomorrow. Although I cannot divulge what is in that report, I have to give the parliamentary secretary, the members of the Conservative Party, my colleagues from the Liberals and my hon. NDP colleagues as well, kudos for working together to come up with recommendations that hopefully the government will accept and move on very quickly.

This will be a start. If the government accepts and adopts the recommendations, then the committee has done its work. The Veterans Ombudsman has done his work. The Canadian Veterans Advocacy, the Legion and the vets, all those other groups that have come forward to the government over the last eight years with recommendations to improve the new veterans charter have done their work.

This will require an investment from the government not only financially, but personnel as well. I cannot say if the report is unanimous or not, but I am very proud of it. I am very proud of all the members who serve on that committee. I am very proud of all the witnesses who came before us. We heard some very heartfelt stories.

One story on the public record is about Corporal Mark Fuchko, a double amputee who took over nine months to get the paperwork done for renovations to his home. Brian Forbes of the National Council of Veterans Associations said it very clearly and succinctly: “A double amputee shouldn't have to fill out any forms”. Think about that. It should not have taken him nine months to get the help he needed; it should have taken nine minutes. The minute he was a double amputee, the department should have asked him what he needed. It should have said that it would get his house renovated and ensure that he would get everything he needed so he could move forward to a positive life.

If after the report is tabled tomorrow, we can see that kind of action, the committee under the great chair, the member for West Nova, then we will have done something really well. I, and I am sure all members of the committee, will be very proud of that.

However, as I have said before, I have been here for 17 years. I have been on a lot of committees and I have worked on a lot of recommendations. An awful lot of them are still sitting on the shelf. Just because these are recommendations does not necessarily mean the government will adopt them.

However, it will be our job in opposition, and I would hope that of the members on the back bench of the Conservative Party, to encourage their government to listen to these recommendations, to understand what was said, and be able to adopt them in a sincere and expedited manner so that those most seriously disabled and their families will get the help they need, and get it right away. We will wait and see how it turns out in that regard.

Getting back to the bill, it is a noble effort for the government to introduce legislation for the priority hiring of veterans. Again I say that I hope the government will accept the NDP's recommendation in committee to include disabled RCMP members as well. We also have to look at the fact that in many cases there are spouses of veterans who may also want to work in the public service because of their experience. I am not saying that is something we need to adopt, but it is something we should seriously look at. Many spouses of veterans have a lot of experience dealing with disabled members, whether it is psychological or medical. I believe that an awful lot of family members can provide an awful lot of assistance to us as members of Parliament, to senators, or to the Government of Canada. Hopefully, this is something the government will look at when this bill eventually gets to committee.

At the end of the day, the reality is that we need to treat every single member of the military and the RCMP and their families with the utmost respect. Bearing in mind that not every Legion, not every individual member of the military, not every member of the RCMP, or their families, are going to agree with the government of the day. I can tell the Conservatives that as a member from 1997 to 2006, I received just as many complaints when the Liberals were in power about veterans' issues and benefits, access to them, and everything else. The reality is that the complaints have not gone away.

There are new complaints, but there are some similarities. One similarity is access to benefits. When people becomes disabled, either psychologically or medically, they go through what I call the Gordian knot of bureaucracy in order to achieve those benefits in a timely manner. That is one of the biggest problems within the Government of Canada. This is why the hon. member who spoke before talked about reducing bureaucracy, basically saying 1,500 public servants will be laid off by the time the government is done.

It has only barely touched the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. This is my hobby horse that I have been on for many years. If I were sitting in the minister's chair right now, there would be no Veterans Review and Appeal Board and there would be no Bureau of Pensions Advocates. Why? It is because veterans are the only citizens who get a lawyer from the government to fight for a benefit against the government.

There is something called benefit of the doubt, the compassionate clause. We respect our veterans. An entire system is set up that costs millions of dollars to catch the possible 3%, 2%, or even less, who are trying to cheat the system. Every veteran is included in that. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board, in my 17 years, is one of the biggest problems the minister and the Government of Canada has. I hope that they will seriously look at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and understand very clearly that if a veteran comes forward with a concern of some kind, has a doctor's note that says his or her condition may be related to military service, has a second note from a specialist that qualifies and quantifies the first note and says, yes, there is a high probability this condition may have been caused by military service, that veteran should be entitled to the benefit.

What happens is veterans go through the appeal board and are denied, they go again and are denied, they go again and are denied. It is called the no-go policy. We know it very well. If the board says no long enough, the veterans go away. There is old 3D policy that I have witnessed many times. It is called the delay, deny, and then die policy. Mr. Art Humphreys of Musquodoboit Harbour had to go through that experience. Get this. He was an 87-year-old veteran who lived in his house for many years. All he asked for, because he could not go down the 13 steps any more, was a lift for his house, so he could go down to his basement to be entertained. It was where his big screen was and his friends would come.

They sent in a 25-year-old VON nurse on contract to DVA, who said, in her opinion, that all the qualities of life he needed were upstairs and that he did not need to go downstairs anymore. He was denied the lift.

I made the argument to the minister of the day and unfortunately on the day of my argument, that veteran passed away. For $425 and $30 a month rent, they could not give a World War II veteran a lift. Let us think about that.

Having said that, we will support the legislation. Hopefully our amendments will be brought in. I plead with the government and I plead with the minister to streamline the bureaucratic process to ensure that when a veteran calls in, the only thing that person on the other end of the phone should say is “How can we help you?”

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I was having a nice quiet time in my office today when I was asked to come and speak to this important legislation. I want to point out that we in the NDP will be supporting the legislation, but let us go over a little history of this.

I am probably one of the few members of Parliament in the House who was here in 2004 and 2005 when work on the new veterans charter started. One of the parameters of the new veterans charter was that priority hiring for veterans would be a key aspect of the charter. What happened was that after eight years, DND and DVA were the only two departments hiring. The other departments were simply not. Now the government is forced to bring in legislation to do such a thing.

I already said in my question that the government wants to hire veterans, but on a premise that they have to be qualified. They have to meet the test of whatever it is they applying for. It does not necessarily mean that as veterans they get jobs. It means that as veterans they may apply for a job in the public service.

Let us not forget that 30 veterans were recently released from the Commissionaires out of the Fire Watch Service at Cape Scott, Halifax. Now the government is saying it wants to hire veterans, but DND is saying it is going to lay them off. In addition, many veterans have been laid off because they were last in, first out, with all the cuts the government has made to the public service across the country. Therefore, the Conservatives are saying to all the veterans out there that they should not to worry, that if they exit the military on a medical premise of any kind, if they meet the qualifications, they may get a job with the public service. That is “if, if and may”. There is no guarantee that will happen.

However, we hope to improve the legislation because we notice that in all the discussions of the Conservatives over there, they have not once mentioned the RCMP. Why should RCMP veterans who apply for their benefits from DVA be excluded from priority hiring when they become disabled and exit the RCMP? We would like to see RCMP disabled veterans included in the legislation.

By the way, there are a lot of Conservatives over there whom I respect tremendously. Today marks the 17th anniversary of my being elected to the House of Commons. I congratulate all those from the class of 1997. I see there is a Saskatchewan member from the class of 1993, a decent guy.

The hon. member for Durham, whom I respect, served his country very well for 12 years. He said the following, and I am quite offended by this because he is absolutely wrong. I will give him a chance to apologize either publicly or privately. He said this of Michael Blais of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, “who works out of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore's office”. That is a blatant fabrication. It is an outright lie. Because he is—

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to stand up and give the hon. member a bit of a compliment, but then he slants the unions in terms of union bosses. There is no such thing as a union boss. That is the first thing he should understand.

A couple of weeks ago I did a press conference in Halifax, where DND is laying off 30 commissionaires, and every single one of them is a veteran. They are being laid off from the fire service, the watch service they have on the dockyard at the Cape Scott yard in Halifax.

I want to let the member know we support the legislation. We hope to improve it at committee. However, that said, how can the government on the one hand stand up and say it is supporting veterans and wants to hire veterans, when on the other hand the Department of National Defence is laying off 30 veterans from Halifax? It is a simple question. How does it hire veterans when at the same time it is laying them off?

Veterans June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister to put his talking points down and listen to the question. The question is very clear.

Jenifer Migneault is in a desperate situation trying to help her husband who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan. This minister should meet with her in order for her to discuss her concerns so she can in turn help her husband.

The minister's actions the other day were nothing to brag about. Therefore, I give the minister a chance to redeem himself. Will the minister now announce to the House that he will meet with Jenifer at a time that is convenient for both of them so she can have a proper airing of her grievances against the DVA?

Veterans May 26th, 2014

Well, Mr. Speaker, as long as he makes long-term veteran care funding an independent government bill, we may look at that, but the reality is that what is going to happen when the last Korean overseas veteran dies is that all those modern-day veterans, from '54 onwards, an awful lot of them, will be downloaded to the provinces.

The Perley, Camp Hill, the Parkwood, in which beds are already closed, the Ste. Anne's transfer, and many other contract beds across the country will not be available for modern-day veterans, which means a massive financial download to the provinces for the long-term care of veterans.

Will the government reverse its policy and ensure that every single veteran gets the long-term care they desperately need?

Veterans Affairs May 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, we have just learned that veterans affairs department found $100,000 to waste on tweets.

This is a government that closes veterans offices and lays off over 1,500 people in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The $100,000 could bury 10 veterans and give them a dignified funeral. It could give 20 veterans a service dog. It could give 40 veterans the VIP service.

Where does the government get off spending $100,000 on tweets, when that money could go to really help veterans? Does the government honestly believe that tweeting away $100,000 is a wise expenditure of taxpayers' dollars?

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, what a brilliant dissertation from my hon. colleague, a member of Parliament who will be here for many elections, I am sure.

It is very telling that the Prime Minister has never, in his eight years as Prime Minister, had a meeting with all the premiers at the same time. We have to ask ourselves why. However, I can assure members that the hon. leader of the NDP, I can almost guarantee, will have those meetings, not just on a group level but on individual levels to move this country in a forward and positive direction. That is what they are going to get when we form government in 2015.

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. John's East for that important question, but it tends to be the typical Conservative response. The Conservatives do not like the idea of “completely independent from government”. They will argue that it is an arm's-length agency, but they still want it to be within reach of them so that they control not only the budget but the messaging from that.

It is critical, from the Wells report and what my hon. colleague said, that we have an independent stand-alone person in this particular regard who is well financed and well equipped. Governments change all the time, but the fact is we want to ensure that this person has the tools to bring out the shortcomings to make everybody aware of what may happen and also make continued recommendations independent of the political world, to ensure the health and safety of all the people in this particular industry.

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure to rise to debate Bill C-5.

I wish to thank my hon. colleague from St. John's East and my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the tremendous work they have done in raising the issues with respect to this legislation and bringing the debate forward to the House of Commons.

As someone from the east coast, I am all too familiar with tragedy on our coastline, from ship disasters to the Ocean Ranger disaster off the coast of Newfoundland to the one a few years ago involving a helicopter crash just shy of St. John's where 17 people lost their lives.

This legislation attempts to ensure the safety and protection of not just the natural environment of the east coast but also the workers who work there. If it were done properly in collaboration with the provinces, businesses would get on board and it would be profitable for them.

Allow me to play a little dress-up now and read to the Conservative Party what the bill proposes to do.

Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to join law reform negotiations in 2001 following the fatality off the shore of Nova Scotia in 1999. The provinces cannot enact the new law without federal agreement to make the same changes. Bill C-5 would provide regulatory boards with the operating authority to disclose relevant occupational and safety information to the public.

The bill would allocate overall responsibility for occupational health and safety to the operator. The employer would play an implementation and coordination role in this regard. Employees are to take all reasonable measures to comply with occupational health and safety measures. This one is a surprise and I do not know why the Conservatives would be against it. Bill C-5 would provide employees with the right to refuse to perform an activity that they have reasonable cause to believe is unsafe. The bill would afford employees protection from reprisals for reporting unsafe conditions.

Bill C-5 is timely legislation as Nova Scotians will see explorations off their coast by Shell and BP for the first time since the 2010 BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast.

Let me make a little sidebar comment.

On April 28, Canada's flags were lowered to half mast to pay homage to all of the people who went to work last year and died. Over 1,000 Canadians went to work and did not go home. Everybody in the House was mournful and very aware of the fact that workplace safety must be paramount in everyone's daily lives. We as members of Parliament and people we work with here are provided with security and the assurance that the House of Commons is safe and has good working conditions. If we notice something unsafe, we have the right to say something and have it corrected.

Why would the Conservatives oppose something that would enhance and protect workplace safety after standing so quietly and mourning the 1,000 Canadians who died in the workplace? We simply do not understand. Hopefully one day one of those Conservative members will explain to the House and to the working people of Canada and their families why they refused a clause of that nature.

Despite the federal government's refusal to implement recommendation 29 of the Wells inquiry, Bill C-5 is a positive and necessary improvement to the current offshore health and safety regime by placing safety practices in legislation.

New Democrats are proud to support Bill C-5. For several years now we have been calling for the regime to be strengthened.

New Democrats will continue to work with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to further strengthen worker health and safety by working toward the creation of an independent, stand-alone safety regulator. The NDP also supports the collaborative efforts of the provincial and federal governments that produced Bill C-5. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not collaborate often enough with the provincial and territorial governments to produce measures that would move our country forward.

We encourage the Conservatives to get into the game on this one and understand the importance of this legislation. We urge them to work with the provinces to get this done.

We would all like to see employment and growth in all sectors, including offshore or terrestrial areas.

We must do this with the highest standards of workplace safety and with the highest standards of environmental regulations.

I could not help but notice recently that the categorization of a certain whale off the west coast was changed. Why? It seems so timely before the possible approval of a pipeline in that area.

Why would someone change the classification of an endangered species? It could only be to make it more feasible or easier for an application to be processed.

I know these companies. They are not evil. They obviously want to make profits, grow their industry, and create jobs, and that is good, but at the same time, I am sure that a lot of these companies would like to have the highest of environment standards as well.

All that Canadians and those good folks in my former province of British Columbia are asking for is input. They want to be at the table. They want to have their voices heard honestly and fairly. They do not like to go to meetings to find a decision has already been made and they are just there for show, or in my case eye candy, but we will talk about that later.

The reality is that we cannot ignore the wishes and desires of the Canadian people. They are the ones who put us here. It is our job, and the regulator's job, to have proper and fair consultation and input with these folks before these major projects go on.

At the end of the day, I am not an expert on pilot whales, nor would I ever say I was, but I am very concerned about the environment. A lot of my friends work in the oil patch sector, and they are also concerned. They love what they do, and they make very good money at what they do. They leave their families for long, extended periods of time to work in the oil fields and then they come back. They also have children, and they are also concerned about the natural environment.

They are also concerned when a helicopter coming back from a rig crashes into the water. We found out that one of the aspects of the helicopter was that it did not have a 30-minute run-dry capacity. Recommendations came forward, but we still have not seen compliance on those yet. In fact, we may be purchasing helicopters for our military that may not have that capability.

I do not know why we would do this. We already had a tragedy, and in a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador, a tragedy of that nature affects everyone, and it affects all Canadians. These things do happen, but we can learn from those mistakes and make sure they do not happen again.

Government and the opposition should be working together to ensure the highest standards of safety and that protocols are in place to make sure that never happens again.

If it does happen again, who is ultimately responsible? Is it the company, is it the regulator, or is it the governments? It is probably all three, but explain that to a grieving widow or grieving children who have lost a loved one. Those are conversations we do not want to have.

If we can do it in advance, if we can move the safety issue forward in collaboration with the provinces and then again with industry, then we can exploit the resources we have on both coasts in a proper and environmentally friendly manner so that traditional fishing grounds, for example, can still be exploited, as well as other opportunities for future growth in our economy.

We cannot do that if we risk the environmental aspect of our terrestrial and aquatic systems. We simply cannot do that. We share the planet with the others.

In this I pay tribute to the late Farley Mowat, a great veteran, a great Canadian, and a great novelist who passed away today. He always said to all the politicians that we have to understand that although we are the human race, we share this planet with others. Those others do not have a voice, and those others—the whales, the birds, the fish, the trees, the plants—also share this planet with us as well. We need to ensure that just as importantly as we address workplace health and safety, we address these environmental issues properly.

We encourage the Conservatives to please get on board with Bill C-5 and pass it unanimously.