House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was poverty.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as NDP MP for Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Northwest Territories Act February 10th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity this afternoon to speak to this very important motion by my colleague from the Northwest Territories, the member for Western Arctic. I say that because I have watched him work over the last two sessions of the House as he has represented so ably and actively his constituency, all those who live there and all those who govern that wonderful territory. I have nothing but admiration for the efforts he has made to gather all of the background documents, statistics, and information that were necessary to place the bill in front of us here today.

In the member's own words, from the speech he made introducing the bill, “It is one of the keys to building a better north, a more prosperous north, a north that can better share its wealth with the rest of Canada”.

I am disappointed in the speech that was given by the member for Saint Boniface a few minutes ago, particularly the way she maligned and tried to lessen the importance of the work the member is doing and to somehow suggest it is less than in keeping and in tune with what the Northwest Territories wants for itself. She had some misinformation in her presentation. For example, she mentioned a member of the Northwest Territory government as Dave Mackenzie when in fact that member is Dave Ramsay.

I know that the member for Western Arctic has the support of the Government of the Northwest Territories and he is working in consort with them as they work with the government on devolution. I was there when he spoke to the finance minister, Michael Miltenberger, and I know of the support and enthusiasm of that very important member of that government for this initiative and how he sees this as adding to its ability to make those investments that will be necessary if it is actually going to be able to take advantage of the devolution that is taking place.

I want to speak for a few minutes about the member for Western Arctic to make sure people understand that this is a member who did not just by chance somehow arrive here, through some fluke of an election. The member has worked long and hard. He was born and raised in the Northwest Territories, knows the Northwest Territories, knows the people and communities of the Northwest Territories intimately, having served for over 10 years as the mayor of the wonderful town of Fort Smith. He served on the green funds council of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities which worked with him to better the lot of municipalities in the territories. He served as a special adviser on energy to the premier of the Northwest Territories. He also served as a board member on the Northern River Basins study and as a federal government representative on the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. The member who has introduced the bill before us that we debate here today also served as a former chair of the constitutional development steering committee for the Western Arctic, and as co-chair of that committee, where the member learned how passionate northerners are about increasing their autonomy and becoming a jurisdiction equal to the provinces.

Bill C-530 is a small but very important step in this increased autonomy. It is something he has thought long and hard about, worked very hard on, and believes in passionately. He has consulted with and has the support of some very important officials in the Northwest Territories government.

As background for the people listening, in case they were put off by the member for Saint Boniface in her diatribe before us here today, the Northwest Territories has a government which evolved from a committee of bureaucrats at Indian and Northern Affairs to a full-fledged, democratically elected government with full ministerial responsibility.

From 1897 to 1905, the Northwest Territories had an elected government resembling a province, but in 1905, after the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created, what was left of the Northwest Territories slipped back to the status of a colony. The member wants to remove it from that. For the next 60 years a commissioner and an appointed territorial council ran the territory from Ottawa.

In the 1950s, a return to an elected government for the territories began. In 1951, the Northwest Territories Act was changed to permit three elected members from the Mackenzie district to join the four appointed members and the commissioner on the territorial council. At this time the council also began to alternate its sittings between Ottawa and the Northwest Territories.

Between 1955 and 1966 the powers of the territorial council were gradually increased, and by 1966, elected members formed the majority on the council.

In 1967, the administration of the Northwest Territories moved from Ottawa to Yellowknife. In 1975, the territorial council became a fully elected body and its member began to call it the legislative assembly the following year.

In 1965, following consultations across the territories, the federal Carrothers Commission recommended a gradual increase in territorial responsibility through the setting up of a working territorial government. The Carrothers report had a lot of influence. In 1967, Yellowknife was made the capital of the Northwest Territories and the first commissioner to be permanently based in the territories was appointed.

Many province-like responsibilities were taken over from the federal government in the following years. This included such things as education, housing and social services. Other responsibilities like health care, forest management and fire suppression were taken over in the 1980s. Crown lands, oil, gas and mineral resources continued to be administered by the federal government.

Responsible government gradually developed after 1975. In that year the first two MLAs were appointed to the commissioner's executive committee. The executive committee later became the executive council or cabinet of the territories.

In 1986, Commissioner Parker turned over his last cabinet responsibilities to elected MLAs, a step that was authorized by the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development under the Northwest Territories Act. This step marks full, responsible government.

Since the 1980s, the government of the Northwest Territories and the other territorial governments have gradually won the right to attend federal-provincial meetings along with the provinces. The GNWT now also participates in the western premiers conference and the annual premiers conferences. However, territorial governments are not counted for purposes of a formal amendment to the Constitution of Canada under part 5 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Why the need for Bill C-530? The requirement that a mature government, like the Northwest Territories, must come to Ottawa, cap in hand, requesting permission to borrow is a holdover from the days when the territories were administered by a committee of bureaucrats from Indian and Northern Affairs.

The territories government has a long history of balanced budgets and being responsible. Today it prudently administers $1 billion-plus budget. It is time Canada treated the Northwest Territories like the mature jurisdiction it is.

I urge members of the House, as they do all other provinces and jurisdictions in this great land, to trust this territory. Trust the member of Parliament for Western Arctic who has been sent by the people of the Northwest Territories to this place to speak on their behalf, as he does so well, day in and day out in this place. He asks us to allow the territory to have borrowing power so it can make the investments it needs and the infrastructure that will be necessary when devolution finally and ultimately takes place.

I hope that members of the House will ignore what was said by the member for Saint Boniface previously and look at Hansard to see what the member for Western Arctic said when he introduced this bill and what I have said here today, and vote in favour of this important initiative.

World Autism Awareness Day Act December 15th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to put a few thoughts on the record on the important subject of autism and the establishment of a day when we might recognize this challenge that affects so many families across the country.

We know so little about autism and need to do so much more work on it. Most important, we must provide some meaningful concrete support to some of these families that, in many instances, spend their life savings, mortgage their homes and give everything they absolutely have out of love for their children in the hope that one day those children will be able to participate in society in the way we all want our children to participate.

The New Democrats support the Senate bill to designate April 2 of each year as World Autism Awareness Day. However, every day we should be thinking about what we can to lift the burden of so many people in our ridings and across the country. Every day they wake up to the reality that they have very special children who have some very special needs and they hope they will get the help they require.

I do not think anyone here has not one day or another, while back in our ridings, had a meeting with some family that has shared the challenges of having such a special child in the family, the pain, the suffering and the grief that goes along with that because the family cannot find the services and support in the community.

Government does not seem to be able to find a way. As a provincial member of the Ontario legislature, I met with groups of families in my riding office. We tried to case manage and work our way through how we might take advantage of some of the very scarce resources that were available through the provincial government.

I guess the provincial government has tried to the best it can with the limited resources it has available to it, but it is not even close to enough. It hardly scratches the surface. That is why we will support this minimal effort to bring some focus and attention to this reality by supporting the other parties in the House in recognizing autism on April 2 of each year.

Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, supports the acknowledgement of the families affected by autism spectrum disorders and the declaration that April 2 be recognized as world autism awareness day.

Many of my colleagues, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Sudbury, at one time or another have brought forward bills to the House that if passed and honoured by the government, would have provided, in a very serious and meaningful way, the kind of support that families need, which would go a long way to resolving some of the financial difficulties that come with trying to provide the services and support. I know this from having met with families and having listened to them. I heard their pleas.

I know these three members have brought bills before the House. In fact, the member for Vancouver Kingsway brought a similar bill to the one we discussing. Hopefully Bill C-327, a Canadian autism day, will pass in the House.

The member for Sudbury wanted to amend the Canada Health Act so autism could be brought under that umbrella. By amending the act, resources would not be limited in the way they are now. Families could tap into those resources and get the help they needed and get on with their lives.

The member for Sudbury headed up the United Way at one time in Sudbury. He oversaw a number of programs and initiatives that helped the people of that community in meaningful ways. He called for a national strategy on autism, which would have allowed us to respond to this challenge in a more concrete way.

My colleagues and I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the Senate bill before us today. However, we call on the government to become more involved and to do something more concrete other than simply naming a day for people to focus on autism and learn more about it.

We could be providing services to families 365 days of the year. One of our most fundamental responsibilities is to look after those in our communities who are most at risk and in need of services so they can be socially included in their communities, in their schools and in their recreational programs. We could do this if only there were the political will.

The initial bill, Bill C-211 put forward by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, called on the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that the cost of autism therapy, more commonly known as ABA or IBI, would be covered by their health care insurance plans of every province and territory. That would mean the federal government would have to sit down with the provinces and territories. It could do that now, as they renegotiate the agreement, and ensure it includes in the transfer of funds to the provinces and territories the kinds of money and resources needed to bring autism therapy under the Canada Health Act.

The provinces want to do this. Between 1990 and 2003, I spoke with officials in the Ontario ministry of health. They would love to do this, but they do not have the resources. Let us sit down and talk with them and work out a way to ensure the provinces get the money they need to make this happen.

When the bill was first introduced as Bill C-211 there was a need for the government to engage itself in discussions with the provinces so autism therapy, ABA, IBI, and other therapies, would be covered by the health care insurance plan in every province and territory. This way families, which found themselves mortgaging their homes, in some cases bankrupting themselves so they could look after their children to give them a good start in life and some opportunity in life to participate, would have the resources they needed.

We believe amendments need to be made to section 2 of the Canada Health Act. We believe ABA and IBI should be listed in the act as medically necessary services or required services for people with autism spectrum disorder.

I remember my colleague, Shelley Martel, the critic for health in Ontario, the member for Nickel Belt, also called for this. I would join with her today to say let us get on with this and get it done but, at the very least, let us support this day of autism awareness.

Petitions December 15th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I present a petition today signed by 75 people who are very concerned that there is discrimination in the Income Tax Act with regard to people with hearing impairment. They are asking that the Government of Canada and the House move expeditiously with Bill C-577, a bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

I support it and encourage the government to take the advice of these 75 people and others across the country who think this discrimination should be ended.

Poverty November 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, after two decades, it is time for Canada to take action on poverty.

A Campaign 2000 report points out that the rise in poverty has a direct cost in health care, criminal justice, social services, lost productivity and lost opportunity. These problems are systemic and need more than just the “get a job” attitude of the government.

Why is the government ignoring the HUMA report and refusing to deal with poverty?

Municipal Elections November 22nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, two weeks from today, Sault Ste. Marie will have its first elected woman mayor. I congratulate Debbie Amaroso for her victory and her campaign, “Your City. Your Say”.

It is good to hear Mayor-elect Amaroso's priorities: infrastructure, balanced growth, community development, jobs and health care. I look forward to acting on her commitment for a new protocol with elected officials at other levels of government. A renewed round table and collaboration will go a long way in helping our region grow.

I also congratulate the Soo's new city council, including five newly elected councillors: Paul Christian, Brian Watkins, Rick Niro, Marchy Bruni and Joe Krmpotich. As well, I congratulate the re-elected and newly elected mayors, reeves and councillors in the Algoma District in my riding.

I look forward to working with all of them to help Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma prosper.

Poverty November 18th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we received a committee report for a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate poverty. Dignity For All, which represents 430 groups, is applauding all of us for this landmark study.

The report calls for federal leadership on a plan for housing, child benefits, aboriginals, seniors and more. It seems even Conservative MPs are endorsing this crucial initiative.

Will the minister finally agree with the provinces, NGOs and all Canadians who want action and announce a master plan?

Poverty November 18th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this is a good day for Canada, for parliamentarians and for people across this country struggling with poverty. Yesterday a landmark report was tabled from a three-year study that offers us a master plan to eliminate poverty.

We have anywhere from three million to four million poor. This plan is good news for our vulnerable populations: aboriginals, seniors alone without support, persons with disabilities, children, working poor and immigrants. Thanks to hundreds of witnesses, we have the foundation for a just and inclusive country.

Seven provinces and territories and a chorus of Canadians want Ottawa to lead. A federal strategy to eliminate poverty in Canada is all about nation-building. Together we can recognize that a national poverty elimination strategy is the right thing to do. The evidence indicates that it is also the smart and economic thing to do. It is time to act.

Pope John Paul II Day Act November 16th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity this evening to speak to this bill and its subject, John Paul II. I remember being at his funeral, reflecting on the plain wooden casket and thinking how appropriate for him, a humble servant. I remember the two million mostly young people attracted to how he lived out a set of values inspired by the gospels and the social gospels.

We have a wonderfully effective relationship in Canada between church and state unlike that of the United States, where separation is enshrined in the constitution. There is this respectful, honest and direct dialogue that serves us well.

We honour and listen to and converse with all faiths and religions. We give no one tradition or denomination precedence over another. Each has a place at the table.

There are many wonderful world leaders to inform and inspire us. I think of Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi. Some of them we have made honorary citizens.

I know there is a tradition in my Catholic church to have feast days for saints. However, we are the national government and act on behalf of all the people.

John Paul II lived his life out of a very clear set of values. The most obvious ones for me were his call to reconciliation, forgiving and healing. He forgave personally the man who tried to kill him. His commitment to peace and his stance as a world leader against the war in Iraq was inspirational and instructive. The way he carried himself in his latter years spoke to his great respect for all of humanity however frail or infirm.

He also, however, presided over an institution that, as we have come to see, was flawed and imperfect. I do not think he would be comfortable with the designation proposed here today, given his obvious humility and his penchant for challenging governments that did not, or do not, understand the importance of the values he so obviously espoused, as I said, peace, reconciliation and respect for all humanity.

We do not have a formal separation of church and state in Canada. However, there is a respectful dialogue and distancing at times on issues such as human rights, women's rights, the rights of gays and lesbians. I do not think John Paul II would want to be that closely aligned and I do not think it is healthy to give special recognition to the leader of one faith tradition, however revered by the world he or she served in.

I remember standing in Saint Peter's Square with all the world's leaders, civic and religious, paying respect to this very human and humble shepherd. I thought, wow, as I felt the waves of emotion back and forth from the front to the back and back again every time his name was mentioned.

Let us leave it there to be thought about by the world. Allow it to inspire us to continue his obviously unfinished work but not tie it to one day, or one country or one government.

Because of his struggles in his early years with the people of Poland, his willingness to stand up for what he believed in, that belief rooted in meditation and prayer, his obvious human limitations and frailty and willingness to forgive and reconcile in the interest of healing and all of humanity, for me, qualifies him as a mystic activist out there with people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and the so many other men and women who have lived lives of struggle and meaning.

Poverty November 16th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, in spite of what the parliamentary secretary or the minister says, on a typical day this year a record 870,000 people needed a food bank to get by.

Of that number, one out of five has a job but still needs a food bank to put dinner on the table. Others lose their jobs, run out of EI, and fall back on inadequate social assistance, creating another sad statistic. Food bank use in this country has grown by 25%. This is unacceptable.

Will the government stop writing off almost a million people and finally adopt a real poverty plan?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act November 15th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I also want to commend the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for an excellent presentation on this bill. We have come to expect that of him. He was not voted the hardest working member in this place for no reason.

I also want to talk about the whole question of redemption and rehabilitation, and maybe take it a step further. We do not get a chance very often to do that with these justice bills that come forward.

There is rehabilitation for the person who has committed the crime, but there is also a benefit for the whole of society when we move in that direction, when we try to create a situation where healing is possible. At the end of the day, not only does the person who has committed the crime benefit by being rehabilitated or redeemed, but society benefits as well. The person and the family who have been hurt also stand a better chance of being redeemed.

Before healing comes forgiveness, and before forgiveness comes rehabilitation and a lot of hard work.

Perhaps the member could speak to the whole question of healing society, and the question not only of rehabilitation but of forgiveness.