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

Persons with Disabilities November 2nd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and I attended a conference last night on disabilities and poverty where we heard Cindy Blackstock say that what government does is more important than what government says.

Given that the disabled are three times more likely to live in poverty than anybody else, this is what they want the government to do: implement the international covenant on the rights of the disabled; bring in a guaranteed annual income for the severely disabled; and make the disability tax credit fully refundable.

Will the minister do this?

Algoma University November 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, on Saturday, I attended a dinner to honour Dr. Celia Ross, who has retired as president of Algoma University.

The community recognized Celia's outstanding contribution and the extraordinary growth of our university. Algoma University now has over 1,200 students and is expanding to Timmins and Brampton. Its 10% growth in enrolment is well above the Ontario average and includes more international students.

In 12 years, Dr. Ross introduced studies in community economics and social development and computer games technology.

Strongly committed to supporting Anishinaabe communities, Celia helped affirm Algoma University's core partnership with the Shingwauk Education Trust. With her leadership, Algoma received its own charter in 2008.

I congratulate Dr. Ross, Algoma University and its new president, Richard Myers from New Brunswick. Algoma's future is very bright indeed.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act November 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland was one of the first provinces to move forward with a strategy. But they are saying to us that, unless the federal government is at the table, it will be difficult for them to achieve all they know they can achieve.

There is no lack of good ideas out there. We heard them from many people, and there will be a lot of them in the report that will be tabled.

Bill C-545 mentions three areas that could immediately be addressed by the federal government and by all of us here: housing, income security, and social inclusion.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act November 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member himself participated actively in the discussions by bringing to the House the stories of the people he represents.

The hon. member is absolutely right: there are real opportunities here. There will be a report tabled in this House, probably after the Remembrance Day break, that will make solid recommendations. If adopted, they will go a long way towards developing a partnership with the provinces, territories, municipalities, and first nations that will eliminate poverty in this country once and for all.

Bill C-545 would serve as the framework for this federal project. This empowering piece of legislation would give the government the vehicles it needs to begin working in partnership, so that we can once and for all get rid of the scourge of poverty that affects so many of our constituents, neighbours, and family members.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act November 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I want to suggest that the member go back to a time in our history when we used a means test to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving. That is long past.

We as a country, as a government, need to take the same approach we took a few years back. It was driven by the NDP, and it looked at the question of poverty and seniors. We brought forward hugely successful programs: the Canada pension plan, the old age security plan, and the guaranteed income supplement. We put those vehicles in place so that we would not have to get into long and hurtful discussions about who deserves and who does not. We put in place programs to help seniors, and we literally lifted all seniors out of poverty.

We need to be doing the same thing for all of our citizens today, no matter where they live or what their socio-economic condition may be.

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act November 1st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important budget bill, Bill C-47. It is another in a continuing series of discussions we are having with the government about what it should be doing to deal with some of our difficult economic realities. Among other things, it should be investing in communities and people, and looking after families that are finding it hard to make ends meet in these difficult times. As jobs continue to be lost or changed in nature, incomes go down, the cost of living continues to increase, and people struggle to keep body and soul together as they attempt to provide their children with support, education, and help with their health care needs.

As we continue this discussion about the budget and the economy, it is important to understand how they connect, and how we as government support communities that are struggling to keep all of their citizens' heads above water. It is important to understand and reflect on what got us where we are today. We need to consider the 2008 collapse of the world's financial sector and understand why it happened.

The government did not recognize the 2008 recession until the opposition on this side of the House made it aware of the problem. Then, all of a sudden, the government began to realize that it needed to respond in a serious way to this economic and financial tsunami that was coming at us.

The cause of this was that we allowed our banking systems, both here and around the world, to continue to be further and further deregulated. Besides the banks, we deregulated a lot of other financial practices. We allowed the ethos of greed and fear to be the driving force behind the decisions made by corporations and governments around the world. Finally, to keep things from getting even worse, governments had to step in and become engaged again.

Deregulation and free trade, which went hand in hand with the deregulation, allowed some corporations to become more powerful and wealthy than many countries. We saw a push towards less government intervention, which is what is now challenging the government of the day. Even though they are great believers in less government intervention, this government was forced to intervene in the economy as never before.

At the same time, we lowered taxes for corporations over and over again, at the provincial and the federal levels. Finally, the government woke up and realized that it had to come to the table with big bags of money to help its friends in the business world to weather these difficult times. But because it had given away so much of the treasury, so much of the capacity of the government to play a role in our economic life, the government had little money left. The result is that we now find ourselves with a huge deficit, and we will be in deficit for a long time to come.

Why are we in the New Democrat caucus speaking so aggressively against this budget today? It is because the government will not be turning these corporate tax breaks around. Instead, the government wants to reduce even further its ability to intervene in the economic affairs of this country.

If we do not stop, take a long look, and do something different, this will be tragic. It will be especially tragic for those who are most at risk and marginalized, and this is the group of people that government has the greatest and most urgent responsibility to help.

For the six years that I have been in this place, and particularly over the last two years since the collapse of the financial world, I have been calling for a national anti-poverty strategy. Six provinces in this country recognize that something significant needs to happen if we are going to deal with the increasing number of people who find themselves unable to make ends meet. Provincial strategies have been put in place. I was in the Northwest Territories a couple of weeks ago, and they are moving on a strategy to deal with poverty.

The provinces are telling us that they will not be able to do all that they have to do. They will not be able to put in place those programs that they know are necessary to lift people up and give them the opportunity to take advantage of the new economy when, a year or two from now, this recession has eased off.

The provinces just do not have the resources, and they are calling on the federal government to be a partner in this effort. They know that we need to move away from this ethos of greed and fear to one of hope and concern for the common good.

Those of us who have been engaged in this exercise over the last three years know that it makes good economic sense to deal with poverty. The choices we make will affect not only our ability to help those who are in difficulty, but also our ability to turn our economy around. Failing to address the problem is costing us in many direct and substantial ways.

We heard from all kinds of people as we travelled the country, getting input on what the federal government should be doing about poverty. They told us the choice is clear: we can pay to address poverty now, or we can wind up paying a lot more for a lot longer.

We pay for poverty through lost productivity, lost opportunity, and increased family violence. We pay for it through the health care system and our criminal justice system. We pay for it through growing demands on an already-frayed social support system. We pay for it through our children's reduced life chances, employment opportunities, and earning capacity.

For the first time in their lives, thousands of families across this country are going into Christmas relying on the good graces of provincial and municipal welfare systems, or what is left of them. People are finding that there is not much to be had.

After the government of the day's 1995 elimination of the Canada assistance plan, the reduction in the transfers to provinces, and the huge rollout of corporate tax breaks, not much was left in the coffers when people came calling in their time of need. People who pay their taxes, work every day, and pay into unemployment insurance are finding as they face this Christmas that the safety net they thought was there has disappeared.

If nothing else, when we consider this budget we should be addressing the difficult reality that is confronting many of our friends and neighbours, our constituents. We need to deal with the question of poverty in this country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I liked the way the member laid this out in terms of a humanitarian challenge, confronting not only us but the whole world, as we try to bring peace and stability. Lack of peace and stability anywhere is a threat to everyone else. What we do here, we have to be very thoughtful about. We have to think it through. We have to be deep and reflective in our response.

What I have seen in this place over the last six to 12 months is an attempt to deal with some very real challenges in the world in a very sort of knee-jerk reaction, throw a big net out, capture everyone and then we will sort it out later somehow, perhaps.

There are ways to deal with some of the real challenges that are inherent in the smuggling of refugees. As the member for Toronto Centre said today, a lot of the issues we are wanting to deal with we can actually deal with if we were willing to go and work with the people and the government of Sri Lanka because that is really where the problem is. Apparently there are three or four gangs that developed after the war. They are organizing this money-making scheme to smuggle refugees into other countries.

Perhaps the member would like to respond to that for me.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act October 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, when we consider for a second, and the member for Windsor West will I think appreciate and understand this, the rigmarole that people have to go through to get across that border, particularly from Canada into the United States, in a jurisdiction that is supposedly the freest in the world, the interrogation, the sometimes harassment, the hours that they spend at the bridge going through one or two or three processes of inspection, who would want to come back and do that more than once or maybe twice? That is the reality.

I know people from the States who have come to Canada and I have relatives who live in the States. They are more and more anxious about coming over to Canada any more, even if it is to spend a day skiing or to visit family, because they worry about what is going to happen to them on the way back as they cross through that border.

So, add on top of that this new layer of scrutiny when we now simply fly through American air space and we begin to see why this is not good public policy.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act October 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, indeed I do remember that story. I found it odd, to say the least, that in that instance we would not be doing all that we could to make sure the person was made to feel safe in our country. We pride ourselves in being a country that does that kind of thing.

I reflect back on the billion dollars that was spent this summer to protect six or seven world leaders at a big meeting in Toronto. Yet for the small amount of money that it would have cost to extend a courtesy to that expert we brought in, it was a little strange not to do it.

Yes, it speaks to me of a narrowness in scope when it comes to these kinds of things. When the Americans say we should do something, we jump to it, saying, “Yes, sir, three bags full, sir”. We seem to think that if we do not, we are going to be punished.

I think all members, opposition and government, should be sitting down together and looking at what we could do that is in the best interests not just of security, but also in creating a world where we all feel comfortable, and where we can move around without being accosted every time we cross a border to go on a vacation. It is rather odd.

The hon. member raises a good point and makes a good case.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act October 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak this afternoon to Bill C-42 and to follow my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently and thoughtfully on this bill, particularly the critic for our caucus, the member for the Western Arctic who understands this public business in a way that many of us could only hope we could.

He made his own excellent speech making a case for slowing this process down, really thinking it through and perhaps finding other ways of responding to some of the very real challenges and threats that are out there today that do not require throwing this huge net out to catch so many people for absolutely no reason and cause them all kinds of inconvenience when they want to go on a vacation or go to another country for a wedding or funeral.

I have seen in this place over the last number of years, from particularly the present government but the previous government as well, where we get brought into a culture that is developing in the United States, particularly since 9/11. We understand the difficult situation and the reality of 9/11. We know there needed to be a response but the response that we made and continue to make is one that I believe indicates that the terrorists won. If the terrorists wanted to throw a cloud over society, over the free movement of people and goods and over the kind of relationship that we were developing in North America between Canada, the United States and Mexico, they could not have done it better.

We keep buying into a culture of paranoia, fear and, as so many of my colleagues have said here over the last couple of days, of misinformation.

How many times do we need to hear another American politician say, very publicly and in the media, without any thought whatsoever it seems, that the terrorist who hit the United States on 9/11 came through Canada's borders and that we were somehow responsible, that we somehow played a part and that we somehow were negligent with the security that we implement at our border?

We know that is just not true in each incident. Thank god we have good ambassadors to the United States who pick up on those things and go after those misinformed American politicians who go out there, probably for personal political gain, to make these statements that are so wrong and so false and cast us in this very difficult, challenging and problematic light.

We heard another U.S. senator just last week make the very same statement. After all of these incidents, after challenging them so publicly, after our ambassadors went after those folks and told them they were wrong and after us making our case time and time again, we still have another American senator saying very clearly and confidently that somehow the terrorists of 9/11 came through U.S. borders from Canada and that somehow we had a responsibility for that.

This culture of fear, paranoia and misinformation does not serve any of us well. We see it in our own ridings, particularly those of us who have to deal with constituents who find themselves crossing the border to go into the United States.

I live in a border community and I see many constituents not being able to get across the border anymore. It is not because they have done anything wrong or that they are bad people. It is not because they have a track record of misbehaviour or criminal activity. It is because sometimes there is a mistake or they have the same name as somebody else born on the same date and information pops up on the computer, because everything is computerized now it seems, that indicates a red flag.

Some of those people in Sault Ste. Marie are often on their way to a medical appointment in London and go down through Michigan and over through Sarnia. They may be on their way to a family wedding or even a funeral of a loved one or a friend and they are challenged at the border and must come back. Oftentimes, these people come to my office asking me to deal with this in a matter of half an hour or an hour. Sometimes if I write a letter assuring the border officials that these people are legit, bona fide, and plead with them to give these people a break, cut them some slack and allow them to go across to the wedding, or whatever it is they have to do, and I give my personal assurance that they will return to Canada, they can sometimes get through.

Just as problematic and difficult is putting together these lists that we are calling for in Bill C-42. It is frightening. People who cross the border from Sault Ste. Marie to get to Michigan were perhaps in their teens back in the sixties and may have smoked a little grass. Those people may have a record, some may even have been pardoned but all of a sudden there is a red flag on their record and they cannot cross the border. After 20 or 30 years of good living, hard work, getting up in the morning and feeding their kids, paying their rent, paying taxes and being good citizens in our country, they are all of a sudden fearful, because of this culture of paranoia, that they will not be able to cross the border anymore.

People would be totally surprised at the insignificance of some of the incidents that pop up and that these people get challenged over. I could tell stories that would make people cry in terms of the treatment or the challenge that people confront, or the heartbreak because they cannot get across for a day or two to attend some personal event that is happening in the life of an individual or family. That is wrong.

We need to sit down with our neighbours to the south to figure out how we can catch people who may have wrongful intent, and we can do that. As a matter of fact, we have always done that and we have been very successful at it. That is why the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 did not come from Canada. They were from inside the United States. We do a good job of looking after our border. We know who is living in our country and we have good people working in our security systems.

However, we continue to buy into more and more of what is often referred to as the thickening of the border, more and more of this new way of gathering and sharing information and the new technology that comes with that which is creating more and more inconvenience for ordinary citizens who just want to go about their business and are now afraid.

I have dealt with the problems of several people who came to my constituency office who were on the infamous no-fly list. We were successful in most cases but it took us forever.

People are absolutely stunned when they arrive at the airport and ask for their boarding pass and are told by the person behind the counter that there is a red flag and that they are on the no-fly list. They have absolutely no idea why. Sometimes they lose out on a trip they were going to make with their wife and family, a trip often paid for but one for which they cannot get their money back, because they are on the no-fly list and cannot get across the border.

That is just the beginning of it. To try to get them off that list is almost a Herculean task. What an effort. It goes on forever. First we have to find out who is responsible for the list and to whom we should talk in order to get the person's name off the list. We would think that after we had done it once or twice, we would have it figured out and there would be some kind of a shortcut to take to get this resolved, but no, that is not the case. In every instance, it is this long, drawn-out, prolonged, difficult, back and forth exercise. Sometimes it seems as though we are involved in espionage simply in trying to clear the name of a constituent. We are talking about members of the community who have lived the good life, who have kept their noses clean, have gotten up every morning to go to work, have paid their bills and taxes. We are talking about people who simply want to go through American airspace to another country for a little vacation or on business and who now may find themselves, even more than before when there was just a no-fly list, on another list that will stop them from doing what they want to do.

Someone asked just a few minutes ago what the problem is here, that we all have passports and we can just show our passports and away we go. I have to say that the experience in my office is that even with a bona fide Canadian passport, people can still get stopped. People can still get challenged at the border. People can still get turned back, because somebody somewhere has found something else that pops up, that is above and beyond the passport. With this new regime that we are considering here today, who knows what else might be out there waiting to catch people?

Some people may remember the western hemisphere initiative. We can tell this to our kids some day and they will wonder what we are talking about. There was a time in the relationship between Canada and the United States when people could actually flow freely back and forth across the border. People could go from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. People married each other; because of the free flow we almost thought we were of similar citizenship. We really did. We were neighbours. Then all of a sudden one day we woke up and we were told that in a year or two we were going to need passports. We had to plan for that and it was a difficult experience.

I remember all the trips that colleagues from my caucus made to Washington to speak to senators, to tell them how foolish this was, how it was going to catch so many people and how it was going to affect the free flow of people and trade. We were told not to worry, that it will all be okay, that it will sort itself out, that in time we will not even notice that we have to show a passport. In my own instance and in my own community, this has become a huge problem.

Just with the traffic that flows back and forth nowadays on the bridge in Sault Ste. Marie from Ontario to Michigan, the numbers have plummeted. They have gone down significantly. I suggest it is because of some of this new public policy that we and our neighbours to the south have put in place.

I am sure it affected other industrial sectors, but it has certainly affected the tourism industry. We have a ski hill in Sault Ste. Marie with the best snow in the whole of the U.S. Midwest and into Canada. Searchmont ski hill used to bring in between 50,000 and 70,000 people a year to ski, particularly if it was a good winter. They are not coming as readily anymore because even though Canadians have become more and more accustomed to using a passport, our American friends have not, and they are not coming across the border. They are not coming here to ski, to stay in our hotels and to spend money anymore.

The snow train in Sault Ste. Marie used to bring in 100,000 people a year. We are lucky now if we get 40 people and the number is going down. It is terrible. It is shocking.

This is our economy. This is our bread and butter. This is what puts food on the table for workers in our neck of the woods. They work on the train. They keep the tracks clear. They provide the entertainment. It is a huge industry in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma, and it has deteriorated significantly over the last couple of years as we have begun to experience the infamous western hemisphere initiative. Tourism is down.

I expect that if we bring in what we are talking about here under Bill C-42, right now it is Americans who are not coming here, but if people from other countries have to pass through American airspace and have to get on a list and be prior approved, the numbers will plummet even further.

What happened to the notion of free trade and fair trade, the free flow of people and the free flow of goods and services for a tourism industry in Canada and in northern Ontario that is as good as, if not better than, anywhere else in the world?

We are creating regimes here of public policy, of oversight, of throwing nets out that are catching people who perhaps we did not intend to catch. It is affecting us in a very negative and hurtful way.

We continue to make it more and more difficult. More and more with our public policy we are moving toward an integration with this American culture of paranoia, fear and misinformation.

We started out following on the coattails of the Americans as they were paranoid about the possibility of being attacked by other rogue regimes that might have rockets and nuclear weapons. They came up with the star wars idea which they wanted us to buy into. We said no. We looked at it and thought about it and looked at what it was going to cost and how successful it might be in the end. Some thoughtful, intelligent people look at it, and thankfully as a country we said no to star wars and it went away. We do not hear much anymore about that anti-missile net that we were going to set up to catch missiles from rogue countries.

Then we were invited by the Americans, again in their heightened state of true paranoia, to join them in the war in Iraq that was about weapons of mass destruction. At the end of the day we found that the weapons did not exist. Thankfully, we can give credit to the hundreds of thousands of people across this country who marched, rallied and gathered in town squares to say that this was not the right thing for Canada to get involved in. They were telling the Americans not to do it. They were telling the Brits not to do it. More important, they were telling our government not to follow suit, that it was not in our best interest and it was going to turn out bad.

After a few years of assessing that incursion, that war on Iraq by the Americans, we have decided that it probably was not the world's best moment. It probably was not the Americans' best moment.

It turned out that it was probably a good and smart decision, in keeping with the tradition of Canada as peacekeepers in the world, as a third entity that can bring a position to the table that might resolve conflict as opposed to adding to it.

Then we went on from there to passports. Now we are looking at--