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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was actually.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Scarborough—Rouge River (Ontario)

Lost her last election, in 2015, with 22% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Infrastructure June 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, many Canadians face long commutes made worse by overcrowded transit and crumbling roads and bridges. Liberal and Conservative governments have left our cities with a staggering $170-billion infrastructure deficit. They downloaded costs and failed to keep pace with the funding needs.

This week, mayors from across the country are coming together to demand real federal investment in our cities; funds to cut commute times, boost local economies and make our cities more livable.

New Democrats are ready to partner with our municipal leaders to invest in our cities. Why are the Conservatives not?

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, yes, any produce and products that need refrigeration or need to be preserved are going to be more difficult for the communities to get. That is why we are seeing more and more of our parents having to feed their children pop and chips.

The member suggested milk or anything that is more nutritious than pop or chips. The problem is that even water is even a scarce resource. The parents do not have access to good, clean water. They do not have access to running water all the time in all the communities. We should not have a situation like this in our country. In Canada, which is such a have country, we should not have communities that do not have access to clean drinking water.

Of course I agree with the member in saying that we do not want to be feeding our children pop and chips. Those kinds of food habits are the reason we are seeing exponentially growing rates of diabetes and many other health concerns in our northern communities, and we should not have this situation. We, as legislators at the federal level, should be working with all levels of government to ensure that all our communities can be safe and that all our children can grow to their full potential and have healthy food.

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is sad to hear that government members are not actually interested in food security for our northerners. The member said that this program was not created as a measure to alleviate food insecurity in the north, and it is sad to hear that. It is just not right. He said that it was created to send nutritious, healthy food to northerners.

I want to quote once again from Leesee Papatsie, an Inuit woman. She said:

What they consider healthy food is not traditionally the Inuit diet. It's imposing the idea of, 'Here, this is what we think is healthy for you guys.' What we've been saying all along is that we're not used to cooking fruits and vegetables....

Northerners are saying that they want to have access to nutritious food and food that is part of their traditional diet, instead of just having imposed on them what this member or the current government feels is nutritious or healthy food for Inuit. We should be respecting their cultures and their traditional way of life.

Business of Supply June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to let you know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Churchill.

I rise today to speak in support of this motion put forth by the NDP member for Northwest Territories. I must also add my gratitude in recognizing the tremendous work that my colleague has done for many years in serving as the tireless voice of the people from the territories.

Many communities across Canada's three territories as well as in the northern parts of several provinces are accessible only by air for part of or all of the year. The cost of living and doing business in these isolated communities is higher than in many of the other southern regions of the country. Necessities such as perishable foods must be flown in to the communities, and it is not easy. In my community of Scarborough and Toronto we can walk down the street to a grocery store, but people in many northern communities do not have this luxury. Even though food insecurity is prevalent in Scarborough—Rouge River and north Scarborough, it is far worse in the northern parts of our country, and we need to recognize that. I thank the member for Northwest Territories for his work and for his recognition of this situation.

The NDP has taken a leadership role in trying to alleviate some of the problems by coming up with new solutions that might actually work.

Perishable foods should not cost such exorbitant amounts. For example, in April 2014, the price of two litres of milk was $7.99 in Old Crow, Yukon, compared with $3.35 in Edmonton, Alberta. In Fort Albany in northern Ontario, baby formula costs $60 and two pounds of frozen beef cost $16. These types of prices are through the roof. In Treaty 5 territory, bread costs $6, a jug of milk is $13, and a case of eggs is $37. If we are going to go all out and have the luxury of fresh produce, something as simple as a bunch of grapes will cost $12.

These exorbitant prices occur in communities that are living in crushing poverty, communities where people's main income is about $371 of social assistance a month. I do not know how much $371 can actually buy a person who is feeding a family, trying to feed children, trying to feed three or four mouths.

These types of high prices have been prevalent in our northern communities for far too long. To help with these high costs of food in the north, the federal government created the food mail program in the late 1960s. After 1991, the program was managed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I would like to go through a little bit about this program, especially for the benefit of members of my community who may not know about the nutrition north program because they are in Toronto.

Under the program, Canada Post received a transportation subsidy from the department to deliver items to isolated northern communities. Over the years, because of population growth and increasing fuel prices, expenditures continued to increase and the program often exceeded its budget.

In April of 2011, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada introduced the nutrition north program. The objective of the program was to make healthy foods more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated northern communities.

Nutrition north Canada is a transfer payment program based on a market-driven model. It has an annual fixed budget of $60 million, of which $53.9 million is allocated annually to the subsidy component. The subsidy is provided directly to northern retailers, food suppliers, distributors, and food processors through contribution agreements. Retailers make their own supply chain arrangements.

About 40 retailers, suppliers, and food processors participate in the program, and three northern retailers have accounted for about 80% of the subsidy each year. Why are we giving these subsidies to retailers, suppliers, and food processors, rather than directly to the people who are the end consumers? We are counting on the government giving the subsidies to these retailers and hoping that the retailers will actually transfer these subsidies and cost savings over to the consumers, but in reality we are not seeing that.

I would like to quote Ron Elliott, former Nunavut MLA for Quttiktuq. He said:

That's been one of the problems from the onset of the program. You are providing a subsidy to the people who are responsible to board members or shareholders who are supposed to make profits. So there are conflicting interests.

He is right when he says that when they give subsidies in the hope the retailers will transfer these cost savings on to the end consumer, the retailers are not necessarily going to always make that their priority when their priority is, of course, lining their pockets and making profits for themselves and their shareholders. That is one of the many problems with the system.

However, let me go back. Soon after the program was initiated, complaints began. People were seeing increased food costs compared with those experienced under the old food mail program, which allowed a bit more control for the direct end user.

Norman Yakeleya, Northwest Territories MLA for Sahtu, said:

The transition to the NNCP was painful and frustrating for my people. We are basically at the mercy of our one or two stores, especially when these stores are now saying “believe us — this is how much you are saving and this is what you'll more personal orders.” We feel our choices in the old Food Mail Program were stomped out by the New Improved NNCP.

Nutrition north is a failure because the criteria used to determine which communities receive assistance are flawed, with the result that close to 50 communities that should qualify actually do not receive the full subsidy or the full assistance. We know that at least 46 northern communities that receive either no subsidy or a 5-cent-per-kilogram partial subsidy on the food should actually qualify for the full subsidy.

We are speaking about families and children being able to leave the vicious cycle of poverty. The additional cost for the government to alleviate this situation and lift these families out of poverty would be about $7.6 million. That is what it would cost to add these 46 communities to the full subsidy list, but the government refuses to be there to support these communities that are living in conditions of extreme poverty.

We have also seen the Conservatives spending dollars on advertisements for the government's action plan, or inaction plan. Recently it spent $13.5 million just to promote its budget, but apparently $7.6 million is just too much money to spend on our northern communities to try to alleviate conditions for the many northerners who are living in poverty.

Of the 46 communities that I mentioned, 27 are in Conservative-held ridings. If the Conservatives wanted to at least support their own communities, these 27 communities, they should be able to do something to alleviate the situation, the condition, the reality of our elders in our communities, who are rooting through garbage to scavenge for food.

This really should not be the case. In such a rich country as ours, no one should be living in poverty, let alone so many entire communities.

When I put forward Motion No. 534 to end child poverty in this House, it was because far too many children in this country, 967,000 of them, are living in poverty or extreme poverty. UNICEF's report tells us that one Canadian child in five lives in poverty today. Among our aboriginal children, it is far more extreme: half—one in two—of our aboriginal children are growing up in extreme poverty. Just two days ago, I was in Toronto with Keep the Promise, where children were speaking out and asking our government to work to end poverty among children in this country.

Food insecurity is a real problem in many of our communities, even in Scarborough, but it does not even come close to the level of food insecurity in northern Ontario and in many other parts of northern Canada.

In conclusion, I would like to end my remarks for now with a reminder and a quote from a mother.

Her name is Leesee Papatsie. She is the creator of Feeding My Family, a Facebook page that she created. Of the aboriginal first peoples of this country and how their culture is one of working together and supporting one another and not creating friction, she said:

It's against our culture. The Inuit never protested. Traditionally, for the Inuit to survive, everybody had to get along and we didn't create friction. But if we don't start saying something about high costs, then people will think it's okay.

Our children are going hungry. Our country's children should not be going hungry, and it is our responsibility as legislators and as a government to ensure that all of Canada's children have food and security.

Petitions June 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present petitions on behalf of thousands of Canadians across the country with respect to the unfair and gender-specific discriminatory tax on feminine hygiene products and what has been known across the country as the “tampon tax”.

The petitioners are requesting that the tax, GST specifically, on feminine hygiene products, be removed, as the burden is disproportionate on women in this country.

I would like at this moment to also give my personal thanks on behalf of women across this country to the New Democrats, as well as to the member for London—Fanshawe, for being a champion of this cause. I am very excited that we will be able to vote on this tonight.

Employment June 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are failing consumers on bank fees and they are also failing on the economy.

When the Governor of the Bank of Canada said that the economy would be “atrocious”, he was talking about zero growth, but the truth is even worse. Under the Conservative economic mismanagement, our economy is actually shrinking, with thousands of Canadians struggling to make ends meet and worried that their jobs might be the next to disappear.

When will the Conservatives drop their tired talking points and start taking action to protect Canadians and create jobs?

Digital Privacy Act May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for attempting to continue debate on the actual bill during this question and answer period, which is really not about the bill itself but about the fact that the government has moved time allocation. The government has moved a motion to stop debate on a bill for the 97th time in this House. That is what this debate right now is about.

Sure, the minister may have had consultations with the Privacy Commissioner before bringing forward the bill, but after the bill was brought forward, the Privacy Commissioner brought forward amendments, which the government has chosen to ignore.

The official opposition New Democrats and experts have proposed amendments to the bill because it is ill conceived. The government chose to ignore all of those, so let us not go to debate on the bill right now, because that is what we are trying to have, actual debate on the bill. The government is stopping debate on the bill, yet once again, stopping debate on yet another bill.

My question to the minister is this. Why do the minister and the entire government seem to have absolutely no respect and complete disregard for parliamentary process?

Petitions May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present petitions on behalf of hundreds of Canadians across the country on the cessation of taxes on menstrual hygiene products.

Clearly, a tax on feminine hygiene products is a gender-specific discriminatory tax, and we need to end it. The petitioners are calling for the Government of Canada to extend a 0% GST rate to menstrual hygiene products.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has agreed with much of what I have said. We need to ensure that our communities are kept safe. There are many measures possible, and we need to ensure that we do not put our residents in harm's way by not doing everything we can to ensure the transport of goods along our railways is safe. We need to work toward that.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act May 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

The entire country was shaken when, on July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil rolled downhill and derailed. We watched footage of the explosion and the fire with our hearts in our mouths. We mourned, with the families, friends and communities, the 47 people confirmed and presumed dead. We wondered why there were more and more accidents on what was once the safest way to travel. We were shocked when we found out that in this case Maine and Atlantic Railway only carried $25 million in third party liability insurance, which is not nearly enough to cover the incredible magnitude of the resulting damage and loss of both life and property that night.

Currently, estimates of damages in Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, and the cost of rebuilding Lac-Mégantic to what it once was will be far higher. Taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup and rebuilding costs, and we cannot put a price on the tragic loss of 47 Canadians.

The rail system in our country has gone through decades of deregulation, underfunding, mismanagement and bad decision making under the present government and the previous government.

The bill does not go far enough to address many of our concerns. I support the bill, but we must do more. The tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment has shown us that our liability and compensation regime for rail must be strengthened. However, it is important to also address the fundamental problems that have led to a dramatic increase in rail accidents.

In 1999, the Liberal government amended the Railway Safety Act to accelerate deregulation, a policy continued by the subsequent federal governments. In 2001, direct federal oversight was replaced by safety management systems, which were drafted by the companies themselves. The federal government's role in rail safety changed profoundly.

Meanwhile during this time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rail accidents. These accidents have had increasingly dangerous consequences in our communities. According to the Railway Association of Canada numbers, in 2009, only 500 cars a year were carrying highly flammable fossil fuel. In 2013, 160,000 cars carried flammable fossil fuel. By 2017, our rail system is expected to be transporting 33.9 million tonnes of fossil fuel per year. These numbers do not include other hazardous materials being transported through our communities.

There is absolutely no doubt that protecting the public is our core responsibility and improving liability and accountability measures is long overdue for our railways.

It is sad that it took the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic to get the government to be serious about that responsibility. We have had exponential growth in the transport of hazardous materials. We should have been working on increasing protections ages ago.

In 2013, 144 accidents involved dangerous goods, 7 of which resulted in dangerous goods being released. Many of us have heard of the three derailments in northern Ontario. These derailments happened in the space of less than a month, between February and March of this year. In two of these derailments, tank cars carrying crude oil burst into flames. In both of these incidents of fire, the tank cars involved were upgraded models of the DOT-111s.

The government ordered the phase-out of the DOT-111s over the span of a decade. The Transportation Safety Board, which investigates railway accidents, has flagged the length of the phase-out as a huge concern.

In fact, in February 2014, there was a derailment in my riding on Sewells Road and Reesor Road. According to police, the freight car was empty, and a CN Rail spokesperson confirmed that no dangerous goods were involved and no one was injured. We were very lucky.

My riding is criss-crossed by railway tracks and is home to CN's Toronto east rail yard. The Canadian National line, running near Steeles, transports oil and gas and other flammable materials every day. Most of the tracks run at street level, in many instances, a few metres from homes, from parks where children play or people bike and run.

I am speaking today because I am concerned about the carriage of volatile materials with inadequate regulations in such close proximity to where my community members, my neighbours live.

Aside from discussing liability after an accident, we need immediate measures so we can help prevent and mitigate disasters.

I am not the only one who feels that we need stronger measures for rail safety. On March 31, the mayor of Toronto and 17 councillors from across the municipality wrote to theMinister of Transport, asking that Transport Canada establish stronger protections for cities than the ones being implemented right now. A recent report by the Toronto Start found that dangerous goods were often transported through the heart of Toronto.

The city has a set of recommendations, and I am proud to stand with them and demand stronger enforcement of regulations, and the adoption of stronger regulations to keep Canadians safe, Torontonians safe and all Scarborough residents safe.

As I mentioned, the goods transported by our rail system have been increasingly dangerous and our rail safety regimes need an overhaul to keep people safe. This would also mean that we need adequate resources to implement this plan in Bill C-52 and to implement additional oversight and regulation called for by our communities.

However, the budget at Transport Canada was cut 11% this year, or by $202 million. The government spent $42 million on economic action plan advertisement last year, yet spent $33 million on rail safety. It is shameful. Year after year, Transport Canada has seen budget cuts.

How can the government talk of meaningful oversight without providing the resources to do so? Oversight clearly requires resources.

As for Bill C-52, essentially, it requires minimum insurance levels for railways transporting dangerous goods and establishes a disaster relief fund paid for by crude oil shippers to compensate victims of derailments, provinces and municipalities.

We are concerned that the minimum insurance levels established in this bill may not be sufficient. Insurance levels should be based on the threat to the public, not just on the type and volume of the goods being transported. Estimates of damages at Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, but these new rules do not appear to get us to that level for small companies.

The bill would also establish a pooled disaster relief fund that would be made available if the minimum insurance levels were insufficient. However, is the relief fund going to actually have enough money? That is the question that is on everybody's mind.

For the 200,000 barrels of oil transported daily, Transport Canada estimates that oil levies would contribute about $17 million annually to general revenues. This is a step forward, but there are certainly many outstanding concerns. We would need to have that levy in place for about 15 years before we could actually reach the $250 million level where it believes we would be able to respond to any level of crisis. I would again point to Lac-Mégantic. It cost $400 million for the damage done in that one accident alone. Therefore, this levy would certainly not be enough.

We also want to ensure that the fund being established sufficiently covers all disasters, including unlimited liability for the railway's negligence. The bill would ensure that municipalities and provinces would be better able to be reimbursed by the railway company for the cost of responding to a fire caused by their operations. However, we have a long way to go to ensure accidents are less likely.

We need to figure out how to protect the lives of people living in Canada. We need real plans to manage the risk created by the kinds of dangerous goods being transported through our communities. We need to ensure that the federal government maintains an active role in rail safety regimes. After those years when the Liberal government allowed self-regulation and we saw numerous increases in accidents and a decline in safety, we need to ensure there are independent inspectors and that companies are held accountable.

Finally, we need to continue the national conversation about how we are going to process oil, bitumen and other natural resources in our country. We have an opportunity here to do much more in Canada to create real rail safety, and passing this bill will not create a safe rail transport system. Canadians deserve real rail safety measures and safe rail systems. This bill is one step, but it just does not go far enough.