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

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010 May 13th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the chance this morning to follow the comments of my colleague from Outremont and to challenge the government on some of the initiatives we find ourselves having to deal with these days in the House, particularly at a time when hundreds of thousands of people across the country still do not feel the recession is over.

The finance minister stands regularly in this place, particularly in response to questions from some of us who are concerned that the impact of this recession is not only not stopping, but continues to grow in both breadth and depth. We continue to discuss and move forward on trade agreements with other countries when we have not righted our own domestic economy. If we, at the end of the day, decide that it is in the best interests of Canada to do those trade agreements, we can negotiate from a position of understanding what is best for us and from a position of strength.

A number of reports done in the last week or two have given me cause to pause with regard to where we need to go in light of our economy. The recession has created situations and conditions for people in the country that we have not seen for a long. It is important, in the context and in light of some of the discussions we are having on free trade agreements, taxation and trading with Colombia, that people know what is going on.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have lost their jobs. Around 50% have been able to qualify for employment insurance, but that 50%, now that the recession continues to roll on, are either falling off EI or are at a point where they will no longer qualify for EI. The jobs are not out there to give them back the income they had before the recession started. Some of them are finding jobs, but they primarily tend to be jobs in the service sector. Those jobs pay minimum wage or maybe a couple of dollars above that. It is simply not enough to pay the mortgage, to continue to pay for the cost of education for their children, to feed themselves in a way that speaks to good nutrition and health and to participate in a fulsome way, in a healthy way, in their communities.

For example, the Citizens for Public Justice released a study that it did over the last couple of months called “Bearing the Brunt”. I am talking exactly about this reality. People who do not qualify for EI cannot find jobs or take on jobs that do not pay them enough to reach the cost of living. People have fallen off EI and cannot find jobs. People who never qualified for EI in the first place and those who were poor before the recession every began find themselves relying on the good graces of their municipalities or provinces under the social assistance programs. More and more they are losing hope in being able to cope. The Citizens for Public Justice was very clear about some of the facts and statistics. We should look to that group and consider it in the light of anything that we do these days where the economy is concerned.

The poverty rate, for example, was 11.7% in 2009, an increase of over 900,000 Canadians from 3 million in 2007. That is 3.9 million Canadians living in poverty, while we discuss trade agreements and the ramifications for us in terms of taxation in our country.

The child poverty rate likely increased to 12% in 2009, an increase of 160,000 children compared to 2007. The number of poor children has thus risen from 637,000 children in 2007 to at least 797,000 children in 2009.

The unemployment rate rose from 6.3% in October 2008 to 8.6% in October 2009, and 153,600 jobs were lost by parents of small children during the recession.

This report goes on to say, in its analysis, that after the last recession, it took eight years to get us back to the unemployment rate that was present before the recession started, and that it took us 12 years to get the poverty rate back down to the rate that it was before the recession started.

The question that we have to ask, how long is it going to take us to get to a place where some of our fellow citizens, our neighbours and family members who are out there looking for jobs, who want to do nothing else but simply take care of themselves and their families, can comfortably do that again? Why is it that we are not focusing on that here as we discuss this with each other in this House?

The report also goes on to give a very alarming statistic, particularly when we consider the impact that it will have, not only on individual persons and families but on the financial system as a whole. Consumer bankruptcies increased by 36.4% between the end of the third quarter of 2008 and the end of the third quarter of 2009.

A few months ago, as the recession was in full swing, I listened to an economist in my own community talk about trade and the economy. He said that the recession would come at us in waves and that the last wave would be when those people who have lost their jobs, who fall off EI or no longer qualify for EI, find themselves on welfare and begin to use all of the credit available to them, if they have not already used it up, maxing out their credit cards and lines of credit, and selling off all their assets, because that is the only way to qualify for social assistance in this country, and then they begin to default on those loans.

That will have a big impact on the families themselves, as their credit ratings disappear, as they no longer have access to any discretionary money that might be available to them, even if they have to borrow it, as they no longer are able to even rely upon the good graces of their families because they find themselves in the same situation. When we put that together with the impact that it will have on the financial system, as these hundreds of thousands of people begin to struggle and to default on their loans, it will also have an impact on the economy of this country.

Again, I put this to the House. The government brings forward pieces of legislation into this House that talk about further trade with other countries that we are probably, according to the treasurer, in better shape than, but who are struggling with the same kinds of issues in their own jurisdictions. Why we are so aggressively chasing free trade agreements and all that goes with them at a time when we should actually be circling the wagons, taking a look at what has gone wrong with our own economy, and trying to do something about that?

Anybody who thinks that there is not something wrong with our own economy is not listening to some of those who are reporting these days on the impact that it is having on those among us who are most at risk and most marginalized.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act May 6th, 2010

Madam Speaker, the member's speech was very thoughtful and well presented. She covered a lot of ground, particularly where the shortcomings of the employment insurance system are concerned. She indicated her support for this small initiative, for which we thank the government, but obviously, all of us think we should be doing more.

My concern is that we are not getting the time necessary to really dig into this bill and give it its due process. Does the member have any thoughts around how the government might find a way, as it has in so many other instances, to claw this back from these people?

She was on the committee when we introduced the employment insurance benefits for the self-employed. In talking to some of the self-employed in my area, I am finding that if the self-employed own their own business, if they pay into and collect from the fund and their business continues to make some profit while they are off on benefit, at the end of the year they could lose that money. It could be clawed back.

The government has a way of doing that. It is like a Trojan horse. It does this with many of our military who go off to foreign countries to defend freedom and democracy. They come back to find, in big part, that the pension they have paid into and thought they would get when they turn 65 is clawed back well.

The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who champions the causes of veterans over and over again, has indicated very clearly how that happens. In fact, he has brought bills to the House and they have been opposed by the government. Even if a bill passes, the government will not enact it to protect soldiers. Soldiers come to the time in their lives when they expect to get their pension only to find that a big chunk of it is clawed back.

Are there any guarantees the member knows of that this piece of public business will not end up in the same pile as the others, where folks thinking that when they come home they will get this benefit only to have it clawed back?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act May 6th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I want to first of all commend my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for his eloquent remarks here this morning where this very important piece of public business is concerned.

There is no one in the House who should question his experience, knowledge and understanding of this issue. As a matter of fact, he came to this place riding on an issue that was very current and immediate in his own riding back in 1997. Then shortly after getting here, he crossed the country, meeting with people to talk about the impact of the changes the government of the day had imposed on EI and the impact that would have on families and workers.

Here we are now, almost 15 years later, and we are still struggling with this issue of how we can get help to people who need it. How do we get a government that seems to have blinkers on to recognize that there are people out there who are desperately in need and hurting?

As the report that came out earlier this week from Citizens for Public Justice said, with the poor who have lost their jobs, some qualified for EI and have now run out of their EI, and the many who did not qualify, around 50%, are out there now. The recession for them is still on. It is still raging. The recovery is not happening for them as the treasurer suggests in this House, and they are looking for some help.

Here we have a small opening today to provide some assistance to a group of people who, when they come back from giving their all for their country in Afghanistan and their family has had a child, need some time to make sure that little person gets a good start in life with his or her parents present and available. We should do that.

I agree with the member that we need to expand this. There are others who are going over to Afghanistan as well in the same circumstances and who need to be recognized. So I am wondering what recommendation he would have for me, as a member on the committee, to push the government to actually include the change he has suggested here this morning.

We do not want to turn this into a long-drawn-out debate. It does not need to be, but the government could, in all good will and if it wanted to, recognize that this needs to be expanded to include a few more people. We are not talking big dollars here. We need to include a few more people who actually would benefit big time from the change he suggests.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act May 6th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the member in his comments is always on point and makes sense in terms of his critique of the minister and the government where it hands out small crumbs to people in our country who are in need of support from the government. I agree with him that today we have a bill that we can all get behind and support.

Certainly these days it is easy to be cynical of a government, sometimes for very political reasons. In this instance, though, we can agree on the right thing to do which is to extend a benefit for a group of people when they come back from Afghanistan. We must consider the government's vote on a bill that went through this place yesterday regarding the pensions of veterans. There was a lack of interest and support from the government to reform that whole system, but this bill is something the government is doing that is right.

The member and I and the member for Chambly—Borduas have seen in committee other pieces of legislation that present a flashing bright light on the political horizon for the government, but at the end of the day, when it actually rolls out and we look at the finer details on how many people it actually helps and what it is doing for a group that we want to give assistance to, it really is not what it was cracked up to be.

I wonder if this bill is a Trojan horse. I wonder if the member has discovered anything in the nature of this bill which in a week or two down the road as we begin to look at it may show it to be less than it is presenting to be today.

Criminal Code May 6th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I noted that my colleague spoke of the American experience in his speech. The U.S. went down this road of being tough on crime, throwing people in jail and being heavy on punishment, to find it really was not working.

I remember hearing a speech in Sault Ste. Marie from a Jesuit who works with gangs in San Francisco. He very clearly made the case that simply throwing people in jail and getting tougher in terms of punishment was not working for the people he was in contact with every day in the organization where he was executive director. He said to me that Canada should learn from the U.S. experience, that we should not go down that road and that we do not need to spend that kind of money or create that kind of pain and hardship for everybody concerned.

I would like the member to expand a little on his knowledge, understanding and experience of the American experiment that did not work.

May 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of that letter as well and would be interested in allowing the parliamentary secretary to continue, to indicate whether, as I believe has been done, the agreement has been signed and the federal government has committed the $50 million. We are now wondering about the process for that to flow and some timeline in terms of when that money will flow so that the investment can be made.

Huron Central has indicated that time is of the essence as it looks at trying to source materials and sign contracts for people to actually do the work. I would be interested in knowing what the process is, what the timelines are, and if there is any commitment at all from the government to go beyond the freight piece of this to look at actual passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

May 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to have a second chance at asking this question which I asked a few weeks ago. It was initially for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, but it was the minister responsibile for FedNor who answered. It is about an important subject with regard to transportation, specifically rail in my area of Ontario. I was very disappointed in a couple of ways with the answer I received.

The answer was in the affirmative, that the federal government was actually going to come to the table with the $15 million that was requested in partnership with the provincial government to make sure that the rail line between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, the Huron Central line, stayed in place. We have been talking about this for quite some time in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Algoma and in this place. I was pleased that the answer was yes. Given that the provincial government had signed on to an agreement, the federal government agreed that the money would be there.

What disappointed me was the flippant way in which the answer was given. The minister could have expanded on the yes and talk about how the process would unfold in terms of the partners at the table. He could have said that a letter would be coming. I still have not seen a letter indicating how the process would work, how that $15 million would be delivered, how the necessary agreement among all the partners would be arrived at, or what the timelines were. I did not get that. What I got was a yes, the government said it would do it.

I then received a bit of a backhand, which I felt was rather unbecoming of the minister. It was certainly disrespectful of me as the member of Parliament for Sault Ste. Marie. It was as if to say that the yes was all due to the efforts of the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, who happens to be seeking the nomination for the Conservatives in the next election. That answer indicated that I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I have in front of me the questions that I asked in this House on two occasions. There was one in March of this year, which is the question I am speaking to today, and another one in the late winter. I also drafted a number of letters to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I spoke twice to him here in the House about this issue and had some conversations over the weekend by email with the minister's office. I believe I did my part in making sure that this very important investment actually happens for Sault Ste. Marie.

My question today is for the parliamentary secretary. I appreciate that he is here this afternoon. He answered my first question a month or two ago on this subject, and he should have some understanding of the importance of this rail line to our region.

I wonder if he could elaborate a bit more on how this process will unfold. The federal government is in. The federal government is at the table. What are the timelines? Who needs to be in contact with the minister's office to ensure that all of the agreements are signed and that this happens as expeditiously as possible?

Poverty May 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, last year the number of Canadians living in poverty increased by 900,000. EI covers only half of the jobless. Welfare cases are up more than 20% in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. and food bank use is skyrocketing. After the last recession, it took eight years for the job rate to bounce back. It took 14 years for the poverty rate to recover.

Are these sad statistics going to be the government's legacy, or will it now start to address the growing impoverishment of our citizens?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 26th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here for a good chunk of today listening to the debate on this legislation that will affect so many individuals who look to Canada as a safe refuge in times of severe and immediate difficulty. I have a number of questions which arise in the context of having listened for a few years to people who work in the refugee effort across Canada. They try to help those people who show up on our shores having left their homes under serious duress. They are looking for a place to be safe and hopefully, in their minds, to ultimately call home for themselves and their families.

As I listen to the discussion in the House on this legislation it seems that as a country we are becoming narrower and, if I dare use the word, meaner in terms of how many people we will accept. Given the great mass of land that we occupy as a country and the resources that we have at our disposal, and the wealth that we generate every year, we should be willing and able to share that with the rest of the world. After all, we do live in a global society these days in many ways. People say that to me and as previous governments and the current government have moved to change the refugee system, it has not been to be more open or welcoming and helpful, but to be narrower and more judicious and specific in terms of the way that we allow people into the country and then how we treat them once they are in.

I am wondering if this is in keeping with the history and the values of Canada where accepting people who are in need of a safe haven into our country has been the case. I am concerned that in this bill we are delegating safe countries that we will not allow people to establish refugee status in Canada and countries that we will. We will pick and choose who, having experienced great trouble in their lives, can arrive on our shores at any time .

I am also concerned that we are turning over a lot of the decision making to the discretion of the minister. It is no reflection on any one minister. I am saying that when we turn the decision making on matters of this import to people, particularly people who are at great risk and are vulnerable, we set ourselves up for very difficult realities that could unfold.

I look back to the Irish diaspora. The minister will understand this because he has a great appreciation for and knowledge of our past where refugees are concerned. Many people from Ireland arrived on the shores of Canada many years ago because of the potato famine in that wonderful country. People had to leave by the hundreds of thousands and wound up in Canada in huge numbers. I have visited Grosse-Île, the place where the Irish first set foot in Canada.

I am told that one person was given total discretion as to whether someone was well enough to move on to Montreal or Quebec. Many were not allowed for no real scientific reason, no real health reason. People were checked over. They were asked to open their mouths and the man in charge would determine based on his limited knowledge whether they were suffering from some disease. Literally, because of that thousands and thousands of people died on that island. They were not allowed the opportunity to move further inland, to establish themselves and to make a life for themselves.

A couple of years I was in Toronto, when they unveiled the wonderful work at Ireland Park on the waterfront. Back in the 1800s literally 50,000, 60,000 people showed up in boats to a small community of maybe 25,000 people. Those 25,000 people, knowing that those people were sick and bringing with them all kinds of disease, welcomed them into their community. In welcoming and doing the work that was required to make them feel at home, some lost their lives as well.

That is the story of this country. How many of us could ever forget the effort that happened not long ago with the boat people from Vietnam, when churches particularly, including the church I belonged to at that time, opened their doors and welcomed those people in, found ways to integrate them into our communities, found jobs for them, and got their children into schools?

The minister might have a comment for me at some point, but perhaps not today because we are closing in on 6:30 p.m. here. Is this bill going to take us away from that value system, that history, that story that is and was Canada's where refugees are concerned?

National Volunteer Week April 20th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to represent my caucus and join all members as we recognize National Volunteer Week and give a huge thanks to volunteers.

These men, women, students and children serve on boards, coach sports, staff the front lines in social services, do disaster relief and international aid. They are active in health care, social justice, the arts, environment, political movements and more. They give their time, energy, creativity and skills.

Under the radar so often, these selfless individuals with their generous compassion just make things better for our communities and our people.

I am struck by the number of times hon. members stand in the House to commend a citizen or a community event that so often really is the recognition of volunteers.

Volunteerism is a central thread in the social fabric of Canadian life. However. we cannot be complacent about this. Reports indicate that there are fewer volunteers in Canada and they end up giving even more of their time.

I would be remiss in our recognition today without noting the government cuts to volunteer organizations, to literacy, to arts and more. These cuts hurt the vulnerable and create dangerous social deficits.

As a country, as a government, we need to act ourselves on this year's theme, “From Compassion to Action”. We cannot take our volunteers for granted nor starve the sector that resources them.

There was an extraordinary voluntary sector initiative earlier this decade with solid recommendations to implement on how to grow the capacity of the volunteer sector, to give it the resources to help volunteers do what they do so well. Our volunteer organizations need a reliable federal funding envelope to drive this progress.

Let us express our gratitude to the legion of volunteers and let us support our volunteers by giving the volunteer sector the tools and resources it needs to ensure that volunteerism continues to play a strong and vital role in Canadian society.