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

Provincial Choice Tax Framework Act December 8th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I understand that I will only have a few minutes before question period, but I will be able to pick up where I left off after question period is over. I ask those who might be waiting to hear what I have to say to hang on. Question period will be interesting, for sure, as it always is, but what I have to say will be important as well.

What we are entertaining here in our short, limited opportunity to debate this bill is the imposition by the federal government on the provincial governments of Ontario and British Columbia to increase taxes on items that people have to buy for themselves and their children on a daily basis to keep themselves going.

The Retired Teachers of Ontario said it best. They indicated that the HST is basically a tax on daily living. They hit the nail on the head when they said that northerners will be hit with significantly increased heating costs due to long winters. Lighting, water and heating are necessary for survival.

An extra 8% tax on almost all goods and services will be difficult for retirees or for those on a fixed income. There are a lot of people across this province, particularly in northern Ontario and in my own riding of Sault Ste. Marie, who are living on fixed incomes and are already finding it difficult to get by. An extra 8% on the cost of basic necessities that they cannot do without simply will be devastating for them.

Today, I want to put on the record a few thoughts on behalf of northerners. I have already laid out a couple of things that are unique to northern Ontario compared to the rest of the province. It will be very challenging as this new 8% sales tax comes into effect. I also want to speak on behalf of the folks in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma who have taken the time to phone, write or email, and speak to me in person about this issue.

They asked me very sincerely if I would do everything that I could to try to put the brakes on this and stop it before it comes into effect and begins to affect them and their families. I also want to talk about the impact of this new tax on the poor, the most marginalized and at-risk citizens who need less than anything else to be confronted with this 8% increase in their cost of living.

I see the Speaker is about to rise. I will finish after question period is over.

KAIROS December 7th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, for years, the faith-based Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative KAIROS has helped Canada work for justice internationally and at home. Now KAIROS, which unites 11 Canadian churches and organizations, representing millions of Christians, is itself threatened by CIDA's decision to end funding.

At risk is human rights and development work, such as: in the Congo, where KAIROS helped fight rape as a weapon of war; in Indonesia, where it aided those who disappeared and victims of violence; and in Colombia, where it nurtures a grassroots organization running 22 women's centres. A woman in Sault Ste. Marie reminds me how KAIROS brought a Sudanese refugee to area schools. She wonders how else any teenager in the Sault would otherwise actually know about the real Sudan refugee story.

KAIROS and other non-profits should not foot the bill for stimulus funding. Why bankrupt such a respected organization? I urge the government to restore CIDA funding to KAIROS.

Committees of the House November 24th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be concurred in.

Today we mark the 20th anniversary of the unanimous resolution by Parliament in 1989 to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. In the motion passed last week by the parliamentary committee I serve on, we honour that anniversary. We note the urgency of action to eliminate poverty.

I believe we honour the mover of that motion, Mr. Broadbent, as well as poverty activists who make a difference in our communities and the MPs who, back then, had the will to want to tackle that daunting challenge. In 1989 we had the collective will, the values and the conviction to do so. What we lacked, and it was our critical omission, was a concrete plan to make it happen.

Why is this so? Canada is ranked close to last in UNICEF and OECD reports on the welfare of children. We spend the least on early childhood education and care. We spend little for families and not much to make sure our children grow up healthy and smart.

We are the only industrialized nation without a national affordable housing strategy. Only one in five children have access to early childhood education and care. Our minimum wage has not gone up much and neither have child tax benefits or funding to support aboriginal children.

We need to collectively recommit to build a Canada that leaves no one behind. Regardless of our politics, I believe there is consensus to do just that. Indeed, for a wide range of social, economic and spiritual principles across the spectrum, there is motivation and reason to do so.

While the barriers are many, I meet members of Parliament in all parties who understand the common sense of giving everyone in their communities equal opportunities to be productive members. People want that. In these tough times in our ridings when a new employment opportunity arises, we also see the enormous lineups of people wanting to work.

Food Banks Canada's HungerCount 2009 notes that even when people find jobs, if those jobs do not pay enough, there is no escape from poverty. One in five food bank users had employment. The Campaign 2000 report notes that four of every ten poor children belong to families in which a parent works.

Let us remember the statistics being released today are drawn from 2007 numbers, that is, numbers from before our recession. With so few covered by EI, with welfare rolls increasing and with the recession recovery slow, it is reasonable to conclude that low-income poverty numbers are higher now and will grow even higher in the next year. We need national leadership.

There are seven provinces starting poverty plans, but they do not have the capacity to move recession victims out of poverty. We cannot fail this time. We know we can make an extraordinary difference in this country for all who are excluded from our communities because they live in poverty.

For two years now, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has undertaken a major study of the federal role in poverty reduction. In the committee's imminent travel west, we will hear from witnesses on the incumbent need for national leadership.

This is about justice, not charity. This is about human rights. We know internationally and in other countries freedom from poverty is a human right. It is not so in Canada.

We are coming to recognize as well the economic arguments, the true cost of poverty and of excluding so many from being productive members of society as well as the savings in the fields of health, education and criminal justice from eliminating poverty.

A report just released in Sault Ste. Marie by the Community Quality Institute assessed the external cost of poverty. It states:

If poverty is reduced, education levels will rise, improving the community's workforce and supporting economic development. With lower poverty and higher education levels will come overall improved health of citizens.

The report notes that the impact of poverty is felt by the entire community.

For our children, for our families, for all, for a lasting legacy to our country, it is time to keep the promise to make Canada poverty-free.

Poverty November 17th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the numbers tell a different story. People are dropping off EI and on to welfare. Seventy-two thousand people came to a food bank for the first time, some with jobs that do not pay enough or with inadequate disability or pension supports.

Under international law, freedom from poverty is a human right but not here in Canada.

I have a simple question. Where is the leadership for a national poverty plan?

Poverty November 17th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the hunger count on the number of people using food banks is out and the figures are numbing: an 18% increase nationally and a whopping 61% in Alberta. One in ten people is using a food bank for the first time and only one in five people has a job. Thirty-seven per cent of food bank recipients are children.

When will the government get its head out of the sand, stop passing the buck and give Canada the leadership it needs for a national poverty plan?

National Association of Friendship Centres November 17th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the National Association of Friendship Centres today profiles the good work that friendship centres do from coast to coast to coast and the need for an increase in their budgets.

Friendship centres are Canada's largest aboriginal service delivery infrastructure. They deliver effective, accountable programs and services to first nations, Métis and Inuit people, regardless of status or location. When it comes to urban aboriginal peoples, no other organization, program or policy has as much impact as friendship centres.

The Indian Friendship Centre in Sault Ste. Marie has grown by 50% in the last three years. It offers valuable programs for employment, healing, prevention, youth, families, nutrition, court and much more. The Sault centre needs funding to match its growth. There has been no increase in core funding since 1996. There has been nothing for inflation, population growth or changing demands.

I join with my colleagues on both sides of the House in calling on the government to include additional funding for friendship centres in next year's budget.

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, cattle farmers from Algoma and other areas are back in Ottawa today because they are facing another crisis.

When Jack Tindall was here in 2004, he spoke for 200 Algoma farmers. Now that number is far less and the same story is unfolding across Canada. Beef farmers face mounting bills, ineffective support programs from Conservative and Liberal governments, and unfair trade barriers.

Will the government put more money into the agri-stability program and give it some teeth, so it can actually work for northern Ontario beef farmers?

Employment Insurance Act November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, certainly there are workers across all of northern Ontario who would benefit from this bill passing in the House.

In my own community, people ask me on a fairly regular basis when this bill is going to pass, because they are reaching a point where they will need it in order to put bread on the table, pay bills and buy themselves a little time until the economy recovers in such a way that they can find work. It would, indeed, help a lot of people in my own community and across northern Ontario, and for that I am thankful.

Employment Insurance Act November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I did not speak to the technical pieces of this bill because they were done by others. However, I did speak to the need for us to move quickly to get this $1 billion out the door because there are lots of workers in northern Ontario who will benefit greatly from this and are looking forward to seeing it happen.

Employment Insurance Act November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to put a few thoughts on the table about this very important piece of public business before us.

I want to remind folks that there are actually two issues at play in this debate. One is whether we want to have another election, which has been spoken of and is being spoken of with great trepidation and fear by certainly many of my constituents and others across this country. The other one that is rooted in this bill is the question of whether we want to move the yardsticks on EI.

When I spoke at second reading on this bill a few weeks ago, I called on the House at that time to work to find a way to, in a common cause, do the best that we could in the interest of protecting people out there who are really feeling the hurt of this recession that we have all been part of for quite some time now.

I asked the different parties, the government party, the official opposition, the Bloc, and ourselves, to work together in the interests of workers and those families affected by people losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs. These jobs are not returning and many communities are still reeling, still wondering what they are going to do.

This recession, even though it may not feel like it in here, at times, is still very real out there. When we go back to our constituencies, the people we run into on the street or in the coffee houses will tell us that it has not let up and the impact is very real.

So, what has happened since then? How has the House responded to that request, to that plea by myself and members of my caucus to try to find some common cause?

Well, the Conservatives, the government party, put $1 billion on the table for some part of the unemployed work community. It is not everything that we wanted. It is not everything that obviously the Bloc and the Liberals wanted. However, it is certainly a lot more than the Liberals themselves got in their discussions with the Conservatives over this past summer when they met several times over a very important piece of work on behalf of families and workers and communities out there. They came away empty-handed.

What the Liberals decided, because they could not get any movement, any agreement from the Conservatives on this important issue, was that they wanted, instead, to have an election.

I say the time for an election has passed, at this particular juncture. The time for an election, in my view, was last January, when all of us in the opposition benches lost confidence in the government. What the government had tabled at the end of November, the beginning December in this House, was such an insult not only to us who come to work here, who understood the depth and the breadth of this recession that was coming at us, but certainly to the people of Canada. There was nothing in that package, absolutely nothing, that reflected that the government understood that we were in difficult economic times. Those difficult economic times were extraordinary in nature, akin to, some at that time said, the dynamics of the Great Depression. People were actually then beginning to lose their jobs and lose value in their pensions as well as all of the other ways that this recession has come to affect and hurt many working families and communities across the country.

We certainly led the charge at that time and offered to make the leader of the official opposition the prime minister, by way of the coalition. Those who took the time at that particular juncture to look at the package that we had put on the table, by way of a program for the new government, would have recognized that it included the changes that both the Liberals and the Bloc were expecting would happen by this, I guess, offering by the government to reform EI. It was all there.

We have not been shy to talk about the different efforts we have made by way of opposition day motions and by way of bills tabled in the House to reform EI to more adequately reflect the needs people have for support in their time of difficulty.

Here we are halfway across the river. People are really struggling. When I went back home in September of this year after the Liberals announced that they were going to bring the government down and cause an election, people said to me very clearly that that was not the time for an election. That was not the time to be spending $300 million on an election which the polls showed--and yes polls change during elections--would simply result in our ending up back here with a similar makeup of government.

When I go back to my riding even today people say to me “no election; this is not the time”. They say to me, “Tony, go back to Ottawa and see if you can find a way to work together to get something done”. People are asking because they are paying attention to what is going on here. They are asking me when Bill C-50 is going to pass, because they are at a place in their working life, and the recession is having an impact on them such that they will need the extra benefit that will come to them when this bill is passed.

One billion dollars is a lot of money. That fact may not have been reflected in the input that we heard this morning from either the Liberals or the Bloc, but I have to say that one billion dollars, however short it may fall of the total amount that is needed in terms of reform to EI, will help a lot of people at a time when they need it most.

As we keep the government going for the short term, we are also told that there will be legislation coming forward this week to reform EI for self-employed individuals. There are a number of people in my riding who are self-employed, who own small businesses, who are struggling just as those who work in big industry are, and they are concerned because they have no safety net. They are asking us to work with government to create a safety net that would give them some assistance when they need it, as they look ahead and see that things do not look so great for them either.

I am also hearing via the media that the finance minister is indicating a willingness to do something on pensions and is actually talking about the very good recommendations and ideas that the NDP are bringing forward and putting on the table with regard to pension reform. We look forward to having that discussion with the government to see if we can find some common ground so that we can give some sense of confidence to people who are either looking at retirement or living in retirement on pensions that in fact those pensions will be improved and protected.

A time for an election will come, perhaps next spring after a budget is tabled, but this is not the time. Today we need to pass BillC-50 so that one billion dollars can be put out the door and made available to workers who have lost their jobs.