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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was conservative.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for St. John's South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans Affairs May 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, in my first statement in the House almost four years ago, I pointed out how privileged the Conservative members opposite were to sit across from such raw and rugged beauty. Of course, I was speaking about the stained glass window above me and to the left of the pitcher plant, the official flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I told Conservative MPs to look to the pitcher plant when they spoke of my province. They faced the pitcher plant when they closed the Veterans Affairs office in Corner Brook, when they failed Labrador's Burton Winters, when they defended the actions of a minister in using a search and rescue helicopter as a taxi, when they refused to revisit policies that threatened our rural communities, when they broke promises in trade deals, and, most recently, when they deviated from policy at the expense of Newfoundland and Labrador fishermen.

Almost four years ago, I stood in this place and warned Conservative MPs that the pitcher plant was carnivorous and would devour its prey whole. I look forward to standing in the House on the government's side after the election and showing the pitcher plant the respect that it deserves.

Business of Supply May 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the hon. member on this side for putting the motion forward.

The fact that we had to debate this issue shows that there is something wrong. The fact that the Conservative government is likely to vote against this motion shows that we have something wrong. Hopefully the Conservatives will vote for it. Hopefully they will not vote against it.

Business of Supply May 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question, and I mean honourable when I say that.

In terms of the new group, PTSD Buddies, which has formed in Newfoundland, a group made up of veterans who come together to support each other, what they are doing is fabulous. Veterans should be able to lean on each other.

One of the central points in my speech is that, besides leaning on each other, they should also be able to lean on the Government of Canada. However, too often, and I gave numerous examples in my speech, they cannot rely on and cannot lean on the Government of Canada.

Business of Supply May 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, usually when I get asked a question after a speech, I thank the hon. member, but I am not going to thank the hon. member. Too often what he says in the House of Commons either makes no sense or is just an affront to everything I hold dear about the House.

One of the things the hon. member just said was that the hypocrisy is too much to bear, and he talked about how New Democrats never support a military action. I can say this from the perspective of a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. I am a Newfoundlander, and we have had more Newfoundlanders per capita serve in the Canadian Navy and the Canadian military than any other province or territory in this country.

Winston Churchill in the Second World War called Newfoundlanders “the best small boat men in the world”. He was right. We are that. Newfoundland and Labrador have given more than our share to military conflicts. Hypocrisy—

Business of Supply May 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of the opposition motion, the New Democratic Party motion. I do not usually read out the whole motion when it is a long one, as it takes up precious speaking time, but I will in this case because I find it hard to believe we are actually debating it, that this subject is actually up for debate in the House of Commons.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, a standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation exists between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured, disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, which the government is obligated to fulfil.

It is hard to believe that we have to dedicate an opposition day, that we have to dedicate a day to debate what should be a no-brainer, what should be common sense, common Canadian sense.

Our veterans stood on guard for us. They stood on guard for Canada. Our veterans stood on guard for democracy. They stood on guard around the world in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Libya. They stood on guard for us in humanitarian missions like Haiti, after the earthquake in January 2010, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, after Hurricane Igor that same year.

Our veterans stood on guard for us, and we must stand on guard for them. That is the essence of the sacred covenant that exists between the Government of Canada and our Armed Forces. Our responsibility, our duty, is to be there for soldiers and veterans in their moment of need, not to abandon them to budget and service cuts. I call that the ultimate insult. Too many give the ultimate sacrifice and the government gives the ultimate insult.

There have been too many examples where the Conservative government has failed to stand on guard for our veterans.

The NDP MP for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia, who just spoke, this party's veterans affairs critic—and an outstanding critic he is—has a quotation on his office door by a U.S. senator, “If you can't afford to take care of your veterans, then don't go to war”.

The Conservative government has not been taking care of our veterans. It was not taking care of our veterans when it closed nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada, including one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, my home province.

I was told just today of a Newfoundland veteran who served in Bosnia. He had to drive eight hours from Corner Brook, his home, to St. John's, the closest office, so that the staff there could start a profile on him. He drove for eight hours across the island of Newfoundland.

The Conservative government was not taking care of veterans when it cut 23% of the Veterans Affairs workforce, or 900 jobs, since 2009. The Conservative government certainly was not taking care of veterans when it spent more than $700,000 fighting Afghan veterans in court to deny the existence of the social covenant I mentioned a moment ago.

Lawyers for the government have argued that it has no obligation or social contract with veterans. Those same lawyers also argued that is unfair to bind the government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister.

That social contract was struck in 1917 by then Conservative prime minister Robert Borden:

The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.

Not only has the Conservative government failed to take care of our veterans, to respect that sacred covenant, but it has also been playing the worst sort of politics, the sort of politics that rots faith in our political system.

The latest massive omnibus bill, Bill C-59, is the budget implementation bill. It is 167 pages, which is short by omnibus standards, and it obviously includes measures on the budget. That is the same boutique budget that we will be voting against because it would cater to the wealthy, among other reasons. It would put the needs of the more affluent and more influential people first. However, Bill C-59 contains much more than this year's budget measures. The bill touches on almost two dozen other bills, from the federal balanced budget act and the prevention of terrorist travel act to public service sick leave and Canadian Labour Code changes.

The Conservatives have also cynically included provisions to assist veterans in that omnibus bill. They do this all the time. Such a move will force opposition parties who support those measures to help veterans to vote against the bill and then—and you can take this to the bank, Mr. Speaker—the Conservatives will throw in our faces that we voted against veterans. That is the kind of government we have in power, a government that is morally spent. I can definitely get much more creative, but I do not want to cross the parliamentary line. After nine years of Conservative government, too many veterans and their families cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports.

I had a conversation just this morning with Jamie MacWhirter. He is a Newfoundlander and he is also a veteran. Jamie MacWhirter survived a seven-month tour in Afghanistan's most volatile war zones. He survived. He drove a refuelling truck loaded with 10,000 litres of diesel. His nickname was Fireball, for obvious reasons. Near misses for Jamie included rocket attacks, the horror of a suicide bombing that killed several children, fire fights, and roadside bombs. Jamie MacWhirter survived Afghanistan in one piece only to battle a different type of nightmare back here in Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador. Jamie MacWhirter has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the battle here at home was, and still is, for help.

Jamie MacWhirter says there is some help for veterans, some services available, but too often veterans do not know about them. Too often soldiers are afraid to speak out for fear of being kicked out of the military. They are afraid to ask for help. Soldiers do not feel safe in asking for help. When they do, too often the help is not there.

Jamie MacWhirter and others have formed a support group, PTSD Buddies, to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, to help them share experiences, and to lean on one another for support. Veterans should lean on one another. It is good that they are coming together to support one another. That is what the best kind of soldiers do. However, veterans should also be able to lean on their own government.

I mentioned earlier that the Conservative government is fighting Afghanistan vets in court to deny the existence of the social covenant. Those vets are in a group called the Equitas Society. That group states:

A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to “the Government of Canada,” for an amount of “up to and including their life.”

One hundred and fifty-eight Canadians were killed in combat in Afghanistan. I say this with great respect for their families, for the loved ones they left behind. Even more personnel, an estimated 160, have died from suicide since returning home from Afghanistan.

The Government of Canada has a sacred obligation as the holder of that blank cheque to stand and deliver, to stand on guard for the men and women of our forces when they ask for help.

Marine Safety May 6th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, in yet another devastating blow to marine safety in Canada, the St. Anthony Coast Guard communications and traffic centre in Newfoundland will close later this year.

Distress calls for the Great Northern Peninsula will now be answered outside the area, even outside the province. The mayor and residents of St. Anthony are waving red flags. The Conservatives are sacrificing the safety of our mariners.

Lives are on the line. When will the government make the safety of our mariners the number one priority?

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 May 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the member just made a statement. The bullets fired in this place went right through the very heart of the charter.

They went through doors. There were bullets lodged in walls. However, the damage done that day, done to this Parliament, is what we are seeing manifest in Bill C-51. It is unforgivable.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 May 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, what is parliamentary oversight? I guess it is the ability of parliamentarians to provide oversight on bills.

I have seen so many examples of how this Prime Minister and the government have complete contempt for Parliament, complete contempt for parliamentarians. There is the number of times it has introduced closure or time allocation on bills, which I understand is the most in history. It has done it 100 times, more than any other government in history. The government, all it has is contempt.

Nothing could come sooner than October 19, election day, when we will get rid of the majority Conservative government. Parliamentary oversight? What is that?

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 May 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I was in this place on October 22 when the attack occurred. I was in the caucus room, down the Hall of Honour, right across from the Conservative caucus room.

I have had many tours. I have brought many people from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for tours of Parliament since then. What everyone wants to see are the bullet holes, the bullet hole in the door to the Library of Parliament and the bullet hole from the bullet that went right through the door of our caucus room and lodged in the soundproofing cushioned door on the inside. People want to see that.

Have I seen the bullet holes? I have seen the bullet holes. Was that a terrorist attack? The Prime Minister made a statement on the night of the shooting, and he called this man a terrorist. He called this a terrorist attack, but as far as anybody knew right then, this was a deranged individual, an individual with problems. The red flags went off in my mind immediately.

It was immediately branded as a terrorist attack. We did not know that. From my perspective, it was the Conservative government using this for its own agenda. Its own agenda is what we have in front of us today, Bill C-51.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 May 5th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I stand in opposition to Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, 2015. Unfortunately, terrorism is a real threat. It cannot be denied. It is a reality of life, even here in Canada.

Public safety must be a top priority of government. There is no debate on that point. However, what the whole debate comes down to, in its simplest form, is summed up in a quote from the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, that I repeat often: “[W]e cannot protect our freedoms by sacrificing them”. We cannot protect sacred Canadian freedoms by sacrificing those sacred Canadian freedoms.

This bill would give more power to the government agencies responsible for protecting Canadians, but it would give that power without increased oversight. It would be unchecked power, and that is a threat to freedom.

I was a journalist in my previous life. I was a newspaper man. I liked to say that if you cut me, I would bleed ink. These days, I would probably bleed a radio clip. I savour the freedom I had as a journalist and as a columnist to go where the story took me, to write what needed to be written, and to say what needed to be said. I was not in the business for the money, that is for sure. That is not what drove me.

In the mid 2000s, I was the editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper called The Independent. My last task every week, after the rest of the paper had been edited and put to bed, was to write my own column, an opinion piece called “Fighting Newfoundlander”. Before I wrote that column, I would ask myself one simple question, just one, and it was this: What am I afraid to say? Then I would say it. I would write it.

I miss that freedom as a member of Parliament. There is no freedom I hold in higher regard. However, I savour freedom in general. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the people I represent in St. John's South—Mount Pearl, and all Canadians should not have to choose between their security and their rights, or their security and their freedom. That is the Prime Minister's false choice. The Prime Minister goes too far in putting politics ahead of principle and in putting fear ahead of freedom.

I want to return for a moment to October 22, 2014. It was my oldest son's 19th birthday. It was also the day of the shootings on Parliament Hill. I remember speaking to my son on a telephone from a safe room in the East Block after the gunfire in Centre Block. We had been evacuated from the caucus room. I remember telling my son that I was safe and that everyone around me was alive, and happy birthday.

I remember what I call my foxhole moment, lying on the floor of the caucus room, hiding behind an overturned table and locking eyes with Glenn Thibeault, the then-member of parliament for Sudbury. Like everyone else around us, we did not know what was happening. We knew that there was gunfire just outside the door. I imagine that Glenn Thibeault saw in my eyes what I saw in his eyes: terror, the fear of being shot, and the fear of being killed. That is what I mean by my foxhole moment. My foxhole moment was, of all places, in the Parliament of Canada.

The next day, Parliament resumed sitting, and I was proud. I could not be prouder of the way the country responded in the wake of such terror and tragedy. All leaders spoke in the House. All leaders embraced the nation. The nation embraced them. The Prime Minister made a statement that I have repeated often. He said:

In our system, in our country, we are opponents but we are never enemies.

In this House, we are united by the desire to better our country. As opponents, we disagree on how to get there, but we all strive for a better Canada and a better Newfoundland and Labrador. I like to think that anyway. We are opponents, but we are never enemies.

However, the Prime Minister said something immediately after the October 22 attack on Parliament Hill. He gave a statement that I thought foreshadowed where we are today and why I have such reservations about the bill. The Prime Minister called the shooter a terrorist, and he described the terrible event as a terrorist attack. In fact, in a statement, he said:

...this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats, and keep Canada safe here at home.

He said “all necessary steps”, but this bill is a step too far. It was almost as if the government was looking for an excuse to proceed with its agenda, and it had found an excuse in the October 22 shooting.

Bill C-51 would allow all federal departments and agencies to share information that may be relevant to national security, information not just on terrorist attacks, and to share that information with Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies. However, Bill C-51 would still compromise the basic principle of privacy rights in Canada. That basic principle is this: information should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected.

Although our spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the RCMP are governed by the Privacy Act in their collection, use, and disclosure of information, many of the departments and agencies that would now be allowed to share information with them are not covered by these laws. The Privacy Commissioner is concerned that the bill would allow information on many law-abiding Canadians, as most of us are, to be collected and shared with law enforcement without reasonable cause and would potentially allow the government to build personal profiles on each and every one of us.

An even bigger concern is who exactly would keep an eye on who is keeping an eye on us. Bill C-51 would give CSIS greater powers but would not correspondingly expand oversight of CSIS, and without proper oversight, the door would be wide open for abuse, the abuse of our basic Canadian freedoms.

On top of the lack of oversight, the Conservative government continues to cut the budgets of those agencies on the front line against terrorist threats, including the RCMP and CSIS. They have both had their budgets cut each year, starting in 2012. The RCMP saw its spending decrease by $420 million between 2009 and 2014. The budget at CSIS was cut by $44 million between 2012 and 2013. The government cut the tools it already had to fight terrorism, and now it is increasing the scope of CSIS but would provide no further oversight of the process.

Questions have also been raised about the bill with respect to the question of what constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, especially with the terms being so broad and oversight being so inadequate. There are concerns that under the legislation, environmental or first nations groups that set up a picket line or blockade could be interrupted by CSIS. Experts warn that legitimate dissent could be lumped in with terrorism, and that is not very Canadian. It is absolutely un-Canadian. It may be Conservative, but it is not Canadian.

Questions have been raised too about how journalists, satirists, artists, and others who report on or mock statements about terrorism may be impacted by the bill. Could there come a day when a columnist asks himself or herself, “What am I afraid to write”, and then makes sure that he or she does not write that? In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both”.

We must not allow that to happen. Our Canadian freedoms are not for trade. The Conservative government has forgotten that, which is why it has to go.