House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was million.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for St. John's South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Lost her last election, in 2011, with 29% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act November 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raises a legitimate point. I agree that it needs to be addressed in legislation. Let us move on with it.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act November 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is very wise in the law. I respect his opinion greatly when it comes to specific areas of this particular law. I think he raises a very legitimate concern that speaks to this whole bill.

Is this bill actually addressing the concerns we have? Is it not raising more issues, such as the one my hon. colleague raised about the supremacy of the House of Commons? We should be looking at how we can improve the legislation. We should be cracking down on human smugglers and stopping boats from transporting desperate people in an unsafe way. However, the Conservative proposals perhaps would not do that.

I think what my hon. colleague raises about the supremacy of Parliament gives us one instance of the concerns in the bill.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act November 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-49.

Bill C-49 seeks to crack down on human smugglers and deter individuals from coming to Canada who use these smugglers.

One of the primary concerns of government should be the protection, security and safety of the country's borders. However, we must balance security issues with those of human rights and civil liberties.

When legitimate refugee claimants arrive in Canada, and because of religious persecution, human rights atrocities, political tyranny, or some other defined category, some of them have a legitimate claim to make, as a result of our laws and international obligations, we must review their claim. If, based on merits of that claim, they meet the defined criteria, they are lawfully allowed refugee status in Canada.

Let us be under no illusions. We reject thousands of people every year, people who simply jumped the queue or were caught or those who made a refugee claim who did not meet the criteria, and we should. There are thousands of people who wish to live in our great country. It is not fair to them that others pay to be smuggled into Canada unlawfully.

However, Bill C-49 would create two classes of legitimate refugees: those who pay smugglers and those who arrive by some other means.

My hon. colleague from Etobicoke Centre raised what I thought was a very important point some weeks ago. The two most recent cases of large groups coming to Canada's shores were the Sun Sea in August and the Ocean Lady last October. Both carried Sri Lankans.

There were two other ships that came to Canada. One was the SS St. Louis back in 1939 which carried 937 European Jews. That ship was turned away and almost all of them lost their lives. In 1914 the SS Komagata Maru carried 354 Indians to Canada. That ship was also turned away, and many of those on board lost their lives.

I am sure that many of the people on both the St. Louis and the Komagata Maru paid a handsome sum for the chance to flee persecution. What would we do if that situation were to be repeated today? If Bill C-49 were law, would the ship's captain and crew be treated as criminals?

It is important to make a distinction between those who jump the queue and legitimate refugees. It is important because lives hang in the balance. It is important because this speaks to our fundamental values as a country that we seek to help those in need.

Human smugglers and anyone coming to Canada with terrorist or criminal links must be dealt with decisively. Migrants who are not legitimate refugees must be sent back to wait in line. However, Canada has the capacity and responsibility to assist refugees who are legitimately fleeing persecution.

The Conservatives have torqued up the arrival of the refugee boats and are purposely referring to immigrants and refugees interchangeably to divide Canadians. This is an important issue where partisan politics must be put aside so we can address how to handle future cases of migrants who have been smuggled into Canada versus future cases of refugees fleeing their homeland.

Any response must strike the right balance between catching and punishing human smugglers who are illegally profiting from human suffering while respecting our international obligations to be a safe harbour for legitimate refugees fleeing persecution.

I would like to discuss some of the specifics of Bill C-49 that I find of interest.

Although the status quo must be adapted to address new realities, the existing Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already has quite severe penalties for human smuggling, including up to $1 million in fines and a maximum of life imprisonment for smuggling more than 10 people.

Bill C-49 would increase the scope of the anti-smuggling provisions and impose new mandatory sentences to serve as a further deterrent. I wonder if they actually would serve as a deterrent or if the increased cost of doing business would simply be passed along to the migrants who would have to pay even more money to smugglers.

Also, a number of critics have raised the question about whether deterrents like mandatory minimums or increased fines would have any effect without increased resources to law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the individuals who profit from smuggling.

The government claims that the legislation gives the Minister of Public Safety discretion to designate the arrival of a group of individuals who entered Canada in a manner that runs contrary to Canada's immigration laws as a human smuggling event. However, there is nothing in the legislation that deals with a human smuggling event. The legislation deals with the designation of an irregular arrival. This provision does not apply simply to mass arrivals by boat. It applies to all groups, two or more people, designated under either of the two very broad criteria that could apply to the vast majority of refugee claimants.

The discretion regarding such a designation would be extremely broad. According to the government's own material, it would include any group arrival where examinations relating to identity and admissibility of the persons involved in the arrival and other investigations could not be conducted in a timely manner, or if the minister had reasonable grounds to suspect that the arrival involved organized human smuggling activity for profit or support for criminal organizations or terrorist groups. Designated individuals would be subject to different detention rules and processing at the Immigration and Refugee Board, with restrictions on permanent residence, travel, and family sponsorship.

Bill C-49 appears to give a lot of discretionary power to the minister and the cabinet. Discretionary power, as we know, is sometimes susceptible to abuse.

Amnesty International says the bill violates the 1951 refugee convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Canadian Council for Refugees states that many of the measures in Bill C-49 fail to honour our obligations toward refugees and will result in refugees being treated unfairly.

Many other organizations have voiced legitimate concerns. I am wondering how much consultation the government engaged in before drafting the bill and submitting it to the House.

While I appreciate the intent of the legislation and recognize the very serious challenges that law enforcement and our immigration officials face, clearly a number of areas of concern will require significant review and debate. I look forward to hearing more of that debate from all of my hon. colleagues.

Taseko Mines Limited November 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, a secret cabinet decision was made to block Taseko's purchase of a controversial mine. In a few hours on October 14, 30 million shares of Taseko traded hands. That was 10 times the normal amount and it wiped out hundreds of millions of dollars. That does not sound like a coincidence. That sounds like a leak.

As a result, we formally requested the RCMP to undertake an investigation into this very serious matter. How can the Conservatives stand in the House and ignore the facts? How can they deny these very serious allegations?

Taseko Mines Limited November 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, there are very serious and legitimate concerns that a leak from the government resulted in a stock sale of Taseko Mines Limited, which benefited a few connected insiders at the expense of many honest investors. So far the Conservatives have brushed off these concerns as speculation. That is not leadership. That is ignoring the facts.

Will the Conservatives do the right thing and launch an investigation into this matter?

Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador November 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, Premier Danny Williams has well-represented the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with steadfast dedication and a political energy that will be long remembered.

Premier Williams promoted the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with tenacity unmatched in Canadian politics. A Rhodes scholar and a successful businessman, he was truly of and for the people.

Premier Williams sought and succeeded in turning around the provincial economy and now there is a new sense of optimism and confidence. The premier will be well-remembered for his contributions to developing the oil and gas and resource sectors, as well as for his accomplishment on the Lower Churchill. He was equally dedicated to social development and fought to reduce poverty. He supported the volunteer sector and championed education.

This morning, Premier Williams quoted John F. Kennedy who said, “Anyone can make a difference, and everyone should try”. Premier Williams did more than try. He succeeded.

We thank Premier Williams for his dedication to the province, for his contributions and for his legacy.

Government Advertising November 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, that was reckless spending and a reckless response.

The out-of-control Conservative government borrowed and spent a record $130 million on advertising, the highest spent in Canadian history. The government spent more last year than all the beer companies combined spent. Add to this the reckless spending by the Prime Minister's own office, which has more than tripled its spending on high-priced consultants. Do we want to talk about restraint? Canadians can barely restrain their outrage over the government's waste.

When is the government going to get its spending under control?

G8 and G20 Summits November 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, at the G8 and G20 summits, in only 72 hours the Conservatives wasted money, including $20,000 for flowers and centrepieces; over $60,000 for lapel pins and zipper pulls, which is more than the average Canadian household earns in a year; and $57,000 for pens. That does not include the details of the millions spent by Commissioner Fantino of the OPP.

Is this what the finance minister means when he says the government is going to be “responsible” and show “restraint”?

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency Act November 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House this morning and speak to Bill C-572, the strengthening fiscal transparency act. As my hon. colleague who introduced the bill said, it would give oxygen to accountability. The Liberal Party is committed to making the Parliamentary Budget Officer truly independent so that he or she can properly do the job.

As the Conservatives used to say, Canadians need an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer to “ensure truth in budgeting”. Since he was appointed in March 2008, the PBO has been prolific in telling Canadians the truth about Canada's books. He has explained to us how the Conservative government is the biggest borrowing and biggest spending government in Canadian history. He has demonstrated how the Conservatives have combined reckless tax cuts and massive spending increases to give Canada a structural deficit even before the economic downturn began.

Last month the PBO showed us how the Conservatives are putting Canada even deeper into debt and how there is an 85% chance the Conservatives will break their promise to balance the budget by 2015-16. Time after time the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been proven right while the Minister of Finance has been forced to revise his numbers to more closely match those of the PBO.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has also told Canadians the truth about how much more we will have to spend on prisons because of the Conservative crime agenda. The Conservatives initially told Canadians that their truth in sentencing act would cost only $90 million over two years. Then under pressure, they revised this figure to $2 billion over five years. Now thanks to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we know this legislation will actually cost the federal government closer to $5 billion over five years, plus an estimated $5 billion to $8 billion at the provincial level, for a total cost to Canadians of $10 billion to $13 billion over five years. That is a far cry from the initial promise of just $90 million.

That is not the only example of the PBO telling the truth about reckless Conservative spending. He has also told the truth about how slow the federal progress has been on stimulus projects, as well as how the Conservatives have underestimated the actual cost of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives find these truths to be somewhat inconvenient. The Conservative government has a record of attacking public servants who dare to speak truth to power. We have seen this in how they have treated Colonel Pat Stogran, the former Veterans Ombudsman; Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada; Linda Keen, the former chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission; Rémy Beauregard, the former chair of Rights & Democracy; and Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, to name just a few. Sadly, we can also add Kevin Page, the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, to this list.

In September, former deputy finance minister Scott Clark and former director of fiscal policy Peter DeVries wrote about how the Conservatives have mistreated the PBO. They said: one should be surprised, given the...[Conservative] government's dislike of independent research and opposing opinion. When it confronts disagreement with its preconceived views, and facts that don't support these views, its modus operandi is simply to get rid of the source of this disagreement and to ignore the facts.

The Conservatives have shown contempt for the PBO by trying to deny Mr. Page the resources he needs to do his job. The Parliament of Canada Act states that the PBO is entitled to “free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance of his or her mandate”.

But the PBO has complained that the government will not even share basic financial information, such as baseline departmental spending levels or how the government plans to achieve its operating budget freeze. This despite the Conservatives' election platform, which promised to “require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs...”. It is just another broken Conservative promise.

However, the Conservatives are not simply trying to starve Mr. Page of information. Last year they also tried to frustrate Mr. Page's work by cutting $1 million from his budget.

National Post columnist Kelly McParland pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of this Conservative move when he wrote:

This from a government that spends tens of millions blowing its own horn over the stimulus program, even forcing municipalities to pay for signs promoting the plan, or lose the funding.

Mr. McParland continued, “Get real, Tories. Give the man his money and quit acting so childish”.

Unfortunately, Mr. Page is still fighting for his budget. Earlier this month Mr. Page told the finance committee:

...I've spent a whole year fighting to get my budget back. It took me two years to get my HR plan approved. Our budget is frozen at 2.8%.

To this the Conservatives replied:

Yes, frozen, but that doesn't mean it can't go in the other direction. That's not a threat; that's the reality.

Despite these threats from this Conservative government, Mr. Page is continuing his fight for more independence, and to make it clear he is not doing so out of self-interest, Mr. Page has announced that he will not seek another term after his current mandate expires.

It is my hope that Canada will have a new government before then, a new Liberal government, because a Liberal government will not only give the PBO real independence so he can do his job; we will also implement the Liberal open government initiative and end this Conservative era of secrecy and control. We will start by directing all federal departments and agencies to adopt a default principle of open government when it comes to sharing information.

As part of a Liberal open government initiative, we will also restore the long form census. We will publish as many government data sets as possible, online, free of charge and in an open searchable format, starting with the Statistics Canada data. We will also publish all access to information requests, responses and response times, and we will publish information on government grants, contributions and contracts through an online searchable database. We will do that because, as Liberals, we believe Canadians are entitled to this information. We believe that Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and we recognize that it is impossible for Canadians to know where their tax dollars are going or if government is getting value for money without access to usable and searchable government information.

Speaking of tax dollars, I would like to address one final aspect of Bill C-572. There has been some discussion on whether or not the bill would require royal recommendation. I do not believe it should. Bill C-572 adjusts the structure of the PBO by removing him from under the authority of the Parliamentary Librarian and giving him the rank of deputy head of a department. However, the office of the PBO already exists, although it is within the Library of Parliament, and the PBO already has a budget with which to pay salaries and enter into contracts.

Given these facts, I do not believe that Bill C-572 requires that the federal government spend any additional funds whatsoever.

To conclude, I support the aim of this legislation, which is to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer greater independence so that he might properly carry out his mandate, and so with the expectation that Bill C-572 will not require royal recommendation, I am pleased to support this legislation at second reading so it may be studied at committee.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency Act November 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on a great piece of legislation. I am very supportive of the legislation, especially of it going to committee so we can have more of a discussion on the role and responsibilities and the need to have an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.

I wonder if my colleague would care to comment on the Truth in Sentencing Act, good legislation that shows the need and requirement for a Parliamentary Budget Officer. We were told that the Truth in Sentencing Act would only cost several hundred million dollars. I think the original estimate was for $90 million. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has pointed that it would actually be billions and billions of dollars for that legislation. Would my hon. colleague care to comment on that?