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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

Iran Accountability Week May 5th, 2015

Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to speak on the topic of Iran Accountability Week.

Canadians I have spoken with across my entire community of Scarborough—Rouge River and all across Toronto stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Iran in their aspirations for freedom, peace, democracy and the rule of law, and not just rule of law, but the rule of a just law. I know we will continue to stand with them. New Democrats definitely continue to stand with them and speak out when their voices are unfairly silenced.

As for my personal journey, I started off as an 11-year-old child activist against human rights violations that occurred in many parts of the world, starting from the country I was born in, which is Sri Lanka. I was shot at as a child because I was born an ethnic Tamil, so I understand the importance of standing up for a people whose voices are silenced. I made a promise to myself that I would be one of the many voices for the voiceless people in the world.

Today, the people of Iran who want to speak out continue to be oppressed and continue to face censorship with respect to the Internet and the media. I was doing some research and I learned that Iran is actually the seventh most censored country when we talk about Internet access. This is from the website of the CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists. We also know that over 200 journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran, which goes to show how much our activists are working. I call journalists activists because they are putting their lives on the line when they are trying to report what is happening in their country. They are trying to get the message out to the world and their lives are at risk for doing this.

It is not just the journalists themselves, but it is also the journalists' relatives who are being put in a position of fear, continued intimidation and threats. To quote from CPJ's website:

In Iran, journalists' relatives have been summoned by authorities and told that they could lose their jobs and pensions because of the journalists' work.

It is not just the people putting themselves in the line of duty by being journalists who are being imprisoned or persecuted and prosecuted, but it is also their family members who just by association are now being threatened with the loss of their employment, their pensions and their livelihoods, just for the work these journalists are doing.

In a country as great as Canada, we need to make sure we are standing up and being that voice for the voiceless around the world.

I want to go through a bit of a timeline of some of the recent events in Iran, focusing specifically on the human rights angle.

In June 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared to have won a resounding victory in the presidential elections. We know that all rival candidates who challenged the results alleged there was vote rigging. At least 30 people were killed and more than 1,000 were arrested in those protests.

In January 2010, Iran executed two men who were arrested during the period of unrest that followed the presidential election.

In July 2010, an Iranian woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, prompting, as we all have heard, an international outcry for support for the woman.

In January 2013, protests happened because 11 journalists were arrested and accused of co-operating with foreign media organizations in a targeted clampdown against the BBC and Voice of America.

Mr. Chair, time is short, but I have so much more to talk about. The violations continue. They include deprivation of the freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and democratic participation. As well there is the political imprisonment of not just journalists, but activists. We know there are also members of parliament who have seen their positions forcibly taken away from them.

I just want to also mention that in July 2014, Parliament dismissed Mr. Reza Faraji-Dana, a pro forma science minister, for supporting students and lecturers who were involved in the 2009-10 protests. It just goes to show that it is not just the average citizen of Iran but all levels who are being persecuted, prosecuted and imprisoned. As a country as great as Canada, we need to do everything we can to stand up and be the voice for the voiceless and continue to fight for human rights in that country.

Iran Accountability Week May 5th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question about the journalists who have been imprisoned in Iran and the ongoing human rights violations. I am wondering if he is aware of the efforts being made by the Canadian government to advance human rights, as he is a representative of the government. What is Canada doing to bring out the more than 200 journalists who continue to be imprisoned in Iran, especially on the heels of World Press Freedom Day? It is important to talk about the freedom of journalists.

National Strategy for Dementia Act May 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to support Bill C-356, an act respecting a national strategy for dementia, introduced by the member of Parliament for Nickel Belt.

This is proof that the NDP is standing for our future. Right now, the increased cases of dementia among older Canadians is having a huge impact in Canada. Our current system needs support if it is going to grapple with the social, health and economic impacts of dementia, which affect patients, their caregivers and their communities.

We know this is a growing crisis because if we do not develop a comprehensive set of supports to address this issue now, it will then be 10 times worse as the baby boomer generation enters the senior years.

I remember being a delegate at the 2012 NDP convention, and our delegates passed a resolution calling for a national dementia strategy. We found strong support among organized labour, seniors and our NDP members in electoral districts across the country.

Their interest is personal, coming from knowing someone who is living with the disease or a caregiver who is caring for a loved one with the disease. We introduced Bill C-356 in late 2011. Since then, over 75 petitions supporting this idea have been tabled here in Parliament. Over 300 municipalities have passed supporting resolutions.

There is strong support from seniors, heath care, labour, faith and many other networks. A national dementia strategy also links well to the NDP seniors strategy. Our seniors need our support, especially when dementia makes them vulnerable and disoriented, and in need of care.

According to the benchmark study, Rising Tide by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the number of Canadians living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia now stands at 747,000 and will double to 1.5 million by 2031.

Canada's health care system is ill equipped to deal with the staggering costs. The combined direct medical and indirect lost earnings costs of dementia total $33 billion per year. By 2040, this figure will skyrocket to $293 billion per year. Pressures on family caregivers continue to mount.

In 2011, family caregivers spent 444 million unpaid hours per year looking after someone with dementia, representing $11 billion in lost income and 227,760 full-time equivalent employees in the work force. By 2040, they will be devoting a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year. Lost in those numbers, perhaps, is the real human face of the disease, the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. While an elderly face typifies most people living and dealing with dementia, 15% of all who are living with Alzheimer's or related dementia diseases are actually under 60 years old. Dementia cuts across every demographic in our communities.

I want to share an example. Matt Dineen, who is 44, is a Catholic high school teacher in Ottawa whose wife, Lisa, 45, is already in secure long-term care with frontal-temporal dementia. Matt is helped by grandparents and siblings in looking after the three children he has with Lisa.

We need increased support for informal caregivers. Caregivers need to be recognized as individuals with rights to their own services and supports. This could take several forms. On financial support, the non-refundable family caregiver tax credit of up to $300 a year introduced in 2011 is really not enough. This does not adequately reimburse the cost of a caregiver's time, which studies have shown is much higher.

Programs are needed to relieve the stress experienced by caregivers. This can include education and skill-building, and the provision of respite care and other support services for the caregivers.

I want to read an account from Tanya Levesque, who lives here in Ottawa, which reflects the experience of many caregivers in Canada. Ms. Levesque states, “We need a national dementia plan to help caregivers. Following is a list of financial barriers I have experienced during my journey as my mother's caregiver: Unable to access my El benefits; I've been unable to qualify for social assistance; unable to claim the caregiver amount on my income tax, since my mother's net income is a few thousand more than what is listed; lack of subsidies for expenses which keep increasing (i.e. property tax, parking fees at hospitals for appointments, gas for travelling to appointments, hydro, water and sewage fees ... etc); I've changed my eating habits to save money, due to the increased cost of food, so my mother can eat well; and because of a lack of future job security, my retirement security is in question, I can't save, because I've chosen to care for my mother, who took care of me. Other difficulties I've encountered: No one-stop shop for information; lack of education of front line emergency room workers regarding the difficulty of long waiting times for a person with dementia; lack of funding for organizations that provide Day Program services .i.e. not being able to provide various activities to clients due to associated costs (i.e. pet therapy). I not only provide love, a peaceful environment, stability and familiarity to my mother - who has now stabilized with her disease - I also provide the government with health care cost savings.

She is clearly doing a lot for our community by helping her mother.

Supporting a national condition-specific strategy is something I think that we should look into for dementia. It is not a new thing. It is not a new idea for the federal government. It is just an an idea that the Conservative government is actually really dragging its feet on.

The Canadian diabetes strategy, for example, supports collaborating and developing community models to raise awareness, invest in tools and share information.

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, in 2011, received a renewal of funding totalling $250 million over five years. CPAC is implementing a coordinated, comprehensive approach to managing cancer care in Canada.

Using the Canadian heart health strategy and action plan as a guide, Canada is addressing cardiovascular disease through investments in health promotion and disease prevention.

Clearly, we know how to do this. It has been established. Dementia should be a disease, a condition for which we can have a specific strategy nationally.

In 2007, the Government of Canada established the Mental Health Commission by providing $130 million over 10 years, with a mandate to facilitate the development of a national mental health strategy.

Instead of a national strategy, what we are seeing is that the Conservative government has proposed research.

As important as research is, it is not the same as the comprehensive approach that the bill would promote: help for patients, caregivers, the dementia workforce; early diagnoses and prevention; and a continuum of care for people in their homes, in the community and in formal care.

The national dementia strategy proposed by my colleague from Nickel Belt, in Bill C-356, would provide leadership from Parliament that would work with and respect the lead jurisdiction for health care delivery for the provinces and territories; increase funding for research into all aspects of dementia; promote earlier diagnosis and intervention; strengthen the integration of primary, home and community care; enhance skills and training of the dementia workforce; and recognize the need and improve support for caregivers.

We respect that provinces and territories have jurisdiction over health care delivery; however, municipalities, patients and caregivers are calling upon Ottawa to show some leadership. Ottawa needs to take the lead on a pan-Canadian dementia strategy that could immediately help millions of Canadians affected by Alzheimer's and related dementia diseases: the patients, families, caregivers and the dementia workforce. This would free scarce acute-care beds in hospitals and help caregivers, who often must give up their work in order to care for loved ones.

I shared the example of Ms. Levesque with members earlier.

Also, Mimi Lowi-Young, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, stated the following:

In a recent Nanos survey, 83% of Canadians reported they believe Canada needs a national dementia plan. As our population ages, Canadians will be at an increased risk of developing dementia or caring for someone with it. Everyone owns this disease.

The approach we're proposing has worked for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It can work for dementia and ensure that we get the best return on investment and available resources.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, and the Canadian Medical Association both echo the sentiment of Ms. Lowi-Young.

In conclusion, instead of putting forward a non-binding motion, Motion No. 575, the government brought forward that would not lead to a study in committee and support research when our country is actually calling out for a plan, a real plan, a strategy, the government needs to really take action to build a national strategy for dementia and and support Bill C-356 proposed by my colleague from Nickel Belt.

Small and Medium-sized Businesses April 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in proud support of Motion No. 574, introduced by my New Democrat colleague, the member of Parliament for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.

Across Canada and in Scarborough—Rouge River, small and medium-sized businesses employ the vast majority of residents and are important job creators. They are the engines that drive the economic development and vitality of our communities. They have been asking the government to reduce the merchant fees charged by credit card companies for years, and I am proud that the official opposition, the New Democrats, are actually hearing their call.

Small and medium-sized enterprises have a large impact on the Canadian economy. Data from Industry Canada's 2013 key small business statistics show that together, small and medium-sized businesses represent 99.8% of Canada's employer businesses. They employ over 80% of the people working in the private sector in Canada.

These companies are faced with rising costs and razor-thin margins. Therefore, the fact that Canadian small and medium-sized businesses pay some of the highest transaction fees in the world is both unfair and unsustainable. These businesses need our support.

We are speaking of merchant fees. What are they, one might ask? Every time a customer makes a credit card purchase, the merchant must pay the credit card company a premium on that purchase. The interchange fee comprises the majority of the fee or the charge the merchant pays to the credit card company. The Retail Council of Canada estimates that interchange fees averaged 1.7% in 2014 for MasterCard and 1.61% for Visa.

We can look at some of the sister countries we compare our country to, such as Australia. The interchange fees there have been capped at 0.5%, and in Europe, many of the countries' interchange fees will be capped at 0.3% as of September 2015. That is a significant difference.

Furthermore, under the terms of their service agreements with credit card companies, merchants are not allowed to pass these fees on to their customers, as this would increase the price overall of the merchandise.

In 2012, retailers paid $832 million in credit card fees. Eventually, as the retailers' costs remain high in a highly competitive industry and demand continues for lower prices, these costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers, whether intentional or not.

Hence, consumers should know about these fees. Therefore, New Democrats want more transparency from the credit card companies. We are asking them to always disclose to the customer the transaction cost related to the payment method chosen.

The government has been consistently supporting its friends. We know who they are: their wealthy insider friends. Small businesses have watched their tax rate drop 1% since the Conservatives took office, from 12% to 11%. While they worked so hard and created the jobs in our communities, they saw corporate income tax rates drop seven percentage points, from 22% all the way down to 15%, which included a now defunct surtax, over that same period. Following an NDP proposal, the recent budget proposes to drop the small business tax rate by 2% by 2019, but we will have to see if that actually happens and if the changes materialize.

We want to extend a helping hand to small businesses, the real job creators in Canada, and stimulate investment and innovation in manufacturing.

This is not a new issue. Since 2008, several retail associations, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Retail Council of Canada, and the Small Business Matters Coalition, have lobbied against these exorbitant merchant fees. In fact, in July 2013, the Competition Tribunal said that the conditions imposed on Canadian businesses by Visa and MasterCard were anti-competitive and that the fees they charged were excessive. The tribunal called on the government to regulate the industry. Clearly, the Conservative government has not regulated the industry effectively, since the credit card merchant fees in Canada remain among the highest in the world.

The government's form of regulation was that in November 2014, MasterCard and Visa submitted a voluntary proposal to the federal finance minister to reduce their interchange fees to an average rate of 1.5% for five years, as of April 2015. That is the government's way of taking action: just accepting the credit card company's voluntary proposal and calling it a day. Remember that in Australia, the interchange fees are capped at 0.5%, and in Europe, they will be capped at 0.3% later this year.

Instead of taking on the task of regulating the industry, the Minister of Finance issued a news release stating:

As a result of the voluntary proposals, there is no need for the Government to regulate the interchange rates set by the credit card networks That is not really government action.

The minister did indicate that the government could take action if MasterCard and Visa did not comply with their public commitments. However, the Minister of Finance did not ensure that the credit card companies needed to make the merchant fees significantly lower.

When the announcement was made by the credit card companies, Yves Servais from the Association des marchands dépanneurs et épiciers du Québec said, “We are skeptical about the voluntary agreement between the government and Visa and MasterCard. There is no information on how to ensure compliance with the agreement, and no government agency has been mandated to handle the follow-up and annual evaluation.”

The fact that the fee reduction is not significant enough and the fact that there is no one charged with enforcing this reduction are both big problems.

The NDP has proposed the creation of an ombudsman responsible for working with private sector partners to reduce credit card fees. Clearly, the government is not paying attention, and small businesses deserve to have a person committed to working with them.

This is an important middle-class issue. Too many Canadian families are struggling and cannot continue to pay higher fees on all of the merchandise they are purchasing.

The Conservatives have abandoned small businesses in favour of more profitable and prosperous corporations, like the credit card companies, who they support.

Gary Sands, chair of the Small Business Matters Coalition, wrote to the government in November 2014 saying:

Members of the Small Business Matters Coalition, representing thousands of businesses across Canada, urge the Government of Canada to reduce credit card swipe fees and to bring fairness and transparency to the Canadian Payments Industry.

In turn, our members pledge that the reduction in credit card fees will be to the benefit of consumers and communities across Canada, through improved competitiveness, increased investment, job creation and reduced consumer prices.

Are those not all things that we do want to see in this country?

Nevertheless, the Retail Council of Canada is committed to continue to press for deeper cuts to bring interchange in line with the fees charged elsewhere. The NDP has joined this commitment, and we will continue until we have a more fair and just system that respects the economic engines of our communities, the small and medium-sized businesses.

When credit card interchange regulations were introduced in Australia in November 2003, both Visa and MasterCard predicted that the card payment system in Australia would suffer badly from this reform. MasterCard stated that the setting of interchange fees is such a delicate balance that to interfere with it could lead to a death spiral process.

However, evidence shows that, contrary to these predictions, credit card usage has continued to increase strongly since Australia's reforms of credit interchange. Card issuer profitability has not been harmed by the reforms. Issuers have reduced costs and increased efficiency. The Reserve Bank of Australia has concluded that the lower costs for merchants are flowing through into lower prices for the consumer due to the competitive environment in which most merchants operate.

What the Australian experience demonstrates to us is that, despite significant reductions in the interchange fees, credit card usage has continued its strong growth. Card payment systems can operate healthily and grow strongly despite regulated reductions in interchange income for issuers.

At a time when Canadian small businesses are facing increasing pressures from the weak Canadian dollar, rising inflation, and other increasing costs, it is integral that the government acts to support small and medium enterprises.

I strongly support Motion No. 574, and I am pleased to stand with the official opposition New Democrats in support of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada.

Canada Revenue Agency April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, they have done it again. The minister of the Canada Revenue Agency has managed to fail at one of the most basic functions of government. This time, the CRA managed to create mass confusion about when the tax filing deadline actually is and now, for the second year in a row, has been forced to extend the filing deadline.

Will the minister explain how this latest failure occurred, and take some responsibility for the sorry state of affairs at the CRA?

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my question follows in the same vein as the last question.

It is baffling to me that the Conservative member asked if the NDP would support the RRIFs as well as the increase in the time from six weeks to six months for EI compassionate care benefits, because both of these proposals came from the NDP. We brought them forward and when they came to a vote, the Conservatives voted against them. Now the Conservatives have included these proposals in the budget, among a plethora of other things. These are two of the good things in the budget, and yes, they are good things that came from the NDP.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on some of the other good measures that are NDP proposals that are in this budget.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her passionate speech about health care and about public transport also. I would like to talk to her about public transportation and the need for more investment in the public transit infrastructure.

We know that within the next five years, Canada will have an $18-billion infrastructure gap specifically for public transit needs in our communities. I am asking with a Toronto lens because we know that in Toronto we are seeing our bridges and roads literally crumble down before our eyes. I am sure that she is facing a very similar situation in the Montreal region also. Would she comment on some of the NDP proposals to improve infrastructure or with respect to public transit funding specifically?

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I find it quite interesting that the member says that the NDP does not have any real propositions or ideas coming forward; yet every single thing he has touted as good in this budget is an NDP proposal that the Conservatives voted against every time it came up for a vote before. Now, the Conservatives are saying it is their brilliant idea.

My question is about one of the brilliant ideas that the New Democrats have. That is to create universal child care in this country that would cost parents a maximum of $15 a day. Doing some quick math, for 20 days a month, that would mean a family's cost for child care would be $300 a month.

The statistics right now show that an average family in Toronto is paying $1,676 per month for child care. The NDP would offer savings of $1,376 per month for these families; whereas, the member and his party are saying the Conservatives would give them $100. The NDP is saying we would save them—

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we know that the economic growth projections have actually been downgraded. The budget is balanced in 2015, but persistent weak economic growth has dramatically reduced the expected surpluses.

The Minister of Finance touts that there will be a surplus and that he is investing it in communities and our seniors, but really we do not see that. We need to make sure that we are investing in our small and medium-sized enterprises even more. The government has continued to give away tax breaks and create loopholes for the large, already profitable corporations and CEOs instead of actually investing in our small and medium-sized businesses that are the economic engines of our local communities and the ones that are really creating jobs in our communities. The Conservatives are not really investing in them.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, gridlock costs Canadian cities billions of dollars each year. Earlier, I presented a petition which says that Canada is the only OECD country that does not have a national public transit strategy. We know there will be a gap of $18 billion over the next five years with respect to infrastructure needs.

The NDP proposed a bold urban plan for permanent, stable and predictable funding for public transit. The Conservatives talk the gridlock game, but they do not really do anything. Their scheme is filled with so much red tape that the municipalities will not even be able to get their hands on the money they desperately need to invest in our crumbling cities.

In Toronto, bridges and roads are crumbling and are literally falling on top of cars that are driving below them. In Scarborough, we are so reliant on buses in our community. In Scarborough—Rouge River and north Scarborough we are reliant on surface level buses only. The Conservatives are continuing to leave people in Scarborough waiting on the streets for buses.