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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was report.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply February 17th, 2011

Madam Speaker, with what is taking place in this debate, I think we are getting a little off track. We can talk about the minutiae of what happened in committees, tax cuts and pensions, but we can lose sight of the forest for the trees.

This is an attack on Parliament. It is an attack on democracy. Parliament has the right to send for persons, papers and records. That is a fundamental right that every member of Parliament has a constitutional obligation to protect and I hope that is done.

Business of Supply February 17th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kings—Hants.

I am very pleased to rise today to speak on this issue. I submit it is a very important issue that goes right to the heart of our democracy and the role of the executive and Parliament within our democratic system.

I will speak first about the duties, responsibilities and obligations of members of Parliament individually and of the House of Commons, collectively.

There is a fundamental constitutional obligation on us individually and collectively to hold the executive to account. Our job is not to govern, it is to hold to account those who do. Basically members of Parliament have four fundamental roles: approve, amend and negate legislation; approve, amend and negate tax measures in legislation; approve or negate requests from the government for the appropriation of moneys from the public purse through the estimates process; and, most important, to hold the executive to account and ensure they are fulfilling those roles and functions that have been delegated to them.

The last speaker did not mention one word, one sentence, that dealt with this motion. We have lost sight of that very fundamental role. Some members in the House talk about decorum, which is very important, but the more important issue is for members of Parliament to do what they are supposed to do.

Every member of Parliament, government and opposition, has a constitutional duty and obligation to hold the executive to account, and both are to blame in many instances. In some cases, opposition MPs emphasize too much in drumming up scandal, real or perceived. At the same time, MPs from the government side toe the party line and read only the lines that are given to them in the morning by the Prime Minister's Office.

Right now Parliament and democracy are under attack. We have had two prorogations, the long form census travesty, and the current Minister of International Cooperation debacle. As well, we now have a motion before this House on the absolute refusal of the executive to give costing information about crime bills and projections on corporate tax cuts. Again, these are simple costing measures that have always been available to Parliament and should be available to Parliament.

Parliament has certain tools, and this was affirmed in the recent ruling of Speaker Milliken in April of last year. I quote:

--procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.

But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.

What we are talking about today is a very simple request for the costing, which is available. Deputy ministers have all acknowledged that this is available information. It is in the domain and circulated within the executive. That is one request.

The other request has to do with the corporate tax cost projections. This is very simple financial information. There is no constitutional reason, no legitimate reason, no public interest reason why this information has not been made available to Parliament. I would point out that all constitutional and procedural scholars agree with that premise.

This tool has been around for centuries. This followed the creation of our Westminster system which started in or around the year 1208. It is a tool available to Parliament in fulfilling its constitutional duty to hold government to account, and as I pointed out before, Parliament, at all times has an overriding duty to act responsibly, to act in the public interest.

Now we have a situation where that tool, and I submit democracy itself, is under attack. We have a situation where the Prime Minister will do anything in his power to undermine Parliament. When he was first elected he published a booklet advising Conservative chairs how to stop any progress in committee, to hold up committee meetings, to shut them down, leave, adjourn, anything at all. He prorogued Parliament twice. Any officers or senior public servants who disagree with him are blacklisted: Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Kevin Page, the list goes on.

We had the Afghan detainee issue which had to go to the highest office, the office of the Speaker, for a ruling. I just quoted from it.

The situation is very clear. Now we have before us the cost of the crime bills and projections dealing with corporate profits and corporate taxes. Nothing could be simpler. This is information that should be available to members of Parliament and parliamentary committees. To say it is a cabinet confidence is not correct.

However, I should point out that in refusing this to Parliament, Parliament being the people, what the Prime Minister is saying is that Parliament does not count, and he is also saying that the people do not count. He is saying that if he wants to give out this information, he will do it, and if he does not want to do it, he will not and it is none of Parliament's business and, more important, it is not the public's business. He is saying that he will do what he wants to do and it is none of their business.

This is sad. We have a person in power who, I submit, has absolutely no respect for Parliament, the institutions of democracy and the role of Parliament. It is nothing less. The previous speaker talked about tax cuts and seniors' pensions. It is not about that. It is nothing less than a frontal attack on democracy, democratic institutions and the very foundations upon which this country was built and started, in 1867.

This is how countries get themselves in trouble. All it takes is for many people just to shrug their shoulders, do nothing and say, “I'm still getting my pension. The roads are still paved. We still have relative peace. I don't care.” All it takes is for people to do nothing. If Parliament is not functioning properly, this leads to a lesser country, degrades institutional integrity and more constant attacks. It is a vicious cycle.

This is not a partisan issue, it is not a policy issue, it is the institution itself that is under attack and there is an obligation on each and every one of us, individually and collectively, to stand on our feet and protect this institution of Parliament.

My suspicion is the motion will pass, but it will sadden me when I see government MPs who took their oath of office to protect this institution vote against this very motion.

Unless and until we can get every member of Parliament to acknowledge his or her role within this institution, Parliament and all its institutions will continue to degrade and depreciate.

I think I have made my point clear. Members will understand how I am going to vote on this motion. I certainly welcome any questions.

Business of Supply February 17th, 2011

Madam Speaker, as the member from Mississauga pointed out, this motion is not about tax cuts. It is about the obligation of the executive to release certain documents. These are very simple documents dealing with the costs of various crime bills before the House, and projections of corporate tax cuts.

The fundamental role of a member of Parliament individually and Parliament constitutionally is to hold government to account. A tool of that role is the ability to send for persons, papers and records. This is what has been done.

The executive has an obligation to respond to requests from Parliament. That goes to the very heart of democracy. It defines the role of the executive. It defines the role of Parliament. It is not our job as Parliament to govern but to hold accountable those who do govern.

I listened to the member go through her 10-minute speech and she did not say one sentence, one word about this motion. Therefore, I have two questions. They are very simple and I would like a very clear answer.

First, does Parliament have the constitutional right to send for information such as alluded to in this motion? Second, does the executive have the constitutional responsibility to respond to those requests?

Business of Supply February 8th, 2011

Madam Speaker, the member for Burlington keeps repeating the mantra, which, obviously, is in the speaking notes, that deficit spending is advocated by the Liberals. What planet does he spend most of his time on?

The last time his party was in power, it left Canadians saddled with a deficit of $43 billion, the highest deficit this country ever recorded.

When the Liberals came to power, we recorded surplus budgets for 11 straight years, the debt to GDP ratio decreased from 73% to 38%, interest rates were lower and employment was up mainly because of the fiscal and monetary policies of the government.

What happened when the Conservatives again came to power? The deficit went from a $13 billion surplus to a $56 billion deficit. When we ask why that is, or is it bad luck or is it bad management, they just shrug their shoulders.

The last Conservative prime minister to balance the books was Sir Robert Borden in, I believe, 1911.

what is that causes these extraordinary deficits to occur every time we have a Conservative government? Why is it that government spending increased by 38%? Why is it that all these things happen and the government just does not have any explanation?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, we probably both have similar views in certain situations, but we have come to a different conclusion as to whether the glass is half full or the glass is half empty. I do not believe we should hold up the trade agreement. I have read everything I could get my hands on. There have been many good and positive steps made on the tax treaty. Canada has given proposals. We received proposals back from Panama and I think it will be concluded.

The point I want to leave the House with is it is not what goes on in Panama, it is what goes on in this country regarding tax havens. If we took a dozen of the people who had large accounts in Switzerland and took the information that is readily available on the Internet, WikiLeaks, or wherever, and charged them instead of giving them amnesty, convicted them and put them in jail for five or six years, the whole issue of tax havens would disappear pretty quickly.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of the labour agreement, I said that I am not naive enough to state in the House that everything is perfect, but Panama and Canada have entered into a labour agreement. It basically protects a number of issues. It is well-written. If the countries do not follow the agreement, further action will be taken. Also an environmental agreement has been signed and that again will push the envelope that much further.

From reading the background material, we are looking at a country that is moving forward. It has what I consider to be a significant gross domestic product increase every year. The country is in the process of modernizing. It is strategically located. I am not going to suggest that everything is perfect, but it is moving in the right direction. This agreement will be beneficial for Canada and for the people living in Panama.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate being allowed a few minutes to speak in this debate.

In principle, I am going to support this agreement. I am going to talk about one issue which I think the House and the international trade committee should not lose sight of as this discussion goes forward.

A number of members have talked about the importance of trade to our economy. This is very true. It goes right back to our country's founding when our economy was based on the trade in lumber and fur. It has not stopped. Eighty per cent of our gross domestic product relates to trade.

In the last couple of years, there has been a lot more bilateral trade agreements entered into mainly with smaller countries, and mainly as a result of the near death of the WTO Doha round, which does not seem to be going anywhere very fast. It comes right down to the law of comparative advantage. Canada is a large country. It has a large geography and many natural resources. It benefits us to trade not only with the United States, our closest and most important neighbour, but with other countries around the world, such as Panama.

We cannot lose sight of the other side of the equation. Many countries of the world, such as Panama, are what we call developing countries. Through the law of comparative advantage, they also benefit from trade. Bilateral trade lifts both countries.

Our trade with Panama is more symbolic than anything. It is very insignificant. I believe there is $90 million of mostly manufactured Canadian products going from Canada to Panama. In return we import about $30 million of products, mainly nuts and tropical fruits that are generally not grown in Canada. Really there is no sector that will be advantaged that much, and likewise there is no sector that will be disadvantaged through the Canada–Panama free trade agreement.

We had the same debate on the agreement with Colombia. Anytime we get into these debates we are not dealing with perfect situations. There are always going to be issues with these countries. A lot of these countries have very troubling and difficult histories. Some have made tremendous improvements over the last number of years, while others have made slight improvements. We cannot ignore that. We have to keep pushing, nudging and urging those countries to improve their human rights issues, to improve their environmental laws and regulations, and of course to improve their tax issues also.

There are some opportunities in this agreement with Panama. One that has been mentioned by previous speakers is the expansion of the Panama Canal. It is a $5.2 billion project. Canada has many engineering and construction companies that are well suited for this type of development and hopefully they will benefit from closer relationships with the country of Panama.

We are not dealing with a perfect situation, but I have reviewed the labour co-operation agreement. It is an agreement signed by Panama in which it agrees to respect the right of freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, elimination of forced work, and the elimination of discrimination.

I am not naive. I know that if we went to Panama today we would find abuses. We would find imperfect and problematic situations. However, from everything I have heard and read, I believe there have been significant steps made in the right direction. We see the same thing with some of the environmental issues.

It comes down to what comes first, the chicken or the egg. Do we wait until the country has a perfect record, perfect environmental regulations, no allegations of any labour code abuses and no allegations of human rights abuses, or do we wait until there is very significant development, put in place the framework for further improvement and allow the country to improve its economy with a free trade agreement with a developed country?

Those are the reasons I support the agreement going to committee for further study and review.

One issue that concerns me, which I will talk about for a few minutes, is the whole issue of tax havens and tax information. I would like us to move closer to an agreement, whether it is a double taxation or a tax information exchange agreement. There have been proposals from Panama to Canada and vice versa. It has not been finalized yet and hopefully this issue will be finalized shortly.

I am going to spend a minute or two talking about that issue because I feel strongly about it. We can talk about Panama, the Cayman Islands and Liechtenstein, but we should be talking about what is going on right here in Canada. We are basically not doing anything about tax evaders.

As a previous speaker alluded to, we have had two very serious situations recently. There have been 1,700 Liechtenstein accounts and 160 Swiss accounts. The names, account numbers and amounts are all clearly on the record. CRA officials know about it. They are all residents of Canada. They were given 30 days to walk into the nearest CRA office and declare amnesty. Are they fined? No. Are they charged? No. They might have to pay a small penalty, a bit of back interest or a bit of back taxes, but that is all that happens. To my way of thinking, that is a fundamental travesty of justice.

Let us say two kids went out last night, broke into a service station and stole a carton of cigarettes. Tonight they will be in jail and perhaps they should be in jail. But if a person puts $5 million in a Swiss bank account and leaves it there for 20 years, he is defrauding the Canadian taxpayers of probably $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 each and every year. If the person is caught, what happens? He or she gets total absolute amnesty.

The person would then transfer the money to another haven, wherever it is around the world, because he or she has nothing to lose. If the individual is caught again, what does he or she do? Within 30 days the person would go in to the nearest CRA office, declare amnesty and the whole thing occurs over and over again.

The point I am trying to make is that Canada should be very aggressive. The people who are caught doing this should be charged, convicted and, if convicted, they should be jailed. I want to talk about tax havens, but I realize I am off topic.

In principle, this agreement should be signed. I know there is a tax issue. The whole tax issue should be worked on and I believe it will be finalized in due course.

Taxation February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, the irresponsible Conservative corporate tax cuts are compromising our country's ability to respond to the needs of families, seniors, Canadians living in poverty and post-secondary students, among others. These tax cuts are being financed with borrowed money and, as a result, will have to be paid for by our children.

We have seen the government develop a society where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This erodes our nation's fabric and, as a result, threatens the very principles for which Canada stands.

Over the years, successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments have developed and enhanced medicare, the Canada pension plan, employment insurance, the child tax credit and many other programs, which are as much a part of Canada as the maple leaf. With these corporate tax cuts, these programs are under attack.

I call upon the government to stop the corporate tax cuts, stop the insanity, stop favouring the rich and to start showing some concern and some compassion for ordinary Canadians.

Questions Passed as Orders for Return January 31st, 2011

With regard to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, what grants and contributions under $25,000 did it award from January 1, 2009, to the present?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return January 31st, 2011

With regard to Public Works and Government Services Canada, what grants and contributions under $25,000 did it award from January 1, 2009, to the present?