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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

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I think we would do it in a way similar to what we have done in health care, where we put in place a legislative framework which insists that if the provinces get this money they in fact spend it in the places it is supposed to be spent. For example, on the national child care program, we are asking the Minister of Social Development to make sure there is a legislative framework in place such that the provinces, when they get this money, have to spend it on child care.

I would say the same thing for education. The federal government has to play a stronger role. It has to put in place those vehicles necessary to insist and to make sure that the governments spend the money where they said they would spend it when they got it in the first place.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his participation in this debate this afternoon. I will remind him of a time when he went to university, perhaps, as I did, a time when people applied for it if they did not have the means, but in Canada one still has to qualify.

I do not know about him, but I have four children at home, two in university now. They had to achieve a certain level of marks in the last year of high school in order to qualify for the programs they are in, so that is already here in this country. We already ask of our students that they achieve certain marks in school so they can move on and be accepted into university.

I do not know if he has any children who in the last few years have tried to get into certain universities, but it is quite competitive. As a matter of fact, it is very competitive. I have no difficulty with that. My problem, though, is the fact that there are a lot of young people who have the ability and have shown that they can participate and be successful, but they are not moving on because of the phenomenal financial circumstances they would find themselves in.

When I was going to university, as I started to say, we could apply for loans and grants. We got a certain amount in loan and a certain amount in grant. That grant normally went to help with those ancillary things one needs while at university.

I would have no difficulty with some of what the member has suggested. I would suggest that our party would not have any difficulty with it either. I think we need to enter into a very lively and constructive discussion around some of those things so that we can in fact make sure that this new ministry, as it considers that, puts this in place.

I think that education is only one part of a larger industrial strategy that we need to be talking about for this country, which would put in place those job opportunities for our young people so they do not have to go to the United States or to other countries out there that are in fact competing for their skills now. They would stay in Canada and work in those industries, which I think we have the potential to grow and to support in being successful in this country.

Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act November 22nd, 2004

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon to speak on a subject for which I feel strongly. I remember in the early seventies finishing university at Laurentian in Sudbury and getting a job at Sault College. I joined the staff at that institution who travelled the highways and the byways of the Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma area selling education out there like missionaries talking about lifelong learning, talking about bringing people together to look at what they might do to upgrade their skills, to shift from one job to another, to create something new in their community and to participate in the voluntary sector even. Education at that time seemed to be at a premium and everyone was excited and was participating in that.

I have to say though that in this place and over the last few years working as a member of a provincial parliament in Ontario I have found a distinct change in that atmosphere, a move from a priority on education to other things like deficit cutting and government reduction, I believe, to the detriment of communities and our young people particularly and our country.

It is an honour to rise in the House today on the bill to create the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. On the surface it may be a housekeeping bill to give legislative framework for the new department that has been operating since last December. However the mandate of this department touches on very important issues for Canadians, including workplace strategy, apprenticeship programs, employment insurance and student assistance initiatives.

I appreciate the contributions in this debate by my colleagues from Ottawa Centre and Burnaby—New Westminster, noting the shameful record of the government on social housing, homeless people and persons with disabilities.

When we look at policy related 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 that 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 that 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.

First, as the elected member in the Ontario legislature for Sault Ste. Marie and now as the federal member, I have fought to protect the northern economy. Indeed, in coming here I have discovered, in talking to some of my colleagues, that it is not just the northern economy but it is the rural economy as well. Large communities have done relatively well over the last few years, but those of us out in the far reaches, the heart of this country, who contribute in such a substantial way to the economy that has served us all so well have struggled in the last few years and continue to struggle.

I have been working to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect what we have and to attract new investment. The best and most sustainable economic development comes when natural assets within a community, primarily people, are identified and nurtured.

However, across my riding during the campaign I heard, and I still hear this today, that there are too few jobs or the jobs that are available are only poorly paid part-time positions. I hear about out-migration. My friend from Timmins—James Bay speaks here regularly and asks questions, and is in the media almost every other day talking about the phenomenon of out-migration in the northern parts of the country, in my riding in particular, in northern Ontario and I believe in rural Ontario. Out-migration, unfortunately, is too much a reality.

Our young people leave for the south to complete their schooling and too often find no full time positions when they attempt to return. They find contract work which leads only to contract after contract. They are effectively driven from the district in search of work. When the government does come up with a creative solution, a response in partnership usually with institutions and people who live and know their particular area, we find that one, two, three or four years down the road, the criteria has changed and they no longer qualify for the funding, so a good program disappears.

We heard from Northern College in Timmins. It runs a highly successful job creation program called GAP, the graduate assistance program, which addresses the huge out-migration problem of the north's young. This successful program is now told that it no longer meets HRSD criteria, despite successfully placing 75 graduates.

Subsidies increased dramatically due to the high level of jobs that our graduates obtained. A high percentage of clients averaged $13 an hour. That may not be much to those who live in the city and make much better money, but in many places in the north that is not bad money. Sixteen clients earned over $17 per hour. The program provided up to 52 weeks of funding for many employers who required more training time due to the complexity of the jobs they were offering.

Many grads returned home from college and university and expressed a real desire to stay in their small communities, so obviously GAP did fill the gap. The project received Human Resources Development Canada funding for the first four years of the program as part of youth strategies and then two years as a youth internship program. GAP is obviously expandable as a program. It could be expanded to North Bay, Sudbury or to my own community of Sault Ste. Marie where it could be introduced at Sault College in partnership with the colleges.

In Sault Ste. Marie, in my own home community, we have concerns about the lack of internship support for workers aged 30 and older. There is lack of support for older workers generally and particularly women not qualifying for EI because of part time work. I believe that was due to a change in the criteria brought forward by the government.

Another issue is the difficulty in accommodating workers caught in the quit/ fired argument. It is very difficult to prove unjust firing, and a lot of people find themselves falling through the net without any help.

Another group that seems to be affected rather dramatically in our area is seniors in the fifties group. I had a group of people come to my office to say, for example, that they took early retirement to leave room for younger people to come in, get trained and have jobs. However, after a year or two of retirement at 50, they are finding, and rightfully so, that they still have something worthwhile to contribute. With the skills, experience and knowledge that they have, they could return to the workplace in some other capacity perhaps and contribute. It would make themselves feel better and they could do more for their community and country.

However, there is a significant and serious disconnect. There does not seem to be any support, assistance or training for them to get over that gap. They are a resource we need desperately as we try to compete in the world and improve our GDP, but we are unable to make the connection. There is a need for some focus and work with that group so we can get them back into productive and constructive contributions.

Regrettably there has been the dismantling of a cooperative approach to training. We need to have a serious examination of how to improve apprenticeship programs. There is a shortage of trades people in Canada and it will worsen in the next few years.

The Conference Board of Canada believes that Canada is not prepared to deal with the issue under the current apprenticeship program. It says that 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, with government, industry and labour organizations working together.

Funding has been reduced, shifting the burden and 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 is 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 kick start 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 we have young people trying to enter the workforce, displaced older workers looking for training and middle age retirees looking to make a further contribution. There is no central facility or resources available to take these very willing and valuable workers from where they are to where they want to be and, in fact, to where we want them 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 easily accessed, affordable and connected to real work through partnerships with community and industry. Apprenticeship programs were very 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 high 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 in many of Canada's 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 will be 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.

This program is a co-op based apprenticeship program which integrates a college technician diploma program with a 16 month segment of trade school paid apprenticeship training. The Mohawk, Dofasco, Lake Erie, Steelworker 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 early eighties. Now there are two. And the small numbers 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, the worker and for society. We cannot allow education training and skill 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 entitlement. Citizens should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to contribute to their communities 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 New Democrats in this House will be bringing to the policy debate in our country here in this legislature.

I visit Ireland quite regularly because that is the country of my birth. I came to Canada in 1960, the oldest of 12 kids, with my father who came to work in the mines of northern Ontario. When I go back to that country the thing that impresses me most is not what we hear or read in the editorial pages, such as the National Post where it is suggested that Ireland's good economy is because it has a more competitive corporate tax structure or it is giving away things to businesses to come to that country. It is doing some of that, but we all are.

The member from Dartmouth who spoke a short while ago will understand this because he has family in Ireland. As a matter of fact, we may be related. My mother's name is Savage. She is watching me tonight. We come from the same part of that wonderful country.

If we look at the experience of people in Ireland, back in the seventies when they decided they wanted to make a change and improve their economy, the first thing they did was invest big time in the education infrastructure.

In that country if students want to get a post-secondary education, if they have the capacity to succeed that education and if they sit the tests, which are quite stringent, and get through them, their education is free. Ireland understands that a post-secondary education, whether it is skills training or at the university level, is an investment in people and in their communities. When those people come back, they will participate and contribute not only as paid employees in the workplace, but they will contribute to the overall well-being of their communities in a million different ways, such as a volunteers. They become very positive community assets. They will contribute to society and to industry in a major way, with these new skills and training.

Ireland, as opposed to what happens in Canada, decided that post-secondary education was something it should collectively put money into to ensure that no young person who had the ability, the will and the capacity to go to school, learn and then come back and contribute would be stopped from doing that. Not only is post-secondary education free, but if students have to leave home to participate in that and if they are financially challenged in some way, such as housing, or the ability to feed oneself or to provide those supports to be successful in college or university, they will be provided with grants, not loans like we have here.

Why can we not get our heads around that in Canada? As I mentioned earlier, Finlanders say that the only limit to their growth will be the availability of a skill trained workforce in the future. Why can we not see that? We belong to the same world? We compete in the same global economic context as the Fins and the Irish, yet we cannot find it within ourselves, politically, to invest the kind of money necessary to ensure that all individuals, whether young or old, have access to skills training or to universities and colleges to improve themselves so they can participate in the new economy and in their communities in the way that we know they have the potential to do. Why can we not find a was to make it affordable to them?

The challenge to all of us, as we move forward with this new ministry, is to ensure that it becomes a vehicle to make that connect, if those folks, those communities and our country are to prosper.

Child Benefit Supplement November 19th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, low income parents in Ontario announced that they will take the Government of Canada and their province to court because families on social assistance are being deprived of a benefit intended to reduce child poverty. The clawback of the national child benefit supplement robs from the poor under the guise of promised reinvestment in other programs to help the poor.

My question is for the Minister of Social Development. With New Brunswick not clawing back, Manitoba stopping and Ontario reviewing, will the federal government do the right thing and revamp the program in order to put the money in the hands of the people for whom it was intended?

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims November 2nd, 2004

Mr. Chair, I want to thank the member for participating tonight and also thank the previous two members from my own caucus for laying out for us some of the history regarding this issue.

The government had a chance many years ago to make a difference and obviously chose different priorities and we are back at it again today. We have heard stories from members on both sides of the House tonight that should speak to the heart of anybody in this place for them to do the right thing.

Before I came to this House, I was a provincial member for 13 years, having been elected in 1990. Mr. Charles Duguay, a gentleman in my riding, came to my office in 1991 asking questions about hepatitis C. He and a group of people who were affected wanted some assistance. Here it is some 13 years later and he is still coming to my office, although now I am a federal member, and he is still asking me when something will happen. He wants to know when there is going to be some justice. He wants to know when he is going to get some relief. Many of his friends have passed away in those 13 years and if this goes on any longer, it will be him.

The member for Elmwood--Transcona suggested earlier that if the government was really serious about this, it could request the unanimous consent of the House to have this done by the end of this week. From what I am hearing here tonight, it would get that. Would the member agree that the government could and should do that?

Social Development November 1st, 2004

Mr. Speaker, last week when the Minister of Social Development was commenting on the much anticipated national child care program he said that it was time. This week he said that it would take time.

I know, and he knows probably better than anybody, that we are actually into overtime. The just released OECD report was clear, “without a commitment to not for profit delivery, quality will suffer”.

For your meeting with the provinces and territories, will you commit to a protective mechanism--

Supply October 28th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, could the member shed some light on the fact that over the last 10 or 15 years we have seen a significant drop in transfers to the province, to the point that some of them are finding it very difficult to deliver those very important programs on which communities rely?

Back in the early to mid-1990s the federal government changed the Canada Health Act into the Canadian Health and Social Transfer Act. All who watched that knew there would be a subsequent $7 billion reduction in the transfer to provinces. This created a huge imbalance in my view. This is now beginning to play itself out in terms of the deterioration of health care services and community services in every province.

This is a very timely debate. I am pleased have the opportunity to participate in it and to ask the member to comment on the--

Canadian Heritage Act October 26th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member who just spoke on a good speech. Is the government considering including some reference to ecological integrity? Moving Parks Canada to the Ministry of the Environment calls for that in my view. It would be a wonderful opportunity for the ministry to recognize that we should go there. That kind of language will capture some of the concerns many of us have about some of the activities happening around and beside parks which have an effect on the parks. That is sometimes worrisome.

The other thing I would like to know from the member is this. Will moving Parks Canada under the umbrella of Environment Canada mean that more money will be put into that ministry? Over the last few years, those of us who have parks within our jurisdictions have seen a decrease in the resources and a diminishing of the ability of those parks to tell their story. Will the government now move to turn that around and begin to invest again in those kinds of important activities and protect those assets?

International Interests in Mobile Equipment (aircraft equipment) Act October 18th, 2004

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member for Hochelaga and I understand the challenge for a province like Quebec. It is certainly not dissimilar to an area of my province, northern Ontario, where for a number of years now the government and financiers have turned their backs on the industry that has supported us for a long time and would probably be better suited to providing good paying jobs for people. We have kind of turned our backs on that and have become infatuated in many ways with the new high tech e-commerce type industry out there.

Canada has fallen behind in further research and development and investment in industries such as the auto sector. In my part of the world it is in the mining and the manufacturing of steel industries, and in Quebec it is in the aerospace industry. I think it is a very important and real challenge to the government.

In particular, the member suggested that the Minister of Transport had a lot to say during the election but that he had fallen a bit silent now that he was part of the inner circle of government in terms of the kinds of things he might put in place.

Perhaps the member for Hochelaga might speak a bit about some of what he thinks should be put in place that would concretely support the aerospace industry in Quebec, not dissimilar from my colleague from Windsor who is concerned about the auto strategy and my own concern with how we support and help the resource based industry that exists in northern Ontario.

Child Poverty October 15th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Social Development. Given the prominence of the mention of the child tax benefit as the federal government's major initiative to end child poverty, given the resolution of the member from Ottawa Centre, unanimously passed by the House in 1989, to end child poverty by the year 2000, and given the fact that poverty for children has actually doubled, will the minister ask the provinces to stop clawing back the child tax benefit supplement from the most at risk and marginalized of our children and families?