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

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 20th, 2010

Madam Speaker, does he not feel I have a democratic right to stand in this place and make my case on behalf of the people who elect me? If that is not democratic, then I guess we could have further discussion about that.

He asked a question about the people of Panama. Certainly the NDP has a concern and interest in the welfare and well-being of the people of Panama. However, if we simply enter into agreements with it on trade without insisting on strong regulation where human rights are concerned, for example, the government of Panama will think it is fine to continue with the track record that it has shown over the last number of years such as trade unionists being killed simply for exercising the democratic rights that we take for granted in Canada.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 20th, 2010

Madam Speaker, that question allows me to finish my thought.

If we are talking fair trade, I have no problem. I do not think anybody on this side of the House in the New Democrat caucus has any problem with fair trade. The problem is with the kinds of trade agreements we are and have been entering into.

The environment we seem to be creating is causing poverty like we have not seen for a long time, particularly following the collapse in the financial world over the last two years. We are trying to make Canada attractive to foreign investment to the detriment of the people of Canada.

The thinking is this. If we reduce corporate taxes, which takes money out of government coffers, reduce government spending and cut programs, then we become more attractive to foreign investors that we want to take advantage of our resources. This is what in many ways then creates the lack of resources we need to deal with some of the very difficult challenges that poverty presents in places like the Northwest Territories. That is the point I am making.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act October 20th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with my colleagues this afternoon to speak to this bill, a bill that is us causing some real concern.

New Democrats have a tremendous interest in everything fair and just. I do not see much fairness and justice in moving ahead holus bolus in the way we are. We have seen so many free trade agreements come before the House in these last few months. This is another in a series of agreements that the government has chosen to aggressively move toward signing, without really considering the long-term and short-term ramifications to workers, the environment and particularly to the people of Panama, as we challenge them to live up to some of the international accords and agreements that so many countries have signed, such as the environment, the rights of workers and that kind of thing.

I spoke on the Colombia free trade agreement not that long ago. I will make some of the same arguments tonight that I made then because it is not that dissimilar an agreement to the one in front of us.

Canada is entering into an arrangement with a country that has a questionable track record with regard to looking after its workers, protecting the rights of workers to organize and protecting the environment. Not to speak of the impact that all of this will have on the domestic economy of Canada, which is what we should be most concerned about right now.

Across Canada we are working hard in community after community, with provinces doing their bit. However, the federal government in many ways is missing in action, because it is so focused on these kinds of initiatives.

We are pulling ourselves out of the recession and are trying to find ways to create work, get people back to work and get our own local domestic economy in place. We need to rebuild communities that have been challenged, threatened and shattered so badly.

The collapse of the global economy and the financial system was in many ways affected by the rush of countries, like Canada, the United States and others around the world, to deregulate and get into global trading in a way that was not well thought out. In doing that, they forgot that the end result of anything we do, in terms of an economy and trading and work, should benefit people, communities and the country.

The free trade agreements all started by the late 1980s, early 1990s when Brian Mulroney and his government of the day delivered the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Then we saw the Jean Chrétien-Paul Martin Liberal government come into power. We thought it would revisit and rethink some of this and in fact sit down with our partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement and fix some of the obvious shortcomings. However, it did not do that. It did more, from right-wing ideology point of view, to fast-track free trade, not only with the United States but with Mexico as well.

In doing so, it got us into a vortex that has seen the lives of working men and women in Canada become less and less valued. The standard of living has been reduced. The amount of money being spent on programs to support people has been reduced significantly. The role of government has been questioned and reduced.

If we are to continue down the road of free trade agreements, and particularly in this instance of a free trade agreement with a country of questionable labour practices, we end up with is a local domestic economy in Canada that is less than it has the potential to be.

In the mid-nineties and into the late-nineties, Paul Martin moved to deal aggressively with a deficit and tried to create an environment in Canada that was more conducive to this free trade regime. As he began to see the result of that deficit fighting, the program cutting, the government reduction and an improving economy, instead of rethinking that approach to public life in Canada and reinstating some of the programs and money that flowed to provinces and municipalities to support people, he began to give huge corporate tax breaks.

We were told and bought into a way of thinking that we could reduce government spending, which is another way of speaking about reducing deficit because all governments have a deficit and they keep it in balance with the GDP, et cetera. However, as we reduce government spending and the role of government in the public life of a country and as we deregulate more and more industry and reduce the amount of taxes coming in through business and corporations, a number of things begin to happen. One is the government loses its ability to intervene, to be helpful and to support the people that it is elected to serve. However, the thinking is if we do that, we make ourselves more attractive to foreign investment. That is why we can then sign on to more of these free trade agreements. People want to come here and take advantage of some of the human resources and natural resources that are available to us in Canada. However, the rules that attend these free trade agreements are not necessarily in the best interests of the people in the jurisdiction in which the agreement is being implemented.

For example, I was up in the Northwest Territories two weeks ago at a poverty conference. People from every community across those territories gathered in Yellowknife to speak about poverty. Two members of the legislative assembly in the Northwest Territories moved a motion to introduce an anti-poverty strategy, something that six other provinces have done.

In developing this strategy and looking at the needs of the people they are trying to serve and trying to improve the lot of citizens in the communities that they work in, they are turning to their provincial governments. The provincial governments in turn, as they roll out their anti-poverty strategies, are looking to the federal government for involvement, to be engaged, to give leadership, to come to the table and provide resources.

However, the federal government is saying that it does not have the money because it has a huge deficit to deal with now because of the collapse of the economy and the difficulty in the financial world. The government of the day is putting together a plan to deal with the deficit that will be in keeping with the track record we have seen over the last 10 to 15 years our country.

Before we do anything else, before any other priority, including dealing with poverty, we have to ensure we are creating a climate—

Business of Supply September 28th, 2010

Madam Speaker, that question came from a minority voice.

Anybody who knows anything about the census and data gathering, including the former head of Statistics Canada, will say that if the long form census is not mandatory then we are not going to get the information we need, particularly from people who do not want to fill the forms out, such as those who are living on a low income and are too busy trying to keep body and soul together to bother with a form. If we make it mandatory, they are more likely to sit down at the kitchen table, fill it out, and get it in, so that we can get the information that we need.

Business of Supply September 28th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I certainly do. There are many others in this country who share that feeling as well. It has probably even been mentioned a few times here today, but particularly in the context of trying to put in place programs that will help those who are most in need.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said the government is acting like Pharoah in the Old Testament, not recognizing that, if the census is good enough for God when he deemed that everybody needed to be counted, then it should be good enough for the government.

Top Jewish leaders from across Canada wrote the industry minister warning that the loss of key demographic data on religion and ethnicity gleaned from the long form questionnaire would hinder charitable efforts to help members of their own community and, in many instances, the poor.

Canadian bishops have said that a great deal of this information based on data gathered by Statistics Canada is helpful to all faith groups, especially when they try to respond to those living around their parishes who are in need of help.

Business of Supply September 28th, 2010

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak on this very important topic, as it affects the members of my community and people across Canada.

I want to speak to this issue today from the perspective of its impact on those who are most at risk and marginalized in our country. I want to, first, put it into some context.

I have been working very hard for 20 years now at a senior level of government on the issue of poverty and how the policies and programs of government have an impact, directly or indirectly, on the lives of those in communities across the country who are struggling to make ends meet, to keep body and soul together, and to look after themselves and their families.

I believe that government has no greater responsibility than to look after those in its jurisdiction who are most at risk and marginalized. I have watched governments at both the provincial and federal levels, particularly in the last 15 years, try to define the issue out of existence rather than do things on behalf of and in support of those who are challenged.

All of us who are involved have been engaged in a constant, perpetual debate about how to measure poverty. What measurements should we use? Some people talk about the low income cutoff. Others talk about the market basket. There are many other vehicles people have argued about over those 15 years. All the while, the people who are counting on us, who are looking to government for some assistance, who are thinking that we will work with them to help them better their lives, get nothing. They get no leadership, no direction, and no partnership. They get nobody coming to the table to work with them to help them out. We who have been given this great responsibility to set up programs to deal with their issues cannot get to a place where we agree on what poverty is, what the measurement is, what the level is, and what it looks like so that we can get on with putting in place some of these very important programs.

The other context I want to talk about is a very important discussion that has been going on at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who is in the House today, will know about this and so will the member for Huron—Bruce, who sits on that committee and is here this afternoon.

We have been, for two years now, out and across this country talking to people, people who are working with those who are living in poverty and people who are living in poverty themselves. We have talked with different levels of government, municipal and provincial, that are trying their very best to respond to the ever-increasing challenges facing ordinary families and working men and women across this country as the economy changes, the recession hits us, and we try to work our way through it. They are asking who will put in place programs that will assist them in dealing with these very complicated and difficult realities they have not experienced before and now have to deal with.

We are trying, as a committee, to bring forward some strong recommendations to this House that would make a difference. Those recommendations would be based primarily on our ability, together, in a non-partisan way, to decide on some measurements that would indicate to us where it is that we need to start to deal with this very difficult challenge.

As we crossed the country, we discovered that poverty had a different face. I went to Vancouver, Penticton, Castlegar, and Burnaby. I went to Edmonton and Calgary and met with people there. I then went over to Saskatchewan, to Saskatoon and Regina. I went to Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, many places in the wonderful province of Ontario, and then down to Halifax, Moncton, St. John's, and Montreal. We went across this country. We discovered that poverty presents itself in different ways because the challenges are different. We need to get a handle on what it looks like and how we can best make a difference in the lives of our people.

In this context, removing the long form census, discarding important data that will give us the ability as a standing committee to measure poverty and know what it looks like in different places in the country, will tie our hands behind our backs. It takes away the vehicles we need to make the recommendations that government must have to respond to the challenge of assisting people across the country.

Many provinces, to their great credit, have launched anti-poverty strategies in their own jurisdictions. They need the long form census to get that information. They need to continue this important work. If the federal government is going to respond to the call of those provinces, if the government means to come to the table and be an effective partner once again in a national anti-poverty strategy, then we need the long form census to acquire the information necessary to target the resources that will give us the best return on our investment.

It is an important piece of public policy that we are debating here today. I appeal to the government and its sense of fairness and justice, in looking at its own jurisdictions, ridings, and constituencies to agree with me and the members from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Huron—Bruce, Chambly—Borduas, and the many who have been working so hard for a number of years. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will need these vehicles as well. Give us the tools we need to do this job properly.

As an example of how all this will affect the country, let us take a look at the disabled community. The member from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour raised this in committee. Last spring, the disabled got the first indication of what was coming when the government announced that the important PALS survey, which was based on the census, was not going to continue. The PALS survey went to people who reported a disability on their census form. Because the census form was mandatory, it was thought to be a reliable sample of the disabled community.

The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, Statistics Canada's major collection of data on individuals with disabilities, was cut by the government department that paid for it: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. There was real concern and skepticism in the disabled community on how reliable the information would be with the proposed new database culled from tax information, welfare rolls, and similar databanks.

That is just one of the groups we concern ourselves with when we look at poverty and the impact it is having. We are looking at the larger group and the many smaller ones we need to address as we bring forward a national anti-poverty strategy.

I agree with all those who have put their voices on the record in opposing the removal of the long form census, which is an essential element in the work the government does on behalf of its constituents.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act September 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this is an important piece of public policy that we are dealing with here today. It will have some serious impacts, some of which I do not think anybody would disagree with, for example, the removal of any further benefit to serial murderers who are serving life sentences.

I guess the fear that many of us have in this is that when one throws a net out such as this, one catches people who should not be caught, or who will be impacted in a very serious way in terms of their ability to be rehabilitated, to get their lives back on track, get into the world at some point, and to look after themselves not to mention their families.

I ask the member in looking at this bill, is this OAS-GIS as opposed to Canada pension? OAS-GIS, in my understanding of it in the work that I have done out of my office, typically goes to seniors who do not have much income and need a top up usually to get them through the poverty line, so that they can live a life with some dignity and quality attached to it.

This will impact some people who, as has been said, end up in the prison system to begin with because they live in poverty, oftentimes the outcome of that, and the fact that many poor people end up in jail because they cannot afford a good lawyer in the system that we have.

I would ask the member to delineate for me if this is OAS-GIS versus CPP? Also, to expand a bit more on what she considers to be the problem with universality and whether she thinks this might end up at the Supreme Court and being challenged as unconstitutional.

Census September 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, we finally see the government's poverty plan to help low income Canadians: kill the mandatory census and count fewer and fewer of the 3.4 million poor. No poor, therefore no poverty and no plan.

There are many rural Canadians at this number as well. The Evangelical Fellowship said, “God understood a census. You do it to count all people and build a nation”.

Will the government stick with its stiff necked response or join the chorus of Canadians who know we build good public policy by counting everyone?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 20th, 2010

With regard to the Reciprocal Transfer Agreement process: (a) how many federal public service pensions were actually transferred out through this process between 1996 and 2000 to former federal government employees who left voluntarily during the downsizing in the mid-1990s and formed their own companies; (b) how many of these agreements were eventually taken back by Revenue Canada based on a decision that the pensions were not registered properly or that there was a willful attempt to mislead the government; and (c) what is Treasury Board’s current process for confirmation of pension registration with Revenue Canada and what was the process prior to 2005?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 20th, 2010

With regard to funding applications received from John Howard Societies and the Youth Skills Link program: (a) how many funding applications to all federal departments, broken down by program and department, were received from all John Howard Societies across Canada in the current fiscal year, (i) how many were approved, (ii) how many were turned down and why, (iii) how many of those turned down had received funding in previous fiscal years; (b) how many funding applications to all federal departments, broken down by program and department, were received from all John Howard Societies across Canada in the previous fiscal year, (i) how many were approved, (ii) how many were turned down and why, (iii) how many of those turned down had received funding in previous fiscal years; (c) why was the application by the John Howard Society Victoria for Youth Skills Link funding turned down and who will now provide this service in Victoria; (d) why was the application for the same program by the John Howard Society of St. John's, Newfoundland turned down and who will now provide this service in St. John's; (e) why was the application by the John Howard Society of Fredericton for Youth Skills Link funding turned down and who will now provide this service in Fredericton; (f) which projects in St. John's, Newfoundland for the Youth Skills Link funding were supported at the regional level but were finally rejected, and for what reasons; (g) why was the application by the Kamloops John Howard Society for homelessness initiative funding turned down; (h) how many applicants for Youth Skills Link funding, not from the John Howard Society, were contacted by the ministry and asked questions about their proposals before decisions were made about their proposals; and (i) what is the government doing to provide the services for which no funding is provided to organizations such as the John Howard Societies?