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

Free Votes May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will continue. I was discussing the transparency act put forward by the leader of the Liberal Party, who was mentioned several times by the sponsor of this motion.

The third part of the transparency act would have eliminated all fees associated with the access to information process, except for the initial $5 filing fee. This fee would be refunded to the individual if the request was not fulfilled within 30 days, which often happens.

The fourth part would have expanded the role of the Information Commissioner by amending the mandate to include the ability to issue binding orders for disclosure, and the fifth part would have ordered a full legislative review of the access to information system.

Unfortunately, the government voted against this important legislation.

Our leader has also committed to revealing the Conservatives' undemocratic changes contained in the unfair elections act. Liberals believe strongly in openness and transparency, and we will continue to work hard to ensure that Canadians get the government that they deserve.

When we consider different questions in this House, sometimes it is easy. When the government brings in the 99th motion to cut off debate, that is easy. However, on most votes there are different factors to juggle. On all of these votes, it is really a matter of conscience. We have to figure out what we promised to our constituents. What did my party promise? What do scientists say? What is the best evidence? What are the consequences of the vote? What did we say in debate in the House? We have to juggle a lot of things, and all these votes are matters of conscience.

When the next speakers come up, whether in support of the motion or against the motion, I would suggest that they try to put forward what they think the boundaries are on what a vote of conscience is.

Free Votes May 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is good to speak to this motion today. First of all, let me say in speaking for the Liberal Party that in the Liberal caucus, private member's bills are free votes, as is the tradition in many other parties. Our leader, the hon. member for Papineau, has been very clear that the charter is at the heart of the Liberal conscience, and as we have long said, Liberals will always support the charter. We are the party of the charter.

I want to talk about how our leader, which the sponsor of the bill mentioned quite a bit in his speech, has led by example. In June 2013, he announced the open Parliament plan, which sought to proactively disclose travel and hospitality expenses and post them in a quarterly manner. I remember all the work my staff had to do for that. It was an extra expense and use of resources to make sure that travel and hospitality expenses were disclosed.

The Board of Internal Economy then was opened up and we expanded the performance audits of the House of Commons and Senate administration and worked with the Auditor General on public guidelines for future audits.

Liberals believe that openness and transparency are pillars of our democratic institutions, and that is why, as I just described, we became the first caucus in the House of Commons, in October 2013, to publicly post our expenses online.

Canadians have asked for openness and honesty in their elected representatives, not secrecy, not distrust, and not scandal.

The Senate, through extreme patronage and partisanship, has come to poorly serve the interests of Canadians. That is why our leader took decisive action on January 29, 2014, when he announced that the national Liberal caucus would only include elected members of Parliament and not appointed senators.

I remember that day very well, and I remember feeling that the leader was very courageous in doing that. I was somewhat taken by surprise, because there was no announcement to me before the day the leader took that action, but it was very courageous. It is a clear example of movement on the issue of the Senate and what role the Senate should play and how it could be improved to serve Canadians better.

Our leader also announced that a future Liberal government would put in place an open, transparent, and non-partisan appointment process for new senators. Our leader did more to reform the Senate in a single day than the Prime Minister has done in a decade.

At our convention in February 2014, we passed a comprehensive democratic reform motion that will help restore trust in our democracy. The motion includes a number of components, and I want to list them: open, democratic nominations of candidates; fewer whipped votes in Parliament and more free votes requiring individual MPs to assume full responsibility for their decisions; stronger parliamentary control over public finances, including an annual deadline for the budget; accounting consistency between the estimates and the public accounts; more clarity in voting on estimates; a costing analysis for each government bill; a requirement that government borrowing plans get Parliament's pre-approval; a truly independent, properly resourced Parliamentary Budget Officer; a more effective access to information regime with stronger safeguards against political interference; an impartial system to identify and eliminate the waste of tax dollars on partisan advertising; and careful limitations on secret committee proceedings, omnibus bills, and prorogation to avoid their misuse for the short-term partisan convenience of the government.

On that point, one of the things I have seen as a first-term MP right away is how the government has not respected the role of Parliament by using those things.

Further components include adequate funding, investigative powers, and enforcement authority to ensure Elections Canada can root out electoral fraud; proactive disclosure of parliamentarians' expenses, as I mentioned earlier, a more transparent Board of Internal Economy, and better audit rules; a truly independent Senate not based upon partisanship or patronage; and a commitment to establish an all-party process involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms.

This was the resolution that was passed at the Liberal Party convention in early 2014.

In March 2014, we put forward an opposition day motion to implement the proactive disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses for all MPs by the House of Commons administration. The motion passed unanimously.

In June 2014, the leader of the Liberal Party introduced the transparency act in Parliament. The bill sought to achieve the following reforms, which I would like to list.

First of all, it would have required that meetings of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy be open by default. Today, MPs are making decisions about the regulations that govern their own spending with insufficient public scrutiny. This is a reform initiative that the Liberal Party called for in 2013 with the Liberal Party's open Parliament plan.

The board would still have been permitted to operate in camera, for example, for confidential personnel matters, something that is often the reason for taking a committee in camera, or when dealing with contracts.

The second part of the transparency act would have been to amend section 2 of the Access to Information Act, the purpose section of the act, so that all government data and information must be made open, and not only made open but made open by default in machine readable format.

Just before I stood up to give this speech, I was dealing with a statistician who had the experience of trying to download temperature data from temperature stations in Canada, and was having trouble doing that from the temperature data stored by Environment Canada. The individual had to rely on some help from somebody inside Health Canada in order to extract temperature data from Environment Canada, and still found problems with the Environment Canada data.

It is really important to make sure that data and information are easily available by putting them it in machine readable format.


Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I did a written order paper question to ask the government how it arrived at the figure when it claimed it had $11 billion in new spending and now $13 billion. I received a nice answer with a table. When I look at the table, I realize the Conservatives are counting new things, but they are not counting the things that they cut.

They put in an increase to the NRC IRAP, but did not include the cuts to the SR and ED tax credits. They put in increases to the granting councils, but did not include cuts to the granting councils. They did not include cuts because of losses to inflation. They are not including cuts in other parts of the government. They are not including cuts to research tax credits.

In the end, if we look at Statistics Canada's federal spending on science, technology and innovation, at the last year in constant 2007 dollars, the last year before the Conservatives took power, it is $11 billion. The last year there is data, $9.5 billion. Actually if we look at constant dollars and all across the federal government, spending has gone down. That is not even including the cuts to the tax credits for scientific research and experimental development.

I think the government's numbers are bogus in this respect, but I want to give my good friend and colleague a chance to respond.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague from Alberta does not understand how scientists communicate and what kind of communication is needed to convey and understand scientific research.

I want to read a letter I received from a scientist. It says:

Thank you for raising in the House the question of first-hand access to scientific findings. Our citizenry need to hear what is new in science, from the scientists who made the observations. not a catalogue of facts that can be passed on second-hand. It is a nuanced message that must be heard at its source, or it will be lost.

That is from Dr. John Polanyi, a Canadian winner of the Nobel Prize in 1986.

The idea is that even scientists do not learn about what other scientists did simply by reading journal articles. If they work in the same specialized field, they can learn a lot from journal articles, but most of the time, scientists have a phone call or a chat in the hallway during a conference to really understand what each other did. That is why there needs to be a two-way conversation between scientists and journalists. It is so the public can understand what government scientists have done, and participate in the democratic process of deciding government policy.

Can the member answer that?

Science and Technology May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, PIPSC, the union representing government scientists, is asking for an unprecedented scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining agreement. Rather than asking for a raise, they are asking the government to unmuzzle science. They are explicitly seeking protection from “coercion to alter their data”.

Canadians need to trust that government policies to keep us safe and healthy are based on objective evidence that has not been altered for partisan ends.

Will the President of the Treasury Board agree to this no-cost ask in upcoming contract negotiations?

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from British Columbia for his speech. He is always worth listening to. I guess he has the advantage that he is running again.

I disagree with very little of what my colleague said in his speech. However, I differ a bit, and he may not even disagree with what I will say now. I think it is important to realize that the parliamentary science officer he is proposing is somebody who is accountable to Parliament, who works with Parliament. He mentioned that it was more like the auditor general position, so it is more of an after-the-fact investigation, whereas if the Prime Minister and cabinet are making decisions in real time, I think it is very important to have private and timely advice perhaps on a day-to-day basis, where the ministers, the cabinet, and the Prime Minister can confer with a scientific advisor in confidence so that everybody can speak freely and so that all of the information can get out.

In my opinion, both are important. The member's proposal for a parliamentary science advisor is a valuable one, and the work of this body would be much better if it were properly informed in that way, but I also think that cabinet decisions would be better if they were informed by a science advisor.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I placed on the order paper a question about the government's claim of $13 billion in new funding. Actually I did that a little while ago. The amount of $11.8 billion was quoted many times in the House last year.

What I found was that many of the items in this list that added up to $11 billion were actually compensated by cuts somewhere else. For example, increases to funding for NRC IRAP was funded by cutting the scientific research and experimental development credit; increases in funding to the granting council, we know that funding has not increased after inflation. This $13 billion does not take into account inflation. It does not take into account cuts to other programs, cuts to scientific research and experimental development tax credits.

That $13 billion number is a bogus number, but I want to give my hon. colleague a chance to respond to that.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of State for Science and Technology says “Thank you” to all Canadian scientists and maybe I will start by saying “You're welcome”, on behalf of the four research scientists in the Liberal Party caucus.

However, as research scientists, we get approached by other scientists who tell us the stories of how their work is impeded by the communications policy of the government, or how some guy comes up to me on the street in Kingston and tells me how the conclusions of his research paper were reworded before it was submitted for publication.

The real evidence came out last week by the Professional Institute of the Public Service Canada. This union represents scientists who work for the federal government. It decided to forgo an emphasis on any other ask that a union might make for its members in collective bargaining and instead asked for a scientific integrity package.

Why are scientists so upset about the government's communications policy, about muzzling of federal government scientists?

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have a slightly different recollection of that conversation about the Thirty Meter Telescope, but I certainly did congratulate the government on funding it.

However, the current government has put more money into collaborations with industry. It is a fine thing to get industry to use science and technology to innovate, but it has cut its own science capacity, which is the capacity that is used for the public good, for public health and safety, for protecting the environment, and for studying Canada's cultural and historical heritage.

For example, Statistics Canada has a table entitled “Federal expenditures – On science and technology, research and development and related scientific activities in current dollars and in constant 2007 dollars”. When we look at the constant 2007 dollars and where it was before the Conservatives took over in 2005-06, it is at $10 billion. However, when we look at the last year that the numbers are available, it is about $9.2 billion or $9.3 billion. Therefore, if we correct for inflation, the spending on science inside the federal government has decreased.

It is fine that the government has helped industry, but if we look at the inflation correction and, by the way, add on the fact that the scientific research and experimental development credit has been cut by several hundred million dollars a year, we will see that is a total fabrication. The Conservative government has actually cut funding on science.

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we would be creating a position of chief science officer. The chief science officer is related to the science advisor that the last Liberal government had, which was removed by the current Conservative government.

The position of chief science officer would not only have the responsibility of advising the government on science, but would also ensure that scientists are free to communicate so that government science is accessible to the public. The public has to have that information so that it can participate in democracy.

If we look at the economy and the innovative companies, leaders in social enterprise, leaders in doing government better, we can see in the last couple of decades the leaders who have been able to take knowledge and use it in a better way in terms of making government more efficient and effective.

The chief science officer would also have the responsibility of making sure that we use our knowledge to govern ourselves more wisely and efficiently so that Canada is a stronger country.