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

Business of Supply May 26th, 2015


That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the government has constrained the ability of federal scientists to share their research and to collaborate with their peers; (b) federal scientists have been muzzled and prevented from speaking to the media about their work; (c) research is paid for by taxpayers and must be done in the public interest in order to protect the environment and the health and safety of Canadians; and, therefore, (d) the government should immediately rescind all rules and regulations that muzzle government scientists, consolidate government-funded or -created science so that it is easily available to the public at large through a central portal, create a Chief Science Officer whose mandate would include ensuring that government science is freely available to those who are paying for it, namely, the public, and allow scientists to be able to speak freely on their work with limited and publicly stated exceptions.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke North.

Today the Liberal Party affirms its commitment to making policy that is based on evidence. The Liberal Party is using its opposition day to move a motion calling on the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to end their muzzling of scientists.

We also pledge to create the position of chief science officer, whose responsibilities will include not only providing advice to the Prime Minister and cabinet, but also ensuring that government science is publicly available and that scientists may speak freely about their research.

We have heard from scientists and people across Canada who have experienced the Conservative government's suppression of science and muzzling of scientists. They are deeply troubled by it.

We heard just last week about Steven Campana, former DFO scientist, a researcher of the population dynamics of sharks and other fishes. He was disciplined for, amongst other things, giving an interview for a fluff piece about a great white shark that was sighted off the coast of New England. This was after previously receiving a media spokesperson of the year award.

In 2010, NRCan scientist Scott Dallimore was not allowed to talk about a large flood in northern Canada which occurred 13,000 years ago without getting pre-approval from political staff.

In 2011, DFO scientist Kristina Miller could not speak to journalists about her research on salmon genetics which had implications for viral infections and salmon mortality.

A journalist, Tom Spears, looking into joint research between our NRC and NASA in the United States on snowfall patterns, sparked 50 emails between 11 government employees. Meanwhile, a phone call to NASA got the information in 15 minutes.

Another journalist seeking an interview with DFO scientist Max Bothwell about didymo, an algae known as rock snot, generated 110 pages of internal emails between 16 government communications staff, and there was no interview in the end.

Environment Canada scientists were shadowed by communications staff at the 2012 polar conference, which we hosted in Montreal.

Environment Canada scientists were given a script by communications officials, instead of being trusted to comment on a study led by Erin Kelly and David Schindler on contamination of water by oil sands operations, when they presented their results at a scientific conference in Boston.

Our federal scientists are experts in their fields. We should trust their ability to share valuable research findings in a professional and objective manner without commenting on government policy. We believe that they should share their research with the public and be free from political interference.

Conservative suppression of science goes beyond preventing government scientists from speaking freely about their research. It includes cuts to scientific research for the common good, cuts which jeopardize our safety, environment, competitiveness, and place on the world stage.

Government scientists want to do work that helps us govern ourselves wisely. It is no wonder that The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, PIPSC, is pushing for an unprecedented scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining agreement.

What benefits do government scientists provide? Government scientists work in fields such as public health, environmental protection, resource stewardship, Canadian cultural and historical studies, or basic science which industry has little incentive to fund.

Government scientists can have the expertise to inform regulatory and legislative work in a more objective way than scientists employed by industry or interest groups. The perception of neutrality is also important when policy debates reach the public square. Scientists in government work closely with policy-makers, which helps to align their research priorities with public needs.

Why is freedom of speech important for government scientists? Restrictions on communication alter scientific work. Science relies on free and vigorous debate between scientists who have reached opposing conclusions. Scientists should not be pressured directly, or even indirectly, to self-censor or to weaken their conclusions so as to avoid upsetting the government of the day.

Mike Rennie described the work environment at the Experimental Lakes Area when it was under the control of the federal government as “toxic”, in part because of the communications policy.

The more controversial a public issue is, the more we need independent, objective, professional, well-reasoned facts to anchor government decision-making and the public's democratic participation in that decision-making.

When it comes to decisions that affect health and safety, fairness, the environment, or the economy, we need the best information when we decide on policy or how policy is to be implemented.

Restricting communication will make it hard to recruit good scientists. In an unprecedented move, PIPSC, The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union which represents government scientific staff, is asking for a scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining. They are not asking for salary increases, but in effect the freedom to do their work and allow it to contribute as much as possible to the public good, to make their work meaningful.

By contrast, Dr. Campana, the former DFO scientist, said last week: “the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted...”.

Finally, regarding communications, it is important for scientists to talk about their research, about nature, while following simple precautions. That is really free speech: something of value in and of itself in our society.

What are the precautions? What are the reasonable restrictions on what scientists can freely talk about? First of all, the public should never think that scientists are speaking for the government of the day, for the elected officials to whom the people have given the responsibility to make decisions. Scientists should talk about their research and not about government policy.

Government communications people can review a scientist's communications with the public in order to prepare a response because scientific findings do affect people's thinking. However, they should not restrict that communication.

Government scientists may collect personal data that should be kept confidential or proprietary information that is protected by an intellectual property agreement. That should be kept from the public.

Government scientists may have knowledge where public release would have negative consequences for public safety. That would be a limitation.

Government scientists will be known by their affiliation with federal institutions, whose reputations would be affected if there are significant errors in their research that is communicated publicly. Of course, there is a requirement for some sort of scientific peer review for quality control before public communication is permitted. That is appropriate. This is review by people whose expertise is science, not communications.

These are all examples of the limited restrictions that are mentioned in the motion, and these restrictions will be made public.

Making the changes that we are calling for will, of course, require monitoring, since different parts of government have different communications needs. That is why we call for the establishment of the position of chief science officer, to ensure that these changes are implemented and maintained for the benefit of Canada.

Canadians expect their government to embrace policy that is based on evidence. That process must be transparent. Government science which informs policy-making and is paid for by taxpayers must be open and accessible to the public. The public must be confident that information comes directly from scientists and is free from partisan political influence.

One of the things the Conservatives will say is that scientists can publish their results in journals. Even scientists do not just read journals to understand what another scientist has done. One can only do that if they work in the same specialized field as the other scientist. Scientists will sit down with another scientist, make a phone call, or sit in the hallway at a conference, and discuss the details of research in order to understand what the other scientists have done.

It is even more important for scientists to have two-way communication, usually through a science journalist, to communicate with the public, to make sure that the journalist understands what the scientist has done and to make sure that the communication is complete. It is not a rebuttal to say that scientists can publish in scientific journals.

To summarize, a Liberal government will unmuzzle science for the public good and work to re-establish a respectful relationship with government scientists. We will create the position of chief science officer, whose responsibilities will include not only providing advice to the Prime Minister, but also ensuring that government science is publicly available and that scientists may speak freely about their research. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to including these measures in its election platform.

A Liberal government will unmuzzle science for the public good and work to re-establish a respectful relationship with government scientists. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to including these measures in its election platform.

Taxation May 13th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' new income splitting is not just unfair; it is so complex even tax experts writing the legislation got it wrong no less than three times.

To apply for income splitting, Canadians must follow an 85-step process. I saw what looked like an error in how it was calculated, so I asked about it at the budget bill briefing Monday night. In response, a Finance official confirmed that some families were being shortchanged on their 2014 tax return by as much as $750.

The error affects families that qualify for both income splitting and education-related tax credits. The error was in ways and means motions that passed on November 4 and March 25, and in BillC-57.

The budget bill is the Conservatives' fourth attempt at getting the legislation right. The Liberals' plan for fairness is much simpler. We will replace income splitting and a complex array of programs with one bigger, fairer, tax-free monthly cheque on which Canadian families can rely.

Petitions May 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition today signed by constituents in Kingston, Ontario, and surrounding communities. It asks parliamentarians to recognize that raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 years will cost many people a lot of retirement benefits, especially the lowest-income seniors. The two years they will miss will cost lowest-income individuals over $30,000 and couples over $50,000. At the same time, the government is introducing tax changes that would benefit the rich more.

Instead of changing the tax system to benefit the rich more, my constituents are calling on the government to first reduce the retirement age back to 65 to protect our lowest-income seniors in the years to come.

Pipeline Safety Act May 6th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if I could ask my hon. colleague to perhaps look past several elections rather than to the next election. All too often we have the government passing legislation establishing a penalty for this or that and feeling that it has accomplished something and can forget about the problem for a while.

What kinds of things does my hon. colleague see five, 10, and 20 years down the line in terms of making resources available so that regulations are enforced and there are enough people to conduct inspections, for example, or look out for the unexpected things that may happen in the future?

Sir John A. Macdonald April 29th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to rise today as the member for Kingston and the Islands on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada to honour on the bicentennial of his birth, Sir John A. Macdonald, a Father of Confederation and our first prime minister.

Sir John A. was an immigrant, a man with an immigrant’s sense of hope and vitality, who was also determined to play a public role in building his new country. In 1844, he was first elected as the member of Parliament for Kingston, the seat he held in this House at his death, 47 years later, in 1891.

In Kingston on June 6, the anniversary of Sir John A.'s death, people still gather annually for a memorial ceremony organized by the Kingston Historical Society. It takes place at Sir John A.'s very modest gravesite located in Cataraqui Cemetery.

In 1891, the outpouring of grief was anything but modest. Ten thousand people greeted the funeral train as it arrived in Kingston from Ottawa. Kingston continues to keep alive for us the memory of Sir John A. Macdonald with place names, events, historical markers and buildings, including his bar, the Royal Tavern, which still stands today.

Arthur Milnes and Jim Garrard of Kingston led the charge for a national celebration of the Sir John A. bicentennial.

Sir John A. Macdonald, with his political, interpersonal and constitutional skills and his determination, was likely the only person who could have brought together the provinces and colonies of British North America which formed the new nation in 1867. Sir John A. understood and was a most powerful advocate for the idea that despite the differences, a federation of united provinces would be stronger, better governed, more secure and more prosperous.

Indeed, our federation has allowed us to preserve our differences. We embrace our differences and we are thereby enriched and strengthened.

Confederation was not simply a political solution to a problem. Sir John A. Macdonald had an ambitious long-term vision for a big Canada stretching from sea to sea. Sir John A. the statesman believed that a strong government should lead in realizing that vision. Sir John A. the political leader won six majorities, allowing him to begin the building of this new Canada.

After 1867, Sir John A. welcomed three more provinces and the Northwest Territories into Confederation. He built the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1873, he planned the North-West Mounted Police, forerunner of today's RCMP, and in 1885 created Canada's first national park, Banff.

I do not believe we will ever stop building and improving Canada, and we will never stop being inspired by the man who put his talents for politics and statecraft to work in our nation’s early years.

Sir John A. Macdonald was human and a man of his times. He and his family suffered personal tragedies. He was a man of many faults, who made mistakes and held indefensible and damaging positions, notably those regarding the treatment of indigenous peoples, damage that we must still work to overcome today.

Yet, perhaps these faults render the man more accessible. I ask members of the House, who among us do not have faults and failures and have not committed errors? Our faults are on display in the public square as we conduct the nation's business. That is part of politics. We can allow them to dominate our legacy, or we can pursue the politics of purpose.

Like Sir John A. Macdonald, we too at times are frail, but his accomplishments and his legacy can inspire us to be just as determined, to envision, to hope and work for a better Canada.

Happy 200th birthday, Sir John. A.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am all in favour of government advertisements when they contain real information and talk about programs that are in place. However, the practice right now seems to be to promote government initiatives that are being debated in Parliament. The problem is that we are not supposed to use public money to influence the public while government legislation or proposals are being debated. The public should decide for itself and not be influenced by advertising, using public funds, until the legislation is passed through Parliament. We could then say that it is government policy. We should make sure that we have real information in these advertisements.

I would call on the government to vote for the Liberal motion, which calls for an independent third party to review advertisements. Maybe a lot of the government advertisements will go through in the future. I do not think the Conservatives should fear that.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will note that the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs, the member for St. Paul's, brought up this very issue during question period. I am also reminded, although I was not here, that it was the NDP that brought down the government just before the Kelowna accord went into place.

However, I think it is very important for Canada to make sure that aboriginal Canadians are full participants in building the Canada of the future, and education is a very important part of that.

I went to Saskatoon recently and talked to people there about the importance of aboriginal education and the local situation in Saskatchewan. I would just say that we need to return to a Liberal government, and when we return to a Liberal government, we will improve the situation for all of Canada.

The NDP members are laughing and shaking their heads, but they did vote down the government before the Kelowna accord was implemented.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

I want to discuss budget 2015 in detail with regard to science and technology and research and experimental development. I would like to start by talking about why that is important. It is important because we must invest in the future. If we want our grandchildren to have well-paying jobs, they need the know-how, the tools, the equipment, the infrastructure and the community in order to be productive. If they are productive, they can command good salaries. We need to stay on the forefront of technology to do that.

If we want our grandchildren to have jobs where they have a competitive advantage, if they work in areas where Canada's competitors have a barrier to entry, then science, technology and innovation are a prime source of that advantage. If we want good jobs to stay in Canada for our grandchildren, then we have to develop new industries, not only new companies but new industries, which means companies around emerging technologies but also the supply chain, the partners, the pool of skilled labour, the finance, all of the infrastructure. Those are the things that would create good jobs for our grandchildren.

In light of the finance minister's comment that the Prime Minister's granddaughter could fix any problems in the budget, I say let us give our grandchildren the resources to fix problems, some wealth-generating resources to help them. They will need it because our grandchildren, it seems, will be taxed by the burdens left behind by a short-sighted, closed-minded, innumerate and ideological Conservative government.

I want to talk about the budget in detail now, and I would like to start by looking at federal spending on science, technology, research and development in constant 2007 dollars. This comes from data collected by Statistics Canada. It is government spending on science and technology corrected for inflation. In 2005-06, the spending in all of the federal government was $10.0 billion. This was just before the Conservatives took power. In 2014-15, the fiscal year just completed, the number, according to Statistics Canada, corrected for inflation, was $9.1 billion. Therefore, federal government spending has gone down by $900 million a year before we even get to anything announced in the budget.

Remember that there were cuts to the scientific research and experimental development tax credit announced in 2012 that are not counted, because StatsCan is only counting contracts, grants and contributions and research fellowships. Therefore, that tax credit, which was cut for scientific research and experimental development in the private sector, really kicked in last year and this year, so that in 2014-15, there were $315 million of cuts to tax credits. This year, there were $480 million. Next year, there will be $500 million. This is money that is not going into companies that are doing research and development here in Canada.

I want to now deconstruct what the government would say in reply to that. The government has been saying that $11 billion in new investments in science, technology and innovation have been made since 2006. I put in a written order paper question, which is Question No. 950, asking for a breakdown of that $11 billion. The answer shows that when money was moved from one place to another, it was called new spending. Aside from about $3 billion in stimulus spending right after the recession, there was not really any new spending. When the government talks about this $11 billion, it does not account for any cuts, especially inside the federal government, such as in Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, StatsCan, and the government does not account for inflation when it quotes this number.

The most egregious example is that the government told me, in the reply to the written order paper question, that included in this $11 billion was $110 million a year of new money for IRAP, the industrial research assistance program, and one-time $400 million for a venture capital fund investment. However, if anybody remembers budget 2012, that was supposed to be paid for by cuts to the scientific research and experimental development tax credit for the private sector. That $500 million a year cut in support for the private sector R and D swamps that new spending.

At this point, I want to make some special mention of the cuts to the eligibility of capital expenditure for the scientific research and experimental development tax credits. We have heard from a number of companies that it should not have been eliminated. Some companies are labour intensive, others are much more capital intensive, and there is no good reason for favouring one over the other.

I will say to the credit of the Minister of Industry, who was not the minister in 2012, when he was in my riding of Kingston and the Islands, somebody who owns a company asked him about the exclusion of capital expenditure. He sounded open to reversing that mistake and I hope that he will look at that and change the government policy in the budget implementation legislation.

I would now like to talk about particular lines in the 2015 budget. There is a line in there for CANARIE, which is Canada's Internet backbone. The government said it would spend $21 million a year for five years. The problem is, that is just continuing the current level of funding, which is $20 million a year with a little inflation adjustment. Great, it is worth a congratulatory tweet from the minister, but the minister forgot to mention that the budget is now $20 million. It used to be $30 million before the government cut the budget in 2012.

Budget 2015 also mentions funding for the CFI, $1.33 billion over six years. I talked to somebody at CFI who told me it is actually equivalent to just continuing funding at the current level, so there is nothing new there.

National Research Council will get $60 million a year for the next two years. Two years ago in budget 2013, the government said that it needed to spend an extra $60 million on top of the $900 million NRC budget to refocus NRC. It is not clear to me whether it finished refocusing, whether these next two years of funding are required to continue the refocusing because it is taking a lot longer than expected or whether NRC has found a good use for a permanent $60-million increase to its budget. We cannot tell that from the budget document.

MITACS internships, which connect graduate students in Canada by giving them industry experience, get $14 million a year for four years. Last year, when the last boost to MITACS was announced, budget 2014 moved the NSERC industrial post-doctoral fellowships to MITACS and said that NSERC, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, could use the money left over for other purposes, could reallocate it.

This year, the government moved a different program, the NSERC industrial post-graduate scholarships program, over to MITACS to create internships, but it does not say that any money would be freed for NSERC, so we may actually be losing money over at NSERC to pay for this increase to MITACS. The budget is very different this year than last year. It is not clear at all. It seems to me there will actually be a cut in NSERC.

Since we are talking about the research councils, we could go over their budget. Budget 2015 announces $46 million for the three research granting councils, starting not this year but next year. Notice the skipping year. The problem is that the three research councils have a $3-billion budget, so we lose $30 million to $60 million every year just from inflation. The government does not mention that. A one-time boost of $40 million does not even cover the inflation, since we have to wait another year until it starts. Bread and butter research grants across Canada will shrink.

That leads us finally to the new programs. There are new programs. There is money for TRIUMF out of Vancouver, the 30-metre telescope and the Canada first research excellence fund. I am sure that good science will come out of these programs because of the proven quality of Canadian scientists. The point I would make is that the funding on these new programs does not come near what all the cuts have been so far.

Let me just summarize. The Conservative government's spending on science, technology, research and development, according to Statistics Canada, is down $900 million since it took power. Add to that another $500 million every year from cuts to the scientific research and experimental development tax credit for the private sector. Add to that another $102 million cut just because of inflation and the Conservatives have not replaced the effects of inflation. That overwhelms the real new money in budget 2015.

We will hear the members on the Conservative side tout the extra spending. The conclusion is that on the Conservative record on science and technology, if we really dig down into the numbers, look back at the last ten years, look at inflation, look at what has been cut elsewhere in the federal government and in the private sector when it comes to research and development, the talking points of the Conservatives fall apart.

The Conservative government's record on science and technology and research and development is dismal and it is failing our grandchildren.

The Budget April 28th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the questions I had in mind kind of piled up as my hon. colleague continued to speak, so I will try to roll them out and see what she says.

My first comment is that the budget and the minister have ignored the effects of inflation on the budget. If we look at the tri-council budget, it is about $33 billion, which means that with 1% to 2% inflation rate, which it has been in the last few years, that is $30 million to $60 million of lost purchasing power. She mentioned the funds that were announced in the budget. First, we will have to wait an extra year to them and they do not even cover inflation.

The second thing is that she talked about a balanced budget, but she did not talk about the fact that $2 billion were taken from the reserve. That $2 billion is what people who do computer programming call a magic number. It is just pulled out of nowhere without really good justification. If a different number had been chosen, would we have a budget surplus?

The third thing I would ask the minister is this. The budget assumes a future price of oil which does not agree with the real price in the market. If we believe in the market, if we believe that we are not smarter than the market, which is a good thing to do, we would use a much more conservative, lower future price for oil.

Business of Supply April 27th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is one thing to advertise a government program when it has passed in this House and exists; it is another to advertise a government program when it is being considered by Parliament. According to government policy, which my colleague talked so much about in his speech, if one puts out a video, it must contain the words “measures subject to parliamentary approval”.

I have a case where the government has not followed the spirit of its policy. Last year, November 17 was the day of the Whitby—Oshawa by-election, and if we wanted to read an online article in the local newspaper, we had to pass through a gateway advertisement. It was a little tiny box with a video. The video contained a government advertisement about its spending plans. It was so small that we could not read the words “measure subject to parliamentary approval”.

I do not think the current government wanted to follow its own policies, and perhaps diluted the message that this video was sending on that by-election day. It was clear to me that nobody in those two seconds could read the fuzzy words. In fact, I had to go to the government website itself and look at the full high-definition ad to actually see the words. The government was not following the spirit of its own policies, and I wonder if my colleague would agree with me.