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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

CBC/Radio-Canada February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Prime Minister told a private radio station that “a lot” of Radio-Canada employees ”hate” Conservative values”. Recently, his spokesman also wrote that it was difficult for him not to conclude that his “worst suspicions about Radio-Canada held true”.

We have seen in the past what happens to those who do not agree with Conservative politics. Why does the Prime Minister believe that CBC employees have to stick to Conservative values?

Public Safety February 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, recent train derailments in Lac Mégantic; Plaster Rock, New Brunswick; and Clair, Saskatchewan have demonstrated the threats that first responders face when trains with dangerous goods derail. Yet, too many have to face these dangers without adequate training in hazardous materials.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has long called for special training to deal with derailments specifically. It calls for this training to be provided in co-operation with the rail companies.

When will the government finally put into a place a comprehensive plan to get firefighters the training they need?

Child Poverty January 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I hear a Conservative colleague saying that it is not true, but I am citing a Conference Board of Canada report.

Poverty today affects three million Canadians. That includes children, seniors, indigenous persons, people living with disabilities, single parents, and recent immigrants. These are the groups of people who are more likely to be living in poverty, and today 967,000 Canadian children are living in poverty.

Canada ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries when it comes to child poverty. Once again, I am stating the Conference Board of Canada statistics. It is imperative that we, as a have country not a have-not country, invest in our children. I spoke about the motion of November 1989 that was brought forward by the then NDP leader Ed Broadbent to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. In 1991, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child has the right to a decent standard of living, clean water, nutritious food, a clean environment, and good-quality health care.

For 25 years, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored the problem or have not done enough to alleviate it. As a result, today we have almost one million Canadian children living in poverty. In 1989, when this House made the promise to end child poverty, the LIMAT, the low-income measure after tax—which I will use as my comparator so that I am comparing the same numbers in 1989 to now—was 13%. The child poverty rate was 13% in 1989, and today it is sitting at 21%.

I have heard many members in this House saying that there have been many changes and improvements. That is wonderful, but the problem is that there are far too many children who continue to live in poverty, and that is a serious concern. It is a serious concern that we as parliamentarians and legislators need to make sure we are working toward the eradication of poverty in this country, especially among our children, because we have that responsibility to our children. We made a promise 25 years ago, but “We have been doing our best to keep that promise” is what I have heard.

My plea for my hon. colleagues in this House is that we have not been doing enough. We need to do better. We need to be investing in affordable housing, accessible child care, and child nutrition programs. We need to make sure they are sensitive to our different first nations communities and their cultural requirements. We need to ensure that we have measurable targets and timelines and that we actually act on them, because just making a promise is not enough; we need to keep the promises we make.

Child Poverty January 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of my hon. colleagues in the House who have spoken to my motion to eliminate child poverty in Canada.

I also need to thank all of the local agencies and not-for-profit organizations and advocates who are supporting this motion across this country. I thank my constituents of Scarborough—Rouge River, who have spent hours and days and weeks supporting my motion by making sure there were increasing conversations in our community and signing our petitions and spreading the word within our community and neighbourhood.

An umbrella organization called Campaign 2000, through its vibrant network of national, regional, and local partner organizations. has done so much work to get the word out about the motion to end child poverty in Canada. I must also say a very special thanks to the campaign called Keep the Promise, because it is 25 years ago that we in this House, as members of Parliament, made a promise to end child poverty by the year 2000. Now 25 years have come and gone, and we have not kept that promise.

I would like to speak very quickly about a report that has come from the Conference Board of Canada. It says that Canada is 12th out of 17 compared to our peer countries with respect to income inequality. Income inequality in our country has grown over the last 20 years. The gap continues to grow. Since 1990, the richest group of Canadians continues to get richer while the poorest group of Canadians continues to get poorer in our country. That is absolutely abhorrent and unfair, and it is not Canadian values.

Citizenship and Immigration January 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is because of the minister's policy that hospital admissions for refugee children doubled, pregnant women went without health care, and diabetics had to live without basic medication. Yet the minister had the gall to stand in the House yesterday and falsely claim that he has done nothing but support the health of refugees. He has spent more than $1.4 million fighting to keep his repulsive policies.

How can the minister justify using the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians to fight against a basic Canadian value?

Rouge National Urban Park Act December 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, we do not have to pick between farmers or environmentalists. I asked almost every witness who appeared before committee if it was possible to work together. Farmers said that they were already environmentally responsible, that they were environmental activists. Environmentalists said they wanted sustainable farming to continue in the area.

My question for the minister is about something he repeated a few times, and that is ensuring people will enjoy the park and understand its cultural and historical heritage. People already enjoy the park. People are using it and learning about it.

I want to specifically ask him about the history of the park. There is a sacred burial ground and sacred village of the Mississauga, Huron-Wendat and Seneca First Nations peoples within the park right now. We put forward an amendment at committee to create an aboriginal interpretive learning centre on the park grounds. The idea was put forward by aboriginal first nations leaders and elders. Why did the Conservatives vote against it? Why has the minister responsible for this park still not yet spoken to the bill? Why does he keep saying that he wants to help the people learn and enjoy the cultural and historic importance of this park and communities when that is really not true?

Rouge National Urban Park Act December 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am really confused by the minister because he says that the people of Scarborough want this tiny park. No, the people of Scarborough want a 100-square-kilometre. park. What the government is offering is 40-something.

It is already protected right now by a patchwork system of protective measures and by people who have built the park, activists who have stopped development from happening, and people like myself who go and plant trees and bushes and remove invasive species six times a year. The park is protected by us, the people who are there on the ground and who have been working so hard to create it and protect it.

There is a patchwork system of about 12 or 13 different policies and agreements protecting this land. It is not just a piece of land, as the minister says.

Why is it the minister is moving time allocation on the bill when clearly there still needs to be more discussion? Why has the minister responsible not spoken to this bill? Why will they not just do what the community wants and protect the Rouge Park, rather than chopping it up into this tiny piece and not even providing the protective measures that are already in existence with the patchwork system of protective measures that we, the activists on the ground for the last 35 years, have put together?

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for those two points that he mentioned, one about the manufacturer in Germany and the second about the Minister of Health now agreeing to meet with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada.

I will start with the second question, which had to do with my comments about the minister now agreeing to meet with the victims association. The minister is showing a great response today. However, it is important to note that victims have been requesting to meet with the Minister of Health for a long period of time, and now that we have been able to get some media coverage about it, I am glad the minister is now willing to meet with the victims association.

The first question was about the manufacturer in Germany. The member mentioned that he was around when the clinical trials were just starting; I was not even a concept at that time.

I want to point out that the manufacturer, though it is 50 years later, has now finally apologized. It took the manufacturer 50 years to apologize for this drug and the effects it had.

Canada made a mistake, and I hope that we as a country can take the brave step of apologizing to the victims and survivors of thalidomide and do the right thing by meeting with the victims association to ensure that survivors continue to get support for their urgent needs and continue to have some security for the rest of their lives.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, for his question. He shared earlier that he had friends as well who have been affected by thalidomide.

He is right that we all like to live with certainty. Uncertainty creates anxiety, and living with uncertainty all one's life about one's future and future prospects increases anxiety.

I will share one more quote that I had prepared for my speech. It is about job security. It says:

I have had to change jobs at work because of this change [shoulder surgery]. At the rate I am going I will not be able to work within a short amount of time.

This person is trying to work, doing the best they can to contribute to our economy and contribute to the betterment of their lives as well as the lives of the people around them, but because of the impediment the disability has created and because thalidomide was in their systems as a fetus, they are now having to deal with the possibility of employment loss, which means they may not have been able to contribute much to their Canada pension plan and that they also may not have an employer pension program.

We need to make sure that we as a society are looking out for our mistake. I was not even born when this mistake happened, but I take ownership for it because we as a society need to be that way.

We are blessed that Dr. Frances Kelsey is a Canadian, but the Americans are far more blessed than we were, because as a scientist working for the FDA, she prevented that drug from being approved in the U.S. The Americans are far more blessed than we are, because they do not have to deal with it.

However, we as a society have a responsibility to the innocent victims of this drug. We need to make sure that their future security is looked after. There are not a lot of victims. There are fewer than 100 people.

Business of Supply November 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, today we stand as a Parliament to call for support for the survivors of thalidomide and to work with people on the ground and the Thalidomide Survivors Task Force.

For people who might be watching at home or on YouTube later, I will give a quick background on what it is and what happened.

Thalidomide is a drug that was marketed as a safe treatment for nausea during pregnancy in the early 1960s. While it was a sedative, the drug, instead of being helpful, caused miscarriages and severe birth defects, including missing limbs, organs, and deafness and blindness. Approximately 10,000 thalidomide survivors were born worldwide. We cannot really be sure how many people were affected in Canada, but we know that approximately 100 survivors are still living in Canada.

According to the Thalidomide Victims Association, 62% of the survivors are women and 38% are men. They live across our country: 19% in western Canada, 20% in Ontario, 58% in Quebec, and 3% in eastern Canada. Therefore, Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been affected by this drug, which was thought safe in Canada in the early 1960s.

I will spend most of my speech on the current situation of the survivors.

After about 50 years of attempting to work around their limitations, it has really taken a toll on many of the survivors, who are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear to their bodies. This has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs and to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their ability. They have a limited ability to maintain employment and are dependent upon others for basic tasks, such as using the toilet, and dressing and preparing themselves.

This deterioration of the survivors' health has placed them in a very precarious situation, whether financial or emotional, and quite a few of them suffer from mental health issues as well. I will provide some examples from people who have been courageous in sharing their experiences with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, and I will read excerpts from a report from the association.

In 1992, there was a lump-sum payment. A deal was negotiated and compensation was given to the survivors who were affected by thalidomide in the 1960s. Lump sum payments were made in order to deal with the urgent needs of the survivors, but speaking with people I know, as well as reading reports by the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, we know that the lump-sum payments did not help with long-term investments for these families. Many suffered socioeconomically because of the fact that they could not afford to pursue post-secondary education, and they continue to be affected in the workplace today because of that.

I will speak about the education aspect, including about primary school and undergraduate-level education. Fewer than 5% of thalidomide victims were able to achieve their primary level of education, compared to more than 15% of the Canadian population at the time. At the undergraduate level, significantly fewer thalidomide survivors pursue a post-secondary education. Only 25% were able to complete their post-secondary education at the undergraduate level, compared to 35% of the Canadian population on average.

Another angle to look at is financial security and employment. Today, 31% of thalidomide survivors are afraid to quit or lose their jobs because of the pain and treatment they have to deal with.

As well, 17% cannot work anymore and are now dependent on their pensions, if they have been able to accrue pensions, or are dependent on disability benefits or on family members to take care of them, and 58% are actually afraid to lose their jobs, which would lead to a further deterioration of their situation.

Looking at just these three statistics, we see that a lot of the survivors of thalidomide are living in fear. They fear losing their job and they fear quitting their job if they are in a precarious situation at their workplace. They are afraid to move to other employment because they know they may not be able to find other employment or will be further victimized because of the pain they have to deal with.

Looking at the lump sum compensation that was made to the victims, we see that 20% do not receive any more compensation today, 50% make less than $10,000 a year in the annuities that continue to be paid from the compensation, and 75% receive only $20,000 a year as compensation. We know that $20,000 a year and $10,000 a year are definitely far below the poverty line in this country.

The victims and survivors of thalidomide are living below the poverty line, or that is the compensation they are receiving. That is just not right.

I want to talk about two people in my life who are thalidomide survivors. An example of those in the statistic of 20% who receive no more compensation is Charles. Charles is a friend of the family. He did receive some compensation for his urgent needs at the time. Now he does not receive much compensation anymore. He was able to get a special steering wheel for his vehicle.

Charles is an amazing guy who, though a thalidomide survivor whose arms were affected by the drug, overcame his adversity by getting his 5th degree black belt. Charles is an amazing guy. It goes to show that anything is possible as long as people believe in themselves, and Charles is an amazing example of that.

He has been able to make accommodations. For example, he is able to drive by using a special steering wheel in his vehicle. However, he has sadness. He says that it is really sad that he cannot spread his arms around his kids. It is true. Even though he lives with such optimism and persistence to continue and do well, that is the reality for him. I spoke of fear earlier, but there is also the sadness. This is their reality.

Another example is Daniel, who is a greeter at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, one of the sports arenas in the GTA. His arms and his legs were affected. He cannot drive and is completely reliant on public transit, but Daniel is absolutely another example of beauty and optimism. He has a smile as big as the world. He is always the life of the party. However, privately, he will also share that he lives with a lot of pain. He tries to be optimistic and positive about everything and positive about life, because that is what he has to do to move on with life.

Let us look at some more statistics on daily life: 26% require partial or full assistance of another person in preparing their meals, and 14% require full assistance for showering.

I want to share some more quotes about some of the participants in the report. Here is a quote:

I find it more difficult to manipulate the tools and material necessary to my work; I need help more often.

We are talking about job security.

In talking about mental health, here is another quote:

If I go back approximately 5 years ago, I had suicidal thoughts and had no stable and fulfilling work. The fear of not having enough money and losing my autonomy can make me very anxious.

We are talking about people who continue to live with fear and anxiety.

Here is another one, about future stability and pension:

Can only work part-time hours as a result of my disability. Part-time employees are not allowed to contribute to pension and therefore, despite working for 21 years, I have no pension. I find this very scary for the future.

There is fear and anxiety about the future.

Here is another quote: “I will need to retire earlier than 65”.

This person is living with fear. Knowing that the age of retirement has now been increased to age 67 by our current government, this person, who is living in extreme pain, will now need to wait. This person is already saying they cannot continue working until age 65, yet they will have to work until age 67.

I am thankful for the leadership we are seeing and the cross-party support we are seeing for the motion. I would have loved to speak more about Dr. Frances Kelsey and her bravery, but I am also saying that we need to work together with the thalidomide survivors task force. We are asking for a negotiation that would allow the creation of a program that would provide a one-time payment for urgent needs and ongoing monthly support as well, based on people's levels of disability and their ongoing needs.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to further questions.