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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

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.

In conversations I have had with the minister and from the research and work that has been done to determine how much it would cost to have a full scale quality national child care program, we have to be moving within 15 years. Stephen Lewis in Winnipeg said that over 10 years we should spend 1% of GDP. We need a commitment from the federal government for the sustainability of this program.

The NDP election platform, for example, in 2004 committed $1 billion in the first year, $1.25 billion in the second year, $1.4 billion in the third year and $1.6 billion in the fourth year, with significant increases in the fifth year. This was part of our plank to spend almost $5 billion by the end of a fifth year. In other words, the Liberal promises amount to $4 billion by the end of the fourth year while the NDP promises amount to $5.25 billion by the end of the fourth year. Even that is not enough, but it is a good start.

We also feel that there needs to be some vehicle in the legislation to hold the provinces accountable in order to ensure that in fact the money they get for child care is spent on child care and not simply used to replace money that they are spending which could mean no new spaces and no new programs.

The provinces and territories must spend this new money on child care and not, as in the past, claw it back or spend it in other areas. This requires the creation of an independent child care council, like the Romanow health council, to monitor, gather data and report to Canada's citizens.

Everyone in the House has heard me on a number of occasions ask the minister questions or raise in comments or speeches that this program, and if everyone looks at what has happened in Quebec they will understand, needs to be rooted in the not for profit system. No new money should go to the for profit system to develop new spaces.

We are not saying that we should shut down the already existing for profit system that is out there. These folks are working very hard under sometimes very trying circumstances with very little resources to provide a quality of child care that in each province differs. It has given us in fact the patchwork that is spoken of so often by the Child Care Advocacy Association. We are not saying that we need to get into a fight with those folks or threaten what they have been doing for a number years. As a matter of fact, we probably need to be sitting down and talking with that sector about how it can raise its quality.

We are concerned about the arrival or emergence in Canada of the big box multinational child care reality that we see in so many other parts of the world and to some small degree already exists in Canada. We run up a red flag where that is concerned because that will not get us the quality we want.

As a matter of fact, in jurisdictions where for profit has been allowed to run freely, we have seen in a short period of time the disappearance of the smaller for profit and not for profit sectors almost altogether. We want to ensure, coming out of the gate with this, that we are committed to a not for profit system that will give us the quality the research tells us is connected.

Distinguishing ourselves from the Liberals and certainly the Conservatives, New Democrats stand for public funding in a new child care plan going only to the not for profit sector. We support grandfathering the existing for profit sector to ensure it achieves quality standards in the interim period.

As a matter of fact, the member for Quebec spoke before me and we know that when Quebec began its child care program, which is now the envy of the rest of the country, it put a moratorium on any new for profit development so that the not for profit system could get its legs under it and develop in the way it knew it could given the money, support and the room that was necessary.

Our fight is with big box child care, for example, U.S. and Australian corporations that gobbled up neighbourhood, municipal and commercial operators, resulting in lower quality and fewer real choices for parents and families, including in remote, rural or northern communities. Eddy Groves, for example, a Canadian who owns the ABC Learning Centres in Australia, owns 20% or some 900 centres in that country. He has told Canadian media that our new national plan would be an excellent opportunity for him.

The Conservatives say the Alberta position will allow for flexibility and choice. Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Dr. Raj Pannu said yesterday that this is Tory-speak for protecting for profit day care and allowing more government subsidies to flow to private companies operating child care facilities. The previous Alberta NDP leader said:

The Tory position is about petty turf politics with Ottawa at the expense of children and families. But Albertans want cooperation between all levels of government on important programs like child care, not political posturing

We do not demonize the small for profit operators, many not making a profit, who would profit in not for profit. There was a case in Alberta at a for profit centre recently of a six month old baby with severe asthma problems locked and left at the end of a working day. It took the mom three hours to get to her baby. Yes, this is one incident, but it is part of a series of incidents. If we google child care on any given day, we will see the stories that are being written about what is happening out there primarily in the for profit sector across the world.

CUPE got a legal opinion of Canada's exposure to big box child care. It is clear that we have to be careful where we go in terms of NAFTA and what that could trigger in terms of what we might be able to do to control the quality and the kind of national child care program that we want.

I want to share with the House, in response to the resolution before the House here today, some of the challenges coming at us from primarily the Conservative Party and its supporters. I have travelled the country over the last six to seven months, and I have heard from people. I have been in Halifax, Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, Winnipeg, Regina, Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster. There is a growing anticipation and expectation across the country that finally, after 20 or 30 years of really hard work, of almost getting there a couple of times, that we will this time get a national child care program.

The passion, the commitment and the expectation is tangible as we meet with these people and as they come to tell us about what they are doing, what they would like to do, and what the expectation is out there among the families and neighbours as they talk about child care. There is a sense of hope now, after years of promise by the Mulroney government in the eighties and the Liberal government in the nineties, that we will finally get a national child care program.

For example, I heard from Margie in Halifax, an administrator and director of a child care program who actually went out on strike with her workers in order to get better pay because she knew that when better pay is given to the workers in a child care facility, they give better quality service and they stay longer in the system.

I remember Sharon in Nova Scotia coming all the way from Cape Breton to talk to me about the need to be inclusive of children with disabilities. I remember a woman from the farm community in Saskatchewan coming to the meeting I had to tell me not to forget the farm communities and the farm families because they needed child care as much as anybody else.

Those stories go on across this country. They need to be heard, they need to be told, and they need to factored in to the government's decision making process where child care is concerned.

We must act and act soon. The answers lie not in vouchers or a child care tax deduction, but in a sustainable quality child care system enshrined in legislation that sees both levels of government accountable and public money spent on not for profit child care.

It is a choice time for our country to go with the best research we have, the best studies, to say yes to our children for today and tomorrow. Every one of us here can be architects of a truly national policy, a truly national system. We can build a society that makes the welfare of its younger members its top priority, and create a society that is welcoming of children and supportive of their growth and development.

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on this really important subject at this moment in our history, when we can, if we can all work together, put in place another national program of which we can all be proud and that will serve us as we build this great nation.

It is good to be here this morning and to recognize that the minister has taken time out of his busy schedule to listen to what we in opposition have to say about this bill. I know from discussions I have had with the minister that he is thoughtfully listening and trying to incorporate as best he can that which will be in the best interests of our children, our families and a good child care system across the country.

The NDP and I welcome this debate on child care. It is a remarkable debate and is happening not only in this House but across the country from coast to coast to coast. It is an important debate that is taking place in communities, with families, within the child care constituency, with academics and in the media.

The NDP does not agree with the ideas put forth in this motion, because, frankly, a high quality child care and early learning system is about building a nation, not tearing it apart. It is about helping child development in those critical early years of learning so that our children grow up with the best possible start in life. A quality child care and early learning system not only grows our children, it grows healthy communities and a healthy economy.

To talk about a national child care system is to talk about what our country's social priorities will be. It is to talk about nation building, which is what medicare and public education have been. Done well, as Margaret McCain and Roy Romanow have written, it will address child and family poverty and we will enhance school performance and workforce productivity.

Our party cannot stand for vouchers or for child care tax deductions because studies have repeatedly shown that they make child poverty worse and widen the already scandalous gap between the haves and have nots in our country. Vouchers and child care tax deductions do not produce a child development system.

It is a false notion, one perpetrated by a Conservative Party stuck in another century and another generation, that this is a debate between stay at home parents and those who work. Nothing is further from the truth.

Parents are and should and will be the primary caregivers of their children. A quality child care and early learning system is not the nanny state. It is not a judgment on or a condemnation of our mothers, grandmothers, fathers or grandfathers. I can hear many of those mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers from back at another time now shouting, “Thank God for any help parents might receive to do the best possible job raising their children and grandchildren.”

They would welcome the many potential tools and assets in a quality system: tools such as respite programs that help parents when they are sick, have a medical appointment or a job interview, and seamless programs that help parents deal with juggling work and family duties throughout the day, particularly before and after school. There are opportunities that come with the child for programs or parenting courses or to join child care centre boards as volunteers and have a direct say in the education and development of their children.

No, this debate is not about the nanny state or about any attack on stay at home parents. It is about deciding whether we will build a nation and belong to the 21st century. with kids who grow up because of these best starts to get some post-secondary education, to get and keep a job and to be productive citizens in our social economy.

We have a rare opportunity to end the years and years of broken promises from both Conservatives and Liberals. We have the opportunity to say a resounding no here this morning to a Conservative vision of yesteryear and from another generation.

We as New Democrats have been very clear in where we stand on this subject. We have been working very hard, my staff and I, and my colleagues in caucus. Other New Democrats across the country have meeting, phoning and putting together what we think is a very doable, simple, yet successful, approach to how we put in place this national child care program.

I have had this discussion on at least three different occasions with the minister. I think he understands and he is trying, given the challenge that he has with provinces that have different ideas and notions about what this should be about, to find a way to make this truly a national child care program that respects what we need to do on behalf of our children and families.

We believe that any national child care program needs to have a number of characteristics, a number of supports in order to make it successful. We believe that it needs to be enshrined in legislation. We do not start off on a trip not knowing where we are going, not having the requisite resources available to ensure that we get from here to there, and ensuring that we do not get off on the wrong road and end up some place where we did not want to be in the first place because factors take over, as we go down that road.

We believe that the legislation should be enabling. It should be a piece of legislation that empowers the provinces to deliver this wonderful national child care program that we are all anticipating could be put in place. A national child care act should guarantee that the principles that those who have looked at child care be honoured, respected and supported. These are principles such as: quality, universality, accessibility, educational development and inclusive of children with disabilities who also have a role to play and want to participate. These families have hope for those wonderful children who should be looked upon not so much for their disability but for their ability. A child care program should have the resources, the interest, and the developmental approach that would take into account the challenges and opportunities that exist there.

We believe that a piece of legislation would look at two way accountability. A child care system would be sustainable. That is where federal accountability comes in. The federal government must commit beyond the five year, $5 billion it has announced.

Quebec's plan, as we heard from the member from Quebec previously, touted as gold standard costs $1.3 billion a year. The federal government only wants to give $1 billion a year to all 13 provinces and territories over the next five years.

I recognize that the $5 billion is a start and will buy some of the infrastructure that we need to get this national program on the way. However, the government needs to be thinking and sharing with us and the provinces about where we go after the five years and how much money it is talking about.

We have heard the Child Care Advocacy Association, the Canadian Labour Congress and others say that we need to be moving within 15 years, although Stephen Lewis at the conference that you and I were at in Winnipeg, Mr. Minister suggested that--

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I thought the minister made an excellent contribution to the discussion this morning, particularly his focus on the early learning and development nature of a new child care program, if we are to have the kind of quality that everybody who has looked at this anticipates we could have.

Having laid that out so very clearly, has he made the connection yet between quality in a national child care program and a not for profit delivered system? Has he given much thought to the possibility of some legislation? We in this place could have a full public debate about what it is that needs to be in a national child care program if it is going to be of the quality that we all expect. What does the minister want to do on that front, particularly following his discussion in British Columbia on Friday?

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, what problems do the Conservatives have with the principle of accountability and a program that asks the provinces to answer to the federal government for the expenditure of the money that will flow toward high quality licensed child care, but more important, the issue of choice which they have brought to the floor here today?

In my experience as a parent and as I have crossed the country, I believe parents have made choices. They have chosen to participate in the workforce and they know they can do this best with high quality licensed child care. Women have made choices. They want to participate in the workplace using their intelligence, gifts, training and education and to feel good about that. They know they can do that best when they have high quality licensed child care.

The economy and the workplace have made a choice. They want women with their gifts, their talents and their training in the workplace. I wonder why it is the Conservatives cannot accept that.

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am relatively new to this place and have seen on other occasions, perhaps under other rules, members sitting in different places and participating.

However, I want to repeat that we will not be supporting the resolution put forward by the Conservatives today because we think it will simply contribute to the growing gap between the rich and the poor and will fail to take advantage of the economic value that exists in good quality, not for profit, licensed child care.

I want to ask the opposition leader how he squares the circle in terms of this question of choice: between the women who do choose, 70% of them right now, to be out in the workplace, and the fact that we have huge lineups for licensed, registered, not for profit child care today in our country.

Questions on the Order Paper February 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, we in this party will certainly not be supporting the Conservative motion today because we think it will just put another nail in the coffin of--

Petitions February 9th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I would like to present a petition on behalf of approximately 3,000 people who say that the grievous situation in Darfur, Sudan has resulted in the deaths of at least 70,000 civilians, with more than 10,000 dying each month and close to two million forcibly displaced from their homes, and that action be taken to provide protection for the people of Darfur by bolstering the mission of the African Union and widening its mandate to include the protection of civilians.

Further, they call upon the Canadian government to exercise greater leadership in the United Nations to energize the international community to take seriously its responsibility to protect the people of Darfur.

Supply February 3rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I have to be honest and say that I am not quite sure what to suggest in terms of the business risk program. Certainly, in talking to the farmers that I am in contact with, there needs to be a whole restructuring of the way that the food industry works.

Farmers are still working as hard as ever, taking the risks that they have always taken, being as creative as they can be, and yet they seem to be finding it more and more difficult with every day that goes by. Those of us who consume food are paying more and more money for the food, particularly the meat that we buy but it does not seem to be working its way back to the farmer. The farmer is not making the return on that investment that he should expect. There is a problem there somewhere.

I would hope that the minister when he comes to northern Ontario again would actually invite people like myself to some of those meetings because I want to learn too. I want to understand how I can be more helpful to the minister and to the government, and the farming community to actually improve its lot.

In our area we are looking now at the possibility of putting in place a small to medium sized processing plant so that the farmers themselves can be more in control of more of the pieces and have more profit centres that would generate some revenue that would keep them going. It would give them some return in the good times that they could set aside that would carry them through the more difficult times. That would improve the situation for all of us: the consumer; the government, which is trying to manage this very difficult circumstance; and in particular the farmers themselves.

I would get involved in that kind of thing. Make it easier for the farmers to access the capital that they might need, as we are trying to do in Algoma, and set up a processing plant if the feasibility study says yes. That is something that would probably have some potential and if we were willing to make the effort, take the risk, and put the money in, there might be some good return on that. Partner with us on that and do not make it difficult, actually be there with real money on the table to share the risk with us, and at the end of the day share in the good news and the profit.

Supply February 3rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the chance once again to speak on this very important subject in the House this afternoon. The minister who is here once again will know that I have been on my feet three times since the House came back last fall on this subject, so obviously this issue is not going away.

I want to again credit the fact that he comes and listens to what members have to say. He is probably out there trying to find a resolution and an answer to this issue, but the fact that it is taking so long, that we are here yet again having a debate on this issue must indicate to him that there are still problems out there. I am sure he is hearing it himself. I know the last time I spoke in the House his colleague, the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell, spoke very eloquently about what he was hearing in his riding and there was some dialogue back and forth at that time.

The issue has not really gotten any better overall. There are specific instances where farmers in fact have been given a bit of relief and we have to give credit where it is due. I think that was due to the pressure that was brought by the debate that happens here, by the information, the pressure and the lobbying that goes on from individual members to the minister and his ministry, and to the fact that they are working probably as hard and as quickly as they can to push the envelope, to put pressure on those pieces of government that must work in this instance to ensure that those farmers get what they need.

There are indeed some farmers out there who have gotten some money but still there is this black cloud hanging over the industry. There is still a lot of angst in the farm community about their futures. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and the issue of CAIS is only one small indication of the fact that there is such a big demand on it at the moment. There seemingly continues to be a big demand and the fact that it does not seem to be holding up well under the strain indicates to us that there are bigger problems.

The minister will remember that the last time I spoke in the House I indicated that there were two agendas flowing out there: the agenda of the big corporate farm industry, the packers, the international trade bodies and the work that goes on out there and the interests of those people; and then there is the agenda of the small family farmer and producer in areas like Algoma, Nanaimo--Cowichan, whose member spoke a few minutes ago, and Timmins--James Bay.

I do not think there is anyone in this place who does not represent some piece of rural Canada and who is not hearing from their farmers and listening to some of the challenges. As a matter of fact, in the early new year, I attended the annual meeting of beef farmers, the Algoma Cattlemen’s Association, in my own area. There is tremendous angst out there that even though there is some money flowing now to get them through the short term, in the long term they are still not confident that there is a livelihood here. They are not confident that there is an industry here that they can continue to participate in and continue to contribute to the overall economy of this country to make it work because CAIS is not giving them the resources and the wherewithal that they need. That in itself, as I have said, indicates to us that there are in fact bigger problems.

However, before I get to that, perhaps the minister might want to comment very briefly on the CAIS review. A committee was being established by the ministry to go out and take a look at how it is working, what needs to be changed, and how it could be improved, et cetera.

I am not quite sure what the status of that is at the moment. I wrote him a letter a few months ago suggesting a couple of things. Small farmers should be represented by a small producer. I suggested the gentleman who came here with his family last fall. He continues to have a keen interest, is continuing to work very actively and aggressively within his own farm community and on the provincial scale with the Ontario Cattlemen's Association, and has a wealth of knowledge and a good grasp of the very real issues that on the ground affect farmers on a day to day basis.

I think he will be able to contribute in a very constructive and positive way to this discussion. If it is not him, then somebody else, but I would suggest that if the minister is putting together a group of people to actually carry out this review, going across the country and listening to people, it would be good to have somebody of that nature on the committee.

I am not sure if he has acted on that yet, but he might want to share that with me. I would certainly be interested to know. Through the communications that happen in this place, perhaps he could speak to people who are watching the debate this afternoon to let us know what is happening on that front.

There was another issue that I raised in my letter, which I did not get a response to yet. I am wondering if there has been any progress made. I suggested that something be done to not factor into the formula, which kicks in when CAIS is applied for, those moneys that flow in particular instances like the BSE situation that we are still working our way through.

The border is to open in early March. We are still hopeful. There is a still a green light on that. I think people are holding their breath. They are anxious about that and hoping that in fact it will happen.

Over the last couple of years they have had to apply to the government for special funds that were made available. Some of them were able to access that, but those funds and the restructuring that the farmers have to go through in order to survive that difficult period of time is now being factored into the formula for CAIS. In some instances it is affecting the results.

I know that initially there were some farmers in my own area who did not receive any CAIS funds because the computer kicked out the application that went in because of some of the restructuring that was done. Initially, they were not given the information as to why it was that the CAIS did not work for them or they did not receive their payout from CAIS. They were left not knowing and trying to make decisions on a day to day basis as to what their future would be, whether they would even continue in the farm industry. There are a lot of holes in this. There are a lot of cracks into which stuff can fall that farmers need addressed immediately.

I believe the issue before us today, brought forward by the Conservative Party on this opposition day motion, is that we drop altogether the contribution that farmers make in order to be registered in the CAIS program. I understand why that would be brought here, given the very difficult circumstances on a day to day basis of trying to stretch the dollars that farmers are running into and why that would be something the government should very seriously look at and consider. I guess on Tuesday of next week we will be voting on the debate that we are having this afternoon.

The system is not working. The CAIS program that was put in place to help farmers in situations where they are confronted with circumstances such as weather, fluctuations in the market, et cetera, that made it difficult for them to move from one year to the next has now run into a number of very huge tidal waves in the last couple of years. One in particular that everybody is aware of is the closing of the border to our beef by the American government and the challenges that presented.

It behooves us to take advantage sometimes of these realities, to actually take a good look at why it is that what we have put in place is not working and why it is that, as we look forward to the possibilities that might come at us and that we have experienced, we need to make some changes.

We have to ask ourselves why it is that programs like CAIS are needed in the first place. What is it that they are targeted or mandated to respond to so that the program can evolve, change and get fixed so that it does in fact respond in a meaningful way to the new realities?

The question is how quickly the government responds, how quickly farmers who phone and leave messages get responses, and how quickly they find out whether in fact they actually qualify. Or, if they do not qualify, how can they appeal and how that appeal process works, and the chances in that appeal that they might yet be successful once they make their case. All of that seems to be--

Social Development February 1st, 2005

Mr. Speaker, profit should never trump a child's safety.

Quality and for profit too often contradict one another. Quality means retention of workers, decent wages, enriched learning activities, higher licensing standards, consistency of care, parent involvement through a volunteer board and lower staff-child ratios.

Is not the real reason the federal government needs for profit centres is to deliver on its arbitrary promise of 250,000 child care spaces, even if it means it will jeopardize the quality of care for our children?