House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was deal.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 24% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions June 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by 100 or so people from Dartmouth and surrounding communities. The petition is with respect to defined benefits pension plans, and it calls on the government to ensure that employers live up to the promises made in the defined benefits plans and that it recognizes that pensions are deferred promises and deferred wages and that they are extremely important for the future of our communities. It calls on the government to improve retirement security, because 62% of Canadian workers are without workplace pensions and the Canada pension plan should be expanded.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act June 9th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-588, an act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, with regard to the Sambro Island lighthouse.

I want to commend my colleague the member for Halifax for her tenacity in supporting this community and this iconic structure that means so much to not only the people of Sambro and the people of Halifax but also the people across this country if not internationally. As has been said, the structure was built in 1758 by the first act of the oldest legislature, in the province of Nova Scotia.

There have been a lot of people coming and going from Halifax Harbour, whether as part of the Royal Canadian Navy, war brides, or immigrants coming to this great country. It has been suggested by veterans that, when they left the harbour, the Sambro lighthouse was the last thing they saw, and when they returned to Halifax Harbour it was the first thing they saw. As one veteran expressed, it was like lifting a huge load off of their shoulders in making that crossing, seeing the lighthouse and recognizing that Nova Scotia and Canada were a few short hours away.

It is a huge structure made of stone and concrete, standing 24 metres tall, and located on a granite island off the entrance to Halifax Harbour just slightly beyond the community of Sambro. It is a stately structure and has been referred to as Canada's Statue of Liberty.

The other day I was thinking about how my wife's grandfather came to this country in 1928 through Pier 21 and would have seen this structure as the ship he was on approached this wonderful country, which he then made his home and where he raised his family, as did so many.

Why is this important? This bill would place the Sambro Island lighthouse within the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. Therefore, it would become a responsibility of Parks Canada to maintain it and save a piece of our natural heritage.

The Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act came into force in 2008. However, for some reason many heritage buildings were missed, this one included. As a result, there was a requirement for the communities to put together a petition to nominate them as historic structures and put together a business plan. It was quite an onerous process. Needless to say it was a difficult one, given the lack of resources. However, there was a lot of work done.

I think an indication of why it is so important for Parks Canada to take over this important structure for the Government of Canada is in recognition of the costs. No community is able to manage the costs of maintaining this important structure. It is on an island; it is 24 metres tall. We received an indication of what it would cost to maintain it when, in 2008, the Coast Guard repainted the lighthouse. It used a helicopter to ferry supplies, including a large web of scaffolding. The total cost was about $80,000, which is a huge expense for a small community and so a very difficult process.

However, I give credit to the Sambro Island Lighthouse Preservation Society for being diligent and tenacious on this issue, along with Barry MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society. I do not know how many hundreds of petitions I tabled in the House, along with my colleagues from Nova Scotia, but they ensured it was in the minds of Nova Scotians and Canadians that something needed to be done about this. I commend all of those volunteers for their efforts in this regard. That is why we are now at this point.

I was happy to congratulate the government when I heard in early May that it had indicated that it would invest $1.5 million to restore the Sambro Island lighthouse. The minister at the time indicated that it was one of the most iconic structures in the country. It was great news, which would allow long overdue and needed concrete renovations, rehabilitation of the original lantern and gallery, and repainting to take place.

However, this was recognized as a stop-gap measure. Therefore, it was important that the legislation be introduced in the House. My understanding is that government members have indicated their support, and for that I am happy to commend them.

Part of the Parks Canada mandate is to protect the health and wholeness of the commemorative integrity of the national sites it operates. This means preserving the site's cultural resources, communicating its heritage values and national significance and kindling the respect of people whose decisions and actions affect the site. This is why it is so important for this important heritage structure in the history of Nova Scotia and Canada to be properly protected by the federal government.

It is not as if the federal government has not already recognized the heritage value of this structure. In 1937, the Sambro lighthouse was designated a national historic site, and a plaque was placed in the village of Sambro. Then in 1996, the lighthouse received Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office classified status, which is the highest ranking status for Canadian government heritage buildings. In the case of classified federal heritage buildings for which the minister has assigned the highest level of protection, departments are required to consult with the heritage protection legislation before undertaking any action that would affect their heritage structure

I did not indicate when I began that this is important to me for another reason. I was a member of the legislative assembly for the constituency of Halifax Atlantic between the years 1991 and 2003, and Sambro was part of my constituency. It was a constant reminder of the history that the community had shared with North America. The fact is that Sambro has been an active and productive fishing village for over 500 years, and it continues to thrive to this day based on the collaborative manner in which the people in that community, the fishermen and others, go about harvesting the resource of the ocean in a sustainable fashion.

I am very proud to be here with my colleague, the member for Halifax, who sponsored this bill, to speak for a few moments in support of what she has been able to do for this iconic heritage structure, and also as somebody who has had some attachment and has attended many public meetings in the community about what we would do with the Sambro lighthouse.

It is a good day, and I am pleased to support the bill. Again, I commend my colleague, the member for Halifax.

Employment Insurance June 9th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as the economy stumbles, EI claims are increasing. Unfortunately, after Liberal and Conservative cuts to the program, access to EI benefits is at a record low. Fewer than four in 10 unemployed Canadians receive any benefits at all, yet the Conservatives are raiding the EI surpluses to give tax handouts to the wealthy, while the Liberals want to raid the fund for corporate tax cuts.

When will the Liberals and the Conservatives learn to get their hands off the money meant for unemployed Canadians?

Business of Supply June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso. This is an issue he knows something about. In 1997, many Liberals in Atlantic Canada got tossed out on their ear as a result of some of the unilateral changes they were making to employment insurance. He knows that, and I would have thought he had learned much from that experience.

The difficulty we have now is that we have a fund, and both the Conservatives and the Liberals are proposing to give cuts to employers to create jobs, something that should come out of general revenues. They would be taking money that should be used to provide support for working Canadians who are suddenly unemployed.

We need to ensure that in terms of rates, they are sufficient to ensure that Canadians, when they are unemployed and need support, are able to receive that support. Those decisions should not be political. They should be independent and done in fairness, with a sense of equity for employers and workers.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I do not make any apologies for feeling passionate about working people and about the way the government is treating working people and the way the Liberal Party has been treating working people in this country. I make no apologies for getting a little wound up about that. Let me tell the House that for sure.

I can commit to that member and to those members opposite that when we are in power after October 19, we will work with workers, with employers, and with the provinces to make sure that we have an EI fund that is sustainable, that is independent, and that actually serves the needs of workers, their families, and employers in this country.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to get up and speak for a few minutes on this important issue of employment insurance and the fact that there needs to be a viable program in this country that provides support to unemployed workers, their families, and their communities.

There was such a fund, until the Liberals got their hands on it back in the mid-90s. At that point, 80% of unemployed Canadians had access to this fund. By the time the Liberals got through with it, that had been reduced to 45%. Now, since the Conservatives have had their go at it, it has been reduced to 36% or 37% of unemployed Canadians who actually have an opportunity to access these funds.

I want to talk a bit about that, because that is really at the heart of why we are dealing with this motion today. It is to not only protect the fund, and I will explain why that is important, but to make sure that the account is set up in a way that truly does the work necessary and does what employment insurance was originally established to do, which is provide support for unemployed workers, provide support for parents on parental leave, provide sick benefits, and even provide training for people to bridge the period between jobs.

Let me talk for a second about why access has come to be such a problem.

As I indicated earlier, before the Liberals got at this account, 80% of unemployed workers had access to it. Under their reforms, EI access fell to below 50%. The Conservatives saw an opportunity and have continued to reduce access. As recently as 2012, they brought in some major changes that have particularly affected seasonal industries in Atlantic Canada, which is my part of the world. They made it particularly difficult in a number of different industries that depended on shorter term, seasonal work to the point that in July 2013, fund eligibility reached 36.5%. It is up a bit now and is a little closer to 40%. One reason for that is the high level of unemployment in this country.

Only 60% of new mothers receive maternity benefits, mostly because they have insufficient hours under these Conservative changes.

On top of those eligibility issues, unemployed workers and their employers have a problem with Service Canada. Of the applicants for EI, 25% are waiting beyond the supposed service standard of 28 days. It is now in excess of 40 days. We raised this issue last fall. We have actually raised it for the past two years, but last fall, the minister responsible stood in this place and talked about how his parliamentary secretary had done a study on this work and had made some changes. We asked him to table the study to show us what the results were, and all of a sudden, that study was not good enough to be released. We still have not seen it. What we do know is that people seeking unemployment insurance benefits are still having to wait over 40 days.

As I indicated, the government made a number of changes in 2012 in terms of eligibility for benefits. One of the particular issues was related to the Social Security Tribunal.

There used to be an appeals process that was tripartite. The worker had a representative at the appeal, the employer had a representative at the appeal, and there was an independent chairperson at the appeal. In other words, there was due process. There was justice. Workers could expect that they would have an opportunity to have their cases heard.

That process has been completely revamped. Now there is an official within the department who looks at this. That individual does not share information. A lot of it is done behind closed doors. The worst thing of all is that at the end of 2014, there was a backlog of 11,000 cases. Not only was the process turned upside down, with workers no longer having access to due process, but now the process is not even going forward, so these appeals are not being heard.

The other point I want to make is in regard to the EI fund. My colleague from Trois-Rivières said that we have tabled a bill in this House to protect the EI fund. Why are we doing that? Why do we have to protect the sanctity of that fund? It is because the Liberals took $54 billion in the EI fund, and they used it for other purposes. In other words, the money that was put into that fund by workers and employers to provide employment insurance when workers lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, was appropriated to other places. The Conservatives came along and thought that it was pretty neat to have access to that fund, and they tried that too. The Conservatives went ahead and had their way with over $3 billion in that fund, all the while, of course, not changing premiums.

Now we have a situation where there is less money in the fund, Even so, now the current government is proposing to reduce premiums next year. If we even left the premiums at their current level, we could provide EI benefits to another 130,000 unemployed workers. We think that makes a lot of sense.

My point is that the EI fund should be managed independently. Decisions about premiums should be independent of government. They should not be influenced by the political whims of the government of the day. We have seen the damage that can be done as a result of what the Liberals and Conservatives have done. It is wrong. That is why we are proposing this motion and why we have talked with Canadians about how under an NDP government, we will certainly make those changes.

I want to go back to what we want. We want to ensure that more Canadians and middle-class families have access to the support they need if they lose their jobs, need to take parental leave, become ill, or need to care for loved ones under the compassionate care leave program. That was extended in this budget to six months, which we support. We pushed for that. However, the eligibility problems are still the same: it is accessible by very few people. People caring for ALS patients are unable to have access to that fund.

The NDP wants to make sure that the premiums workers and employers pay to the fund are actually used to provide EI benefits for the unemployed, special benefits for families, and training for Canadians. That is why I had the pleasure of tabling Bill C-605 to put a fence around that fund.

We want to make sure that Canadian workers and businesses are involved in creating an EI fund that actually works for them. When the current government made those five massive changes in 2012, it did so without any consultation with the Atlantic provinces, with Quebec, or with any other provinces. That had a very detrimental impact, and the provinces said so to the federal government.

We are committed to working with the provinces, to working with workers and their representatives, and to working with employers to make sure that we have an EI fund that is protected, that is independent, and that actually supports working people.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, for his leadership on this issue and for the hard work that he has put in to make sure that Canadians understand the damage that the Liberals and Conservatives have done to the important program of employment insurance.

Does the member think it is satisfactory that we have a fund in this country that is supposed to provide support to workers, families and communities when they are unemployed through no fault of their own, yet eligibility has dropped below 4 in 10? In other words, of the 1.3 million unemployed in this country, a small fraction of them are actually eligible for support from this program. Would the member not agree that this is something we have to deal with right now?

Maureen Vine June 4th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Maureen Vine was a remarkable woman. The epitome of a great citizen, she blazed a trail as an active and caring spouse, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and a strong feminist. A member of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the raging grannies, she was incredibly passionate about her community and worked tirelessly for peace, social justice, women's rights, and the environment.

Maureen received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, but the best reflection of her impact is in the words of those who knew her. “Maureen is a legend”, said one person. “Maureen was a role model who made a huge difference in our community”, said another. Someone else described Maureen as “a champion of real people; helping create and maintain a kind of Canada that I believe in”. As her daughter Jocelyn put it, “She really is a force of nature”.

I extend my deepest condolences to her family and her legion of friends. We love Maureen and we will miss her.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my answer is no.

In answer to the previous question about the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the government allocated $3.5 million. I was thankful, but it is important to know that had nothing to do with science or research. It had to do with plugging the leaks in the windows and the doors and repairing the roofs.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this is the case with any criticism that is brought forward against the government. It completely denies it and comes up with its own facts and figures in order to try to confuse the matter.

However, when we talk to scientists, researchers and the universities it is not in front of the minister because they do not want to jeopardize the bit of money they do get, the little support. Remember we are talking about muzzling. When we get them away where they can talk openly, they are telling us the government is failing to provide the kind of support those young scientists need to go forward with research that needs to be done in our communities and our country and to be able to share that information with Canadians.

Let me just add, the internationally known Bedford Institute of Oceanography is in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Recently, the government granted $3.5 million. However, what was that for? It was for—