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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is amendments.

Liberal MP for Don Valley West (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 54% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Aphasia Awareness Week June 9th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, the first week of June is aphasia awareness week. A third of all Canadians who suffer a stroke will develop aphasia, a condition that makes it extremely difficult, and at times impossible, to speak to others. People who have aphasia still retain their intelligence and competence. They just need to find new ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Aphasia affects every relationship and almost every daily activity. Those affected cannot carry on a conversation as before, read a book, or send emails. They are likely to lose their jobs.

Aphasia awareness week focuses attention on this often misunderstood condition, and salutes health care professionals, researchers, and thousands of family members and volunteers across the country who provide treatment, training, and hope for people with aphasia. I especially salute the Aphasia Institute in North York, a place of courage and compassion, competent professionals, and amazing volunteers.

I ask members to please join me in commemorating aphasia awareness week.

Committees of the House June 6th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, entitled “Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017”.

I also have the privilege to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, entitled “Supplementary Estimates (A)” for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.

Hodgson Senior Public School June 1st, 2016

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of Hodgson Senior Public School, an outstanding institution that has dedicated a century to nurturing generations of local youth.

Located in midtown Toronto in the heart of Don Valley West, Hodgson opened its doors in the middle of World War I. Since then, it has been committed to serving the north Toronto community, offering unique programs designed to accommodate students from varying backgrounds and learning styles.

I am proud to salute the students, faculty, and alumni of Hodgson Senior Public school for 100 years of exceptional work.

Hodgson, quite importantly, provides students with an extensive co-curricular program, a safe learning environment, and a faculty that encourages students to follow their passions and achieve their full potential. A special shout-out to its music program, especially the percussion section.

Please join me in celebrating 100 proud years of Hodgson Senior Public School.

National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias Act May 4th, 2016

Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege today to rise in support of Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Niagara Falls. We were speaking earlier today. He has not had opportunities to bring forward private members' bills as a member of government for many years. I am both pleased and proud to be part of this effort he has engaged in. Sometimes it is the right time to do the right bill, and I believe he has spotted that this is the right time to do the right bill.

As he did, I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the former member for Nickel Belt, Claude Gravelle. He had inspiration, tenacity and he did everything right in his bill for that time. However, it did not pass. We now have a chance to have a better bill to ensure that Canada has the appropriate strategy to deal with dementia and Alzheimer's.

I want to begin by talking very personally about my friend and my former administrator when I was a United Church minister at Eglinton St. George's United Church in Toronto. Her name is Marian Ritchie. While she was working with us in the Church, she recognized that there were many people either facing both dementia in their own lives or were caregivers for people who were suffering either early or even advanced signs of dementia.

Marian decided to chronicle the life she had with her husband Edwin and she wrote a book called The Long Way Home. Similar to the The Long Goodbye, The Long Way Home chronicles Edwin's decline from simple mistakes in grammar or vocabulary to eventually having a complete change in personality, not recognizing his family, his friends and not being able to engage in every day life.

This book was profoundly moving for me as it was non-medical and it was not from a professional. It was a book simply written to inspire, to comfort and to encourage people who had family members suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

I have not had the opportunity to do something legislatively about Alzheimer's. I am so pleased the member for Niagara Falls has given me and every member of the House the opportunity to come together to form a national strategy on dementia and Alzheimer's, to ensure that we have a unified approach to this disease and to begin to make important steps that make a difference in the lives of people like Edwin and Marian.

There is a real cost to dementia, an individual cost to families as well as a cost to society. Right now it is estimated that over 700,000 people in Canada have dementia, including Alzheimer's. That is expected to double in the next 20 as our population ages. Even though age, in and of itself, is not the cause of dementia, it is part of it. There are other root causes for dementia, but we still have research that is absolutely necessary so we can begin to understand how we can address this problem.

As everyone in this chamber knows, there is no cure for dementia. We continue to wait for new drugs, new treatment and new understanding of the brain itself.

I would also like to pay great tribute to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada. It is one of several patient organizations and health charities that is working on this important issue. I want to name two people, Mimi Lowi-Young, the CEO, and Debbie Benczkowski, the number two and the one who really runs the operation. These two women have been advocates for people with this disease for many years. I think tonight in the chamber we recognize that often people who work in health charities and work with patients are driving some of the things on which Parliament is often behind.

Last year, the World Health Organization declared that dementias were a public health priority requiring international action. This past October, health ministers at the Pan American Health Organization approved an action plan in response to the predicted rise in dementia cases across the hemisphere over the next 20 years. Among other actions, the Pan American plan encourages member countries, including Canada, to improve investment in treatment for dementias.

Most recently here at home, one of the recommendations of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying was to establish a national strategy on dementia.

It is important, given the vote we just had in the House, to recognize that end-of-life care is complex. That report, of which I was proud to be a part, looked at the need to have a continuum of care. We needed to be sure we had better palliative care. We had to have better mental health strategies. We had to have better dementia care. We had to always be sensitive to specific populations and how they would respond to end-of-life situations.

Therefore, tonight, we are continuing on in that process and ensuring that we have the opportunity to have the very best, state-of-the-art, national dementia strategy of any country in the world.

However, we are not starting from nothing in this position in Canada. I even want to commend the previous government for its work in dementia strategy. It is not as though we have been doing nothing on this. The reality is that over the last 10 years, the Government of Canada has invested almost $300 million on dementia-related research, through the CIHR, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We have had many partnerships. We are attempting to do parts of the work all around the country.

This legislation attempts to bring them together in a national strategy so we can form a partnership with research, with caregivers, with people living with dementia, with patient groups, with experts, take international evidence and bring them together to ensure our Minister of Health, our Department of Health, have the best research available so we have the best possible care.

I am encouraged that members on this side of the House, as I believe members on the other side and in all parties, are supportive of the bill. I have been hearing positive stories from each one of them, often told with stories from their own lives. They have had a parent, or a partner or they themselves have had characteristics, so they are worried about dementia in their own lives.

We have a chance, with the bill, to do something historic and to come together to say that there is the possibility that provinces, territories and the federal government and researchers, clinicians and patients, together with civil society, can have the best strategy possible.

The bill is interesting in that it acknowledges the shared jurisdiction of the federal government and the provinces and territories. It is very clear that the delivery of health care will happen at the provincial and territorial level. We are not in any way stepping on anyone's jurisdictional toes with this legislation. Rather, the legislation calls upon the federal government to consult with provinces and territories to ensure we have the best care and know that the provinces and territories have an important part to play in this national conversation.

It also pushes us at research. If there is anything that we need to acknowledge, it is that the brain is the most complicated organ in the body. I am very proud that in Don Valley West we have Sunnybrook Health Sciences, Sunnybrook Hospital, which is attempting to draw together with partner organizations, and there is Baycrest in Toronto and others across the country, to bring research, clinical expertise, and patient experience together.

This bill would foster that information, not only top-down but also bottom-up. We can learn from the people who are working with this every day to ensure we have the best resources provided, that we have the best research happening, and that we take the steps so Canada can be a leader in the world.

I want to close by telling members another story about my church. One of the projects that we did at Eglinton St. George's was to form a corporation that built a housing project in Toronto called “Ewart Angus Homes”. This is one of those creative housing projects that involves having market housing and housing for seniors, as well as two floors of care for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. It is just one example of people getting together to say they needed to be a caring society.

If we are going to walk with people to the end of their lives, we need to have the best supports for them, the best medical research, the best care for their caregivers, the best laws in place and programs in place to ensure that our country is that leader.

Again, I want to thank the member for Niagara Falls for the opportunity to second the bill. I want to encourage every member to read it, as we sometimes forget to do, and to be sure to engage in the conversation on this bill. We look forward to members' support of the bill.

Criminal Code May 3rd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I have one concern for the member. I just noticed the member for Kitchener—Conestoga and the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan have now spoken repeatedly on this. I am concerned that the members on the other side have begun to run out of steam and are repeating themselves. Maybe the Conservatives do not have enough speakers to continue this debate any further. I wanted to bring it the attention of the House that perhaps the members could talk about the problem of getting new speakers on this subject.

Genetic Non-Discrimination Act May 3rd, 2016

moved that Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, be read the first time.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to give first reading to Bill S-201, an act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination. I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, for seconding this.

The bill would create a new genetic non-discrimination act that would prohibit all service providers from demanding genetic testing or requiring that a person disclose the results of past genetic testing. It also provides for a complaint procedure for federal employees facing disciplinary actions because of genetic testing, and adds genetic characteristics as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The protections in the bill would enable Canadians to access medical advances in genetic testing without the fear of negative consequences or repercussions on them and their families. It would empower Canadians to have better health.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Vision Health Month May 2nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, May is Vision Health Month, a month to celebrate the contributions of blind and partially sighted Canadians, and thank those who are reducing barriers, improving accessibility, providing eye health care, and doing or supporting innovative research in the area of vision loss.

Close to half a million Canadians live with significant vision loss. Over the next decade as our population ages, vision loss among Canadians is expected to rise by nearly 30%. Over five and a half million Canadians have one of four major eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or cataracts.

However, being blind or suffering vision loss should not limit anyone in Canada. This month, CNIB, with its head office in Don Valley West, is asking Canadians to open their eyes to blindness. They will be sharing truly visionary stories of Canadians who are living with vision loss, demystifying what it means to be blind.

Please join me in commemorating Vision Health Month.

Criminal Code May 2nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her passion and compassion, as well.

This is the largest issue that has been raised in my riding in the last several weeks. Along with the member for Don Valley East, we held a town hall with about 200 people; 90% of whom asked for some capacity for an advance directive. They are very afraid that they are going to have to have a premature death because they are so worried that if dementia, Alzheimer's, or other diseases take place that would rob them of capacity, they are going to have to do that early. They are very concerned about that.

I had another meeting this week, in Leaside, and again, that issue came up.

I think the reality is that this will be unfolding over time. I think it is very important to review this legislation. We are going to take time as a society. I believe it has to happen.

One member I need to acknowledge is the late Francine Lalonde from the Bloc Québécois who brought this up and I also forgot to—

Criminal Code May 2nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I think the member for Kitchener—Conestoga has it right. There are a variety of ways that people die and there are people who have been very clear about having a “do not resuscitate” order or that no heroic measures be taken.

However, there also comes a time when certain people have reached the end and physicians are working with them. There is a covenant. There is a sacred covenant, I believe, between our physicians and patients that allow them to understand that the role of the physician is to end suffering. It is not necessarily to prolong life. There are certain times when the natural course of life is taking too long for people who are suffering.

There was a case in Quebec recently where someone did not meet the bar because their death was not in the foreseeable future. They had to actually starve themselves, stop taking food, stop taking water, for 53 days, until they were finally allowed to pass away, as people say these days. I think that is unfair, and the Supreme Court has ruled that unfair.

The reality is that the Supreme Court has said it both allows for physicians to assist people in dying and for people to take that upon themselves with physicians helping them. I am proud to live in a country that is that compassionate.

Criminal Code May 2nd, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Oakville North—Burlington.

I want to begin by taking a moment to pay tribute to two Canadian women whom I did not know but have come to know in their deaths, and who I think are two of the most courageous women. They are Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter. These two women were on a journey of life that was not of their choosing, and they came to the point in their lives where they wanted some assistance in the final days of their lives in the final part of their journey.

As a United Church minister, I walked that journey with many people, hundreds of people in fact, and have done even more funerals where I did not know the people and only came to know them through the stories of their families and the legacy they left behind. Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor are two such women whose courage, tenacity, hopefulness, and love of life have instructed us to this very day, where we are now considering a bill on medical assistance in dying.

In paying tribute to them, I also want to give them thanks for engaging us in what is one of the best civics lessons that we could ever have as a chamber. Each of the branches of our government has a chance to speak to this. There is a legislative branch and a judicial branch, as well as the executive branch.

We actually began this conversation in 1982 where we invoked the charter that is now so much part of our Canadian culture of rights and freedoms. That charter has instructed all Canadians, Canada's courts, and Canada's legislators since the day it was passed. The reality is that when Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor made their appeal to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and it went to the Court of Appeal in B.C. and then to the Supreme Court of Canada, we had the opportunity to have our judicial branch take a look at their rights and the possibility of their having assistance in their deaths. The courts ruled on that and gave one year for the parliamentary branch and the executive branch to come up with a law.

The parliamentary branch then spoke by having a joint committee with the House and the Senate. I need to say to this chamber that it was probably the richest experience I have had as a member of Parliament. Men and women—senators and members of this House—engaging in a discussion, listening to the stories of life and of death and of healing and of hope, changed me profoundly. It gave me the opportunity to recognize that the parliamentary system that we have gives Canadians a great opportunity to hear their voices being heard at committee and now in this House.

The executive branch then picked up from the report and has presented Bill C-14. I want to thank the minister for her work on this, and the work of her office and of justice, for taking the report that we did seriously, engaging in it further, and coming up with a piece of legislation that at this time I am very clear I will be supporting at second reading.

That does not mean that I think we are finished with this piece of legislation, because it is now back to the parliamentary system where we are to engage in the dialogue with the executive branch about making a law that could be good enough better. When we are dealing with issues of life and death, I do not think “good enough” is good enough. We can honour the quest that Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter engaged in and that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on and that the executive branch has presented a law on, and as parliamentarians take seriously the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, take it to our hearts and look at what it is that we as members of Parliament are sworn to. It is more than allegiance to Her Majesty. It is about upholding the Constitution of this country and engaging in it with love, with commitment, with passion, and with hope, and looking at how the decision that the Supreme Court made can actually live out in the life of Canada.

We have a piece of legislation that is before us today, and it was decided that section 7 of the charter could not be used to deny the rights of two women looking for assistance in their deaths. The government of the day tried to fight that section 7 declaration of rights by invoking section 1 of the charter, saying that there were reasonable grounds to withhold those rights. However, the Supreme Court of Canada did not allow that. It said it would be unreasonable to deny those rights to be given to those women. The court made a very specific decision on a very specific case at a specific time.

The Supreme Court also said in paragraph 127 of the decision that it did not pronounce on things that were not before it in that case. That was a requirement for Parliament and also the bill, which, yes, does engage all Canadians in a discussion about what it is that we can have as a continuum of care that continues to the place where we help people on that final journey.

We come at it differently. I have full respect for the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga. He has engaged this subject well and I have taken into account the fact that he has passion. We have come at it differently, but I have no doubt that everyone on both sides of the House is concerned about the well-being of Canadians. However, I think the bill needs to go even further to be faithful to our Constitution.

I have concerns in that I think there could be further challenges to the bill in the courts, which I do not think Canadians should have to endure. I have a couple of very specific concerns that I would like to raise in the House and one is the use of the word “incurable”.

The court was very clear that it did not want to use the word “incurable”. Instead, it used the word “irremediable”. By invoking the word “incurable”, one begins to look at the disease instead of the person. What I mean by that is that sometimes a disease may be incurable or curable, but the person has the right, the Supreme Court said, not to undertake treatments that are not acceptable to that person. The treatments may be cruel or punishing and the reality is that the court said they do not need to undertake them. The disease may be curable, but that person has chosen a different path and that, under section 7, is their right. I have that concern about invoking that word.

The other concern I have is the introduction of the concept of foreseeable death or death in the foreseeable future. All of us live a precarious life. Life is fragile, life is precious, and life is dear, but for some life has become intolerable. Some diseases are not necessarily mortal in the sense that people are automatically going to their final days with that disease, but people still have pain that is intolerable. The Supreme Court decision in Carter says they have the right to medical assistance in dying.

The introduction of that concept of death in the foreseeable future has muddied the waters. Physicians are asking what it means. Does it mean “terminal”? Some hospitals have a different definition of “terminal” than other hospitals and other physicians have. We have to be very careful on that.

The third point I would make is about one of the safeguards. This is robust legislation. There are safeguards in place that I do not believe are of great concern. One safeguard worries me, and that is the final one in the third section on safeguards, proposed paragraph 241.2(3)(h), which says that immediately before the administration of those substances that will cause death, the person needs to, once again, declare competently that they want death to happen.

I have been in too many hospital rooms. I have sat with too many dying people. Most of the people who will access this kind of continuum of care are dying and will probably be receiving morphine. To take them off the morphine to ensure they have the capacity to give consent is cruel. The reality is that in a 15-day period, that person should be allowed to make a gracious exit and be given the compassion not to be once again required to become competent, because the morphine is helping them with their intolerable suffering. That they are suffering intolerably has already been declared.

With those exceptions, I am supportive of the bill. The justice committee has its work to do. I am looking forward to thorough deliberations. I have utter confidence in every member of that committee. I am looking forward to the bill returning to the House and going to the other place. I know that Canadians will have a law that helps them and makes Canada a richer and stronger country.