House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was colleague.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 39% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 19th, 2015

With regard to contracts under $10 000 granted by Public Safety Canada since February 5, 2015: what are the (a) vendors' names; (b) contracts' reference numbers; (c) dates of the contracts; (d) descriptions of the services provided; (e) delivery dates; (f) original contracts' values; and (g) final contracts' values, if different from the original contracts' values?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns June 19th, 2015

With regard to contracts under $10 000 granted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada since February 4, 2015: what are the (a) vendors' names; (b) contracts' reference numbers; (c) dates of the contracts; (d) descriptions of the services provided; (e) delivery dates; (f) original contracts' values; and (g) final contracts' values, if different from the original contracts' values?

The Environment June 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, climate change is a threat to civilization. It is a tragedy of the commons which can only be resolved through global co-operation. That is why growing inequality and the fate of the world's poor are intimately tied to fighting climate change. This is also the silver lining of climate change. If we solve it, we will have set an enduring precedent for co-operation among the entire human species.

Instead of obstructing the international community on climate change, why does the Conservative government not co-operate, and why does it not address growing inequality at home and around the world?

The Environment June 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, 10 years in power and the Conservatives have never been honest about climate change, instead dismantling environmental protection and cutting research.

In 2008, the Conservatives promised cap and trade. Now several provinces are on board, but the Conservatives are campaigning against it. In 2006, they pledged to regulate the oil and gas sector. In 2011, they said regulation was near. Ten years of Conservative rule, five environment ministers later, and we are still waiting.

The Conservatives blocked world climate negotiations. Canada earned five straight fossil of the year awards, withdrew from Kyoto, and was the only country to lower its emissions target prior to Copenhagen.

Canada placed dead last in the climate change performance index of industrialized nations and was censured by the UN for withdrawing “entirely from constructive international engagement”.

The Conservative government is a disgrace, and I will work to see that it is thrown out this fall.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, there was an amendment by my colleague, the Liberal member for York West, regarding the threshold at which a company or an institution was required to report an unlawful breach of personal information, not only to some authority, but to the individual related to the information of concern. The language was “represents a significant threat of harm to the individual”.

That amendment was important so Canadians could feel confident that if their information was released and if it would have any effect on them, they would be notified as well as authorities that could deal with the breach more generally.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have already spoken about the independence of committee chairs, how we could ensure that independence by how we choose the committee chairs and take that out of the hands of the government and party leaders. I have also already spoken about the idea of removing the possibility of parliamentary secretaries sitting as voting members of committees.

However, what I think is also important is that committees need to be given the resources to really acquire the independent expert analysis that they need for any proposed legislation.

I would supplement what I said earlier with respect to resources. More generally, there are a lot of cases where we can change rules, but unless we put resources behind those rule changes, we do not actually accomplish what we want to accomplish.

I would ask that in the next Parliament the House ensure that committees have the resources they need to hold the government to account.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is true that this bill contains elements that may be too broad and would result in violations of Canadians' privacy.

One example that comes to mind is the do not call list. In the past it was possible to share information, telephone numbers and so on, and I think Canadians rightly did not want information like telephone numbers to be shared.

Going forward, individuals in Canada will have more and more digital identities that they may want to be protected and not to be passed around, not to be shared without at least their knowledge or consent. That is the sort of thing that needs to be constantly updated. The member for Victoria talked about the bill already being out of date and as time passes, this sort of digital privacy legislation needs to be updated constantly. We cannot sit still in legislation as technology evolves.

That is probably a general principle and why it would be good to have members of Parliament constantly consulting experts in technology, especially experts at the forefront of technology so that we can constantly update our laws regarding the protection of Canadians and protection of privacy.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, let me say that one consequence of this change of returning committees to their function of keeping the government to account is that committees would become headaches for governments, but that is what they are supposed to be if they do their job of keeping governments to account.

How can we effect this? If I could be slightly partisan, the Liberal Party has promised to make these changes to committees. My guess is that some of the other parties would agree with those changes, and hopefully, if we roll the dice on October 19 and it turns out well, we will have the votes that we need to change the rules in the House and to allow members of Parliament and the committees of the House to hold the government to account to do its job for the benefit of all Canadians.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill S-4, legislation which amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

As our lives are more and more immersed in a digital world, our understanding of digital privacy changes and our means of protecting digital privacy also needs to be updated. We use the Internet in so many ways. Our digital identity is now more a part of our identity when it comes to banking and commerce, our tax returns, government services, and our interactions with other people in society. Those are examples of how our identity is becoming more digital. In a world where crimes involving data theft, identity fraud and online stalking are on the rise, and we are becoming more worried about those, it is crucial to protect data to protect our identity.

Data is not simply information. In fact, as my colleague from Victoria very elegantly gave some examples, it is power. It is a doorway into the private lives of many. It is commercial power. The Liberal Party is deeply concerned that the government's commitment to safeguarding the personal information and privacy of Canadians is less than absolute.

Let me give another example which is not quite related to Bill S-4 but I think is important to mention just for the record. Members might know that since the elimination of the long form census, the government has been looking at linking different so-called administrative data sources in different parts of the government in order to reduce the burden of filling out the census. Indeed, some European countries do not have a census. They have deep links between different pieces of administrative data, and people have to report where they live every time they move. The Privacy Commissioner, whose testimony on Bill S-4 at committee was also quite important, has warned Canadians that we should be very wary of simply moving over to this European system, that there are serious privacy considerations which Canadians should look at and agree with before the government proceeds in that direction.

More and more, all of this information is becoming digital. As an example, although I think this is perhaps not the point at which we should be too concerned, in the 2016 census, the government is planning to automatically use income and benefit information from the Canada Revenue Agency. It can do this because everything is digitized. That information would be automatically tacked onto census information and any voluntary replies that Canadians provide to the national household survey, unless of course the election result in October is such that we do not have to go through that. I just wanted to bring that up for the record.

What I would like to talk about most is the process that happened at committee. We are at third reading now. We are trying to decide whether this is the best possible bill that this Parliament could pass.

Unfortunately, there are definitely concerns about whether the approach in Bill S-4 is too broad and whether there are unintended consequences. I will not go too deeply into them. In fact, my friend, the member for Victoria, has done a much better job than I ever could. Suffice it to say that Bill S-4 identifies situations where personal information can be disclosed without the knowledge or consent of an individual. It permits federal works, undertakings and businesses to collect, use and disclose personal information, without the knowledge or consent of an individual, to establish, manage or terminate their employment relationships with the individual. It permits organizations, for certain purposes, to use and disclose, without the knowledge or consent of an individual, personal information related to prospective or completed business transactions. Therefore, there is a danger, we believe, that Bill S-4 is too broad.

The problem is that at committee stage, there really was not sufficient examination of these details. There were 42 amendments proposed by the opposition parties. There was not substantive debate at committee. There were no explanations for why the government members opposed amendments that were based on the testimony of expert witnesses, such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Privacy Commissioner and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. There were 42 opposition amendments, all of them defeated rather quickly without a defence of that vote by the government side.

It has been brought up in debate by previous speakers about how committees have worked in this Parliament and how they could be changed in the next Parliament. I really do believe that a couple of simple steps would be a good start to reforming the committee system.

The first one would be to allow committee chairs to be chosen by a secret ballot in this House, just as the Speaker is chosen. My first encounter with this idea was in fact a motion from a Conservative backbencher, the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt. That would be a good measure to ensure that committee chairs are as independent as possible not only from the government, but from their own party leadership. That would be a step toward what we need to make committees really fulfill their role in Parliament, which is ultimately the role that all of us have, which is to hold the government to account.

The second thing which I think would be very useful in committee, and this reverts to past practice in this House, would be to forbid parliamentary secretaries and ministers from sitting as voting members of committees. That would be a good way to protect the independence of committees for the purpose of committees being able to do a better job of holding the government to account.

I believe that if committees had been working better, we would have at least had on the record somewhere the reasons for rejecting the 42 opposition amendments to Bill S-4. In fact, I also believe that if we really had independent committees, some of these amendments would have been adopted, and even in this majority Conservative Parliament, with those amendments we would have passed a better bill than it looks like we might be passing, given the majority on the Conservative side.

By way of conclusion, I just want to say that without a genuine, collaborative, detailed committee study, I believe that the committee has not held the government to account with regard to Bill S-4. Expert testimony has not been properly either taken into account or discounted with some evidence or some cogent argument. We have in Bill S-4 a bill in which there are potentially overly broad provisions and good reason in fact to believe there are overly broad provisions and unintended questions. That is why I will be voting against the bill at third reading.

Digital Privacy Act June 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from British Columbia for his excellent speech. I would like to give him a chance to expound a bit on his point, which I think is correct, that given the history behind the bill, there is no urgent need to pass it today.

We would gain much by passing the best possible bill, given all the amendments raised in committee by opposition members of Parliament, based on expert testimony. We do not need to pass the bill today. We could pass a better bill later this year or early next year.