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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

Employment May 13th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

Why is the minister, at a time when a surplus is projected in the new Liberal-New Democrat budget, and, as the House leader has said, the economy is booming, and we have just made a commitment to post-secondary students to help them with the cost of education, and we have out-migration of youth in regions of the country, including northern Ontario, cutting the funding to summer employment this year?

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act May 9th, 2005

Madam Speaker, it is not all negative. Anything positive that has come forward from the government by way of budget initiative has happened in the last couple of weeks in a death-bed agreement with the NDP.

There was absolutely nothing for affordable housing in the budget until we came along and said that the government had to put something into the program. There would have been no agreement with anyone in the last week, including Ontario, had we not insisted there be money for affordable housing in that budget.

The only thing positive in the last couple of weeks coming out of the government is coming out because of an agreement with the New Democratic Party that insisted corporate tax breaks be taken out of the budget and the $4.6 billion that would be freed up would go into programs for people and communities.

The only positive things coming out of the government after nine months are those that have been put into the budget in an agreement with the New Democratic Party.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act May 9th, 2005

Madam Speaker, the member talks about garbled. Talk about garbled, I do not know what the question was. He put several things in front of the House.

I want to make it absolutely clear to everyone in case they have been misled, I was not a member of the Harris government. I was in opposition at that time and we were certainly in opposition to the increases to the tuitions at that time.

I also made clear in my comments that I understood this to be a housekeeping bill and the fact that we initially said we would support it. However, a bill that gives legislative framework for a department that for all intents and purposes has been up and running for about a year speaks to the arrogance of the government continuing to put the cart before the horse. It is not interested in listening to anything that comes before the House in terms of the direction Parliament itself has agreed the government should do.

The track record of the government over the last nine months, and in my experience, on anything to do with HRSD is what gives my party concern with this legislation.

The government has moved ahead with the same arrogant attitude that got itself in trouble in the first place with the HRSD boondoggle. It is setting itself up to continue to do the same kinds of things. If we do not challenge at this point the development of the department, if we do not move to put in place the necessary checks and balances to give the government some time to look at the recommendations to come forward the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on the concerns of the not for profit and volunteer organizations with the requests for proposals. then we are being complicit.

The member needs to pay close attention to what those agencies and organizations told us in committee. They live under a regime of intimidation and harassment. That is not healthy if we are to deliver good opportunities and programs for people to receive training and education in the country.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act May 9th, 2005

Madam Speaker, if that is true, I accept it but it certainly is the kind of behaviour I have experienced in the committee as I have tried to bring forward some very important issues on behalf of the volunteer not for profit sector in our communities as they try to understand the new process in place of requests for proposal from the ministry.

In my community of Sault Ste. Marie, the Canadian Hearing Society has been delivering for a number of years very valuable and important support to the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing. It has lost its contract and does not know why. There has never been any indication that it has done anything wrong or has not been performing up to par or beyond.

As a matter of fact, the ministry offered the contract to the March of Dimes. The March in Dimes in turn wrote a letter to say that it could not deliver on the program as it did it not have the expertise to do so. What happened? HRSD said that it was too bad. It has gone back to the March of Dimes and is now in the process of trying to convince it that it should deliver that program. Is that cooperation? Is that called working with partners which are in the not for profit and voluntary sectors? I say not.

There used to be a very cooperative team approach in Sault Ste. Marie whenever new business or industry indicated that it wanted to come to Sault Ste. Marie. All of the not for profit voluntary organizations used to come together under the name “Team Sault Ste. Marie”. They would meet with a new potential employer, ascertain what the needs were, set up training opportunities, work with different funding sources to ensure that the money needed and available could be brought to the challenge and offered to a new company. New hiring halls would be set up. The list goes on of the kind of cooperation that took place. The whole community was the benefactor of that.

We now have an environment in my community and every community across the province where there is competition. People are looking askance at each other and that cooperative approach is slowly but surely moving away. That is how the ministry carries out its mandate in this instance. There is still no action from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development to address that challenge.

Three or four agencies across the province have lost their funding. The day before the investigation review began in our committee, the ministry advised them that they lost their funding. I wrote to ask for a moratorium. The Bloc also wrote to ask for a moratorium. I know labour organizations across the province gathered with these communities and held a public press conference in which they also asked for a moratorium on this until we could get to the bottom of it. We wanted to find our why so many of these long serving, valuable and excellent agencies had lost their funding. However, they lost their funding anyway and there was no moratorium.

Now as we move to put together what I think is a good set of recommendations to the ministry, these agencies, which are caught up with what the ministry agreed was a faulty process, will not have their issues addressed. They will not get their funding back. They will not be around to take advantage of any new approach that might happen after the valuable work of the committee on this file.

That is why I encourage my caucus not to support legislation to give power to a ministry that still does not seem to understand what it needs to do and how it needs to act in communities to deliver first class training, employment and support to unemployed workers and students across the country.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act May 9th, 2005

That is right.

This program is a co-op based apprenticeship program that integrates a college technician diploma program with a 16 month segment of trade school paid apprenticeship training.The Mohawk-Dofasco-Lake Erie-United Steelworkers pilot approach has been applied successfully to the electrical and mechanical disciplines.

One worker says, “In the plant where I was an apprentice there were 400 apprentices in the earlier eighties. Now there are only two. And the small number of apprentices, less than one per cent of Canada's workforce, are among the dwindling number of Canadians receiving any employer support for workplace training”.

Whether we are talking about the old economy or the so-called new economy of highly skilled workers, Canadian workers are well aware that access to education and training is absolutely crucial to their job security and earning power. There is overwhelming evidence showing that everybody wins when every worker has access to skills training.

Investment in education makes sense for the employer, for the worker and for society. We cannot allow education, training and skills development to become simply another commodity in the marketplace, nor can we leave it to the whim of a benevolent employer. It is the very underpinning of a civilized, intelligent and caring society and should be treated as a right or an entitlement. Every citizen should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to contribute to their community to the best of their ability and have access, without fear of cost, to the best training and education possible to that end.

These are the social democratic principles we, as New Democrats, will be bringing to the policy debate in our country and in the House, which brings me to the debate we are having here this morning. We are looking at the new bill that the government has proposed to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and to say to the House that we have some very real concerns.

I have been here for some nine months and I have not seen anything that indicates that the government is at all interested in even coming close to the principles that I have just laid out in the few thoughts that I have shared so far this afternoon in the House.

When we first expressed support for it, we thought the bill was simply a housekeeping bill, giving legislative framework for a ministry already up and running for a year. We think it is good to streamline ministries from time to time, separating social development policy and program work from HRDC program delivery. However at the time we registered our concern that the government, in its ongoing slighting of Parliament, had the ministry in operation a full year without parliamentary approval. We found out later that this is a government that actually continues, time and time again, to ignore Parliament.

Parliament defeated the bill that would have split foreign affairs and international trade, but what is Parliament to the government? Government goes ahead and does it anyway.

A parliamentary committee rejected the appointment of the former mayor of Winnipeg to an environment board because it did not think he was qualified. The Prime Minister does not need Parliament. He went ahead and made the appointment anyway.

A government that has practically no legislative agenda to bring forward to the House, when we have this minority Parliament opportunity to do so much good for the country and our communities, has to give all of us some hesitation. When it finally does bring something forward to actually get our approval, we really need to look at it and to try to understand why it is coming forward in the first place, what the intention behind it is and what the track record is of the government for implementing legislation.

This past year we have watched the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development in action. Now, we certainly oppose the legislation because of the abysmal track record of the ministry and the government this past year with respect to the Department of HRSDC and its core issues, such as funding community agencies, on which we are wrapping up an investigation as we speak; employment insurance; housing; labour market, work skills strategies; and student loans.

I will speak about funding of community agencies in a moment but right across the board this ministry has been a spectacular failure in its first year of operation under its new name and new mandate. We should have known. The government has shown no indication of changing its billion dollar boondoggle ways at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

The Liberal budget did not reflect or incorporate the HR committee recommendations on EI. What a scandal that was. It would have reduced the hours to qualify. It would have addressed the problems with seasonal workers and would have given more incentives to work rather than the disincentive that now exists.

Our colleague, the member from New Brunswick, has been a tireless champion on the EI file and pushes it every chance he gets. He puts it in the face of government and asks when it will actually get down to spending the money, which the workers put into that fund themselves in the first place, on those things that they need when they find themselves challenged by unemployment and looking to take advantage of new opportunities.

The Liberal budget also had nothing for housing and the homeless which falls under this ministry. It was only in a last death bed recantation that the government finally sat down with the New Democrats and actually put something in the budget for housing that will help people in communities across the country.

With respect to student loans, recent studies confirm that the learning bond idea is a bad idea, helping the more affluent Canadians and not helping ordinary and poorer Canadians. The Liberal budget leaves students out in the cold.

Instead of tackling the funding crisis in post-secondary education, the Liberal government chose to spend $4.6 billion on corporate tax cuts and still more on the national debt. That was continuing until just a couple of weeks ago when we convinced them that the money would be better spent on people, on communities and on issues that people know are important and need to be addressed. Because of the New Democratic Party we now have some money ready to flow, if we can get the budget passed in this place, to actually help those folks and help those programs.

Less debt is good but a truly balanced budget must also invest in Canadians' priorities. Under the Liberals, tuition has doubled while student aid has dwindled. That leaves more students buckling under their own debt loads. Others are forced to scrap their post-secondary education plans entirely. The big benefit for students in the budget that the Liberal government brought forward and tabled a couple of months ago is something a person has to die to see. Regrettably, I mean that quite literally: students' debts will now be forgiven at death.

Ontario is a have not province in its treatment of students. This is not what Canadians voted for in the past election. The Prime Minister told Canadians to vote Liberal for a progressive government. He promised to make education more affordable. Where is the follow through? The follow through is now happening to some limited degree because the New Democrats held the Liberals' feet to the fire in an agreement to try to get the budget through because we know that there are things that need to be done for people if they are going to take advantage of the new economy and opportunities that are coming at them.

We now have some money in the budget to help with the question of tuition, particularly for the ordinary and lower income families and students across the province who need support and help in order to access the education that they know they need so that they can contribute with the skills that they will develop in the economy.

Incredibly, students must wait 10 years before applying for bankruptcy protection from student loans. That has been true since 1998 when the Liberals stretched the waiting period from two years to ten years. Only students face this discrimination. Our party will keep fighting until every capable student has a chance to pursue a post-secondary education. Canadians deserve that. Our changing economy demands it.

I want to talk for a couple of minutes about the human resources and skills development funding fiasco, the investigation that we have been dealing with in committee for quite some time now.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is signalling to the Speaker that maybe my time is up. It is the same behaviour he takes part in at committee when he tries to shut down almost everything I bring forward to try to get to the bottom of that scandal.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act May 9th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-23. It has been a long time in the pipe and we still do not have any clearer understanding now than we did when we started as to exactly what this ministry is about or how it will operate.

On the surface, it may be a housekeeping bill to give legislative framework for the new ministry that has been operating since December of last year. I believe we are putting the cart before the horse by creating a ministry and allowing it to operate for more than a year before getting parliamentary approval.

The mandate of this ministry touches on important issues for Canadians, including workplace strategy, apprenticeship programs, employment insurance, student assistance initiatives and the shameful record of the government on social housing, the homeless and persons with disabilities.

When we look at policy relating to what makes our economy healthy and strong, we have some fundamental questions to answer. We have to get it right, whether we operate out of a mindset that says the economy exists to serve human beings or whether we think human beings were created to serve the economy. All social and fiscal policy flows from the primary understanding of the right relationship between people and the economy. Until we build an economy that honours human beings, that permits each and every Canadian to contribute fully and enjoy all the justice and wealth that flows now only to some, I believe we have failed in our work here.

I want to speak for a second about skills development and training. Regrettably, there has been a dismantling of the cooperative approach to training. We need to seriously examine how to improve apprenticeship programs. Canada has a shortage of tradespeople and it will worsen in the next few years. The Conference Board of Canada believes Canada is not prepared to deal with this issue under current apprenticeship programming.

There is a real disconnect in Canada between the need for a trained, skilled workforce and the opportunities available for workers to meet that need. We have systematically dismantled a cooperative approach to training which saw government, industry and labour organizations working together. Funding has been reduced, shifting the burden and the cost of training to the individual in the context of the market. Anywhere we look in the world today, particularly where economies are doing well, education and training are seen as a social investment that benefits everyone, including business and industry.

One of the first and most important decisions by the Irish government, for example, when it moved to kickstart the Celtic tiger, was to invest heavily in education for everyone. Finland sees the availability of skilled, trained workers as essential to any future growth in its economy.

One of the major competitive advantages in the new world economy is a country's workforce. This is why European jurisdictions are changing their laws to allow for dual citizenship to attract immigrants back with their education, training and experience.

In my own community of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, young people are trying to enter the workforce, displaced older workers are looking for retraining and middle age retirees are looking to make a further contribution. No central facility is available and resourced to take these very willing and valuable workers from where they are to where they want to be. There is a patchwork of short term, mostly dead end programs that simply move people from one situation of frustration or poverty to another.

We used to have a network of properly funded community colleges offering programs that were easily accessible, affordable and connected to real work through partnerships with communities and industry. Apprenticeship programs were often a shared cost agreement between a workplace and a college.

Canada, like most western countries, is beginning to experience major demographic changes that will result in fewer workers. Meanwhile, the demand for high level skills will continue to increase in all sectors. Given these trends, competition for highly skilled workers will intensify within Canada and between Canada and other countries.

Recent surveys suggest that Canadian industry is set to lose approximately one-third of its skilled workforce in the next five to ten years and this in many economic growth sectors.

To address these forecasted shortfalls, a great deal of effort on developing efficient and effective training strategies in the trade skills and on replacing its current workforce is required.

One very successful approach has been developed and tested by CSTEC, the Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress, in partnership with Mohawk College, Dofasco, Lake Erie Steel and the United Steelworkers of America.

Social Development May 4th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Social Development.

Last night I spoke to New Democratic critics and ministers responsible for child care across the country. They were unanimous with the child care constituency that the new not for profit agreement which was struck with Manitoba and Saskatchewan is a good start to a national child care program. Even the Conservatives agree that they will not back away from that agreement.

Will the minister today commit to signing no deals for child care that will lead us to having a cash cow for big box--

Social Development May 4th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the--

Child Care April 21st, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Social Development has warned Canadians that there better not be an election or the national child care plan and its first $700 million to the provinces and territories will be in jeopardy. He and his party deserve a game misconduct for this.

Canada does not have a child care plan because the Liberals failed to make it happen in three consecutive majority governments. Canada does not have a child care plan because the Liberal government refused to accept the verdict of Canadians in the last election and work with the minority Parliament.

New Democrats want to work with the government on a child care act. The Liberals said no. Nine months ago, the New Democrats wanted to work with the government on a universal, not for profit, accessible child care system. The Liberals ignored the partnership.

It is time for the government to respect Parliament, respect Canadian voters and decide if it wants this Parliament to work.

Canada Grain Act April 18th, 2005

Madam Speaker, I agree that we need these organizations and we need to strengthen them and make sure that they actually do the job they were set out to do.

The problem is we are seeing over and over again that these organizations are being influenced unduly by bigger interests, well funded, well heeled interests, to the detriment of the smaller countries, smaller interests, small farm producers in Canada. We, as a government, duly elected by the people, need to have more backbone. We need to be willing to stand up more often and say, “Hang on here. We are moving too quickly. We do not fully understand the whole consequence of this ruling on us. We want to have some time to take a look at it and see it through and understand the impact that it will have”.

Every time the World Bank or other organizations that direct investment and development around the world meet, they are being targeted by civil society, by groups of ordinary men and women who understand that these organizations, and in some instances duly elected governments, are being unduly affected by well heeled and resourced organizations with tremendously narrow self-interests. That is my concern.

Canada in this instance under Bill C-40 has to consider absolutely everything, including the timing in terms of what we do. We do not want our grain system contaminated in any way and our farmers affected negatively; just as we do not want this terminator seed introduced into our country or third world countries so that it affects the industry and actually decimates it.

We want to see countries like the U.S. brought to heel and have them, as well as us, respond in a respectful way to some of these rulings. We do not want it to seem that it is always the big guys who are winning at the expense of the little ones.