House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was years.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Intern Protection Act April 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I believe if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move that, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Motion No. 587 on genocide recognition standing on the order paper in the name of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville be adopted.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act March 12th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, 36 years ago, I was in Saudi Arabia. I did not have much of a background in its cultural practices, and when I first heard of the sexual mutilation of women, I was very troubled, as anyone would be. Of course, relative to that, in Canada we have strong laws to protect women from violence, and quite appropriately so.

While I was there, I worked with a number of people closely and got to know their families. In their culture, it was acceptable to have a second wife. In fact, in their culture, they could have four wives, although most had two.

I cannot imagine any one from any party who would accept the practice of forced marriage. It is offensive to us to have anyone forced into it. However, we have a situation, which the minister spoke to himself a moment ago, whereby people have wanted to come to Canada, and the only way they could was to evade the fact that they had a second wife. When I was in Saudi Arabia, that second wife was referred to as a sister wife. I think that in some polygamous cultures in the U.S. it is the same thing. Now we have the problem of a fair number of people, I would suspect, living in our country with these wives. Does that mean that we will force them to go back and leave this country? People who come here are not looking for tolerance. They are looking for acceptance. Is there room for some of that?

Takeover of Stelco March 11th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it is with mixed emotions that I stand today to speak to this particular motion by my good friend from Hamilton Centre.

I want to congratulate the president and executive of USWA 1005 who fought tooth and nail for the last number of years, along with us in the NDP. Both locally and nationally, the NDP have spoken out on this since the deal was initiated in 2007. I was elected to this House in 2006, and for that many years, from 2007, we have been trying to get the essence of that deal put before the public.

The motion that comes from my friend calls for the government to apologize to the Hamilton community and to our country for approving the U.S. Steel takeover of Stelco because it failed to provide a net benefit.

Members will know that any foreign takeover bid requires a review that looks to a net benefit for Canada. It also calls for that particular deal to be made public. With respect to the acquisition of Stelco in 2007 and the 2011 out-of-court settlement, both of these documents and materials, the evidence that supports them, should be made public.

What is the possible reason for so much secretiveness in this particular arrangement? The tidbits of information that USWA was able to get came from the United States, of all places. There was a court action in the United States where some of it was made public. We turned to the United States to get information our own government would not provide.

The final part of the member's motion would ensure that employee pensions are protected, including amending the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act.

A number of years ago, around 2008-11, I was our party's critic who dealt with pensions. I proposed a piece of legislation to the government at that time. I did not table it in the House, but I went to Ted Menzies, the parliamentary secretary of the day, and said to him that I had a bill that would put the pensioners at the head of the line as secured debt in cases of bankruptcy and insolvency. These are deferred wages, very clearly the property of the workers.

At that time, in fairness to Mr. Menzies, he said he would take it to others in the cabinet and see what he could do. Ultimately, the government said no, it was not prepared to do it because it had some concerns.

Let us imagine today, in the situation that Stelco is in, if that had been passed. It was also proposed to the government prior to Nortel's debacle. As we know, it had somewhere in the area of $6 billion of assets, and the pensioners' pensions were cut 37%. Not only that, 450 people, who were on benefits, who were not employable, lost everything. There was certainly room for a change.

There is so much to talk about in this particular circumstance. This particular company, under the name of Stelco, in 2004, already went through CCAA protection. At that time, there was a tremendous push-back from the people of Hamilton and the USWA, in particular, against the move. There was $545 million in long-term debt and a $1.3 billion deficit in the pension fund obligations at that time.

When we moved forward from that, Stelco came out of that, and millions of dollars went to the person who represented the company, who went back to the United States. It was somewhere in the area of $50 million when there was a debt of this nature.

Then we had several suitors for the company. I recall meeting with the vice-president of a company in Russia at that time. It was a mining company 800 miles north of Moscow. It built hospitals for the workers. It paid their taxes for them.

In that part of the world they were having trouble with abuse of vodka. Circuses were still part of that culture at the time, so they started a circus training school. In other words, they had a commitment to the workers and they offered to come to Hamilton. As I recall, they offered a $350-million investment in the plant in Hamilton. They offered to assume the debt and pay off the pension debt.

The powers that be took the decision to go to U.S. Steel instead. The end result is the workers of Hamilton are paying a terrible penalty for that decision. It is certainly not a net benefit to the 8,000 retirees who are looking at losing somewhere in the area of 20% of their pension, if not more, depending on where the market is, if that were to be shut down. Clearly, the outlook they are facing is that the company wants to sell so it wants to divest itself of those obligations to make the company saleable.

We have to sit back and wonder, where was the government when it had an obligation to protect the workers and the investors in Canada when this deal was put together? Where was the government when it was supposed to be standing up for the workers of Hamilton? Is this a model of what other companies can expect, to be sold down the river because the government is not prepared to stand up for its own workers in its own country? It is shocking when we consider that the government will not share the information with its own citizens. It is beyond comprehension.

In 2008-09, U.S. Steel laid off 700 workers in Hamilton. It had made a commitment that it was going to sustain and maintain employment. In 2009, it shut down most of its Canadian operations and locked out workers in a labour dispute in Hamilton. It shut down the blast furnace in 2009. If one understands the workings of a blast furnace, if it is shut down for any length of time it is ruined. It cannot be used again. By shutting it down, officials were signalling to the people of Hamilton that they were walking away from Hamilton.

At one point the Canadian government looked at the deal, whatever it says, and said that U.S. Steel did not live up to it, so it was taken to court. For a moment in Hamilton we started to say maybe the government is starting to consider supporting the workers in this community. As the court proceedings went on and we were led to understand we were going to be successful, there was an arrangement between the company and the government to end the lawsuit.

For the people who were out of work, they would have received past wages for the time they would have been off the job because it violated the agreement. Instead of going to court, getting that resolution, there was a private deal made that did nothing for the workers in Hamilton. There was a token payment made to some people in Hamilton. Monies that were paid were a very small portion of the obligation of over $1.2 billion to the pension plan.

Going back to the original motion, at the very least the government should be apologizing to the people of Hamilton and to the workers at U.S. Steel, formerly Stelco. Conservatives need to make public those undertakings. Even with the bad taste that people have in their mouth about all of this, they are still are trying to somehow understand what has happened. They should be given the opportunity to look at the undertakings between U.S. Steel and the government with regard to employment, steel production and the ongoing funding of the pension plan, which was not done.

I am saddened that we find ourselves at this place in time. Again, I want to commend the member for Hamilton Centre. We have been in the House probably 40 or 50 times over the last eight years speaking out on this. The government has not been listening and it is very evident.

Committees of the House March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am vice-chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, and I have to say that this topic was one of the most troubling we have undertaken studies on in quite a long time.

I want to ask the member a couple of questions. Is he aware of the fact that in the year 2004, UN peacekeepers in the DRC were actually accused of rape themselves and that following that there has been an emphasis on sexual and gender-based violence, which can be found in the latest UN Security Council resolution on the DRC?

Has the member had any indication of any positive impact that might have had on the ground?

Business of Supply March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the minimum wage in Switzerland is $24 an hour. In New Zealand it was just rolled back; it was headed for $27 an hour. Let us think about that for a moment and think of the vast resources we have in this country. Conservatives want to put income splitting in, but why are they not paying a more reasonable wage? I am thrilled with our proposal of $15 an hour, but that is not enough. That is a beginning, not an end.

In the House we have the opportunity to provide leadership to the provinces, because this would only apply to federal employees such as the rail, airlines, and communications sector employees. There are not many people who would actually receive this—somewhere around one million workers, which is wonderful—but we have to ensure that the cleaners at the airport and the contract workers are paid well. It would set an example. Today the federal rate is set by looking at the provinces and using their numbers. It should be the reverse. The national government should be the leader in making sure that people receive an equitable wage.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we are actually on two different tracks. Income splitting will affect working Canadians in an inequitable way. It is going to take about $3 billion a year out of the fiscal capacity to do things for other Canadians. In other words, the top 15% has $3 billion and the bottom, who need something, is getting nothing.

As far as the age of retirement is concerned, a cynical person would say this is simple dollars and cents. If people lived in Ontario and were on Ontario Works and welfare, at age 65 they would have gone to OAS and GIS and would have had a modest increase. Now they have to wait two years. If people were on sick benefits in the province of Ontario, at age 65 they got more benefits because they went on these other pensions. Again, they have to wait. In the meantime, the provinces are now going to pick up $6,000 per person, and that is money the government does not spend. The Conservatives are saving money on the backs of the people who are in the worst situation in our country and the seniors.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the wonderful member for Churchill.

I want to reference what the last speaker from the Liberal Party was saying about changing the retirement age from 67 back to 65. I was thrilled when our leader, in one of his first speeches in the House four years ago, was talking about reversing the mistake made by the Conservatives. I am glad to see the Liberals have finally caught up.

I have a couple of quotes here. One is from The Economist, January 31, 2015. It says the minister of finance:

....promised a balanced budget as recently as January 26th, despite the expected drop in revenues from the energy industry. The government had pledged a raft of tax reductions once that was achieved, but imprudently enacted them late last year. The delay in presenting the budget adds to the impression of fiscal disarray.

The former parliamentary budget officer put in place by the government, Kevin Page, said, “In the last 10 years, we have virtually made no progress on all of our big issues, long-term economic challenges. We have not closed innovation gaps in our country, dealt with an aging demographic that will put pressure on health care, nor dealt with environmental sustainability. We have not even had the discussions or proposals from this government”.

Let us think about the significance of that, in terms of where Canada finds itself today. Prior to coming to this place 9 years ago, I had spent 28 years in the labour movement in the Hamilton area. In Hamilton, I saw hundreds upon hundreds of businesses close. The first wave was following 1988, when we had the first free trade agreement. In Ontario alone, 500,000-plus manufacturing jobs were lost. That was in 1988 to 1990.

Then we had NAFTA and more jobs were lost. We have had decades of Conservative and Liberal leadership during which the quality of employment for hard-working Canadians has also dropped. It is not just that many of the jobs are not there anymore.

If we talk to young people today, who are 30 years of age, who are trying to raise a family, and who have maybe had the good fortune of having gone to university, we learn that they have come out $30,000 in debt, which means they cannot contribute that to the economy. They are working in what we refer to as McJobs. Some of them are working two and three jobs.

I sit in our local Tim Hortons regularly, hearing from people who are literally working three jobs. They are not even working at Tim Hortons; they are sitting and having a coffee in between jobs.

In the last while, since just before we had a change of finance ministers, we have heard about this income-splitting plan. Some call it a scheme, but I will refer to it as a plan, to be somewhat respectful. The past finance minister was a man with whom I was pleased to work, an honourable man. I sat on the finance committee for two years with him.

He cautioned this government very directly about the fallacy in this income-splitting plan that favours the top 14% or 15% of Canadians over the hard-working Canadians, the middle-class and lower-class Canadians. By lower class, I mean the people who are disadvantaged in our society. My community of Hamilton has a 20% rate of people living below the poverty line. What does income splitting do for them?

New Democrats understand that to put Canada on track, and for the middle class, we need to have concrete steps to diversify our economy. It seems to me, watching the last number of years, that all I have seen is the rip and strip of our resources off to other countries. Where is the value-added manufacturing? Hamilton was the core of value-added manufacturing in this country. We are known as Steel Town. The steel production there was supporting other industries.

Today there are still about 65 industries attached to steel in Hamilton, a mere shadow of what it once was.

We took resources and developed them. Value-added manufacturing put us in a place where we have one of the vibrant middle classes of the world. We have had that for several generations, primarily after the Second World War.

The homes in Hamilton that are 40, 50, and 60 years old were built and purchased by hard-working people who had a fair and decent income because of that value-added manufacturing in our community.

I recall, 20 years ago, a report came out for the City of Hamilton called “Vision 2000”. When I read it I was in shock, as a labour activist, because it talked about the decline of value-added manufacturing. That decline was under the Liberals. The report said that decline was going to continue. The value-added manufacturing jobs were going to be replaced by service sector jobs.

There is an obvious question. If we are now moving from a manufacturing base to service sector jobs, who is going to buy the services of the people who no longer have the other well-paying jobs? Is it only that 15% at the top that is going to get all this extra money from income splitting? It makes one wonder.

I can recall our leader, Jack Layton, two elections ago in our caucus meetings talking about small business and the importance of taking care of small business. We hear that from the government side, in fairness to it. However, Jack said there was nothing being done for them. He talked to our caucus and I remember him saying that these are the real job creators. These are the backbone of our country. We have to do something for them. We have to do something to spur innovation, to give them that entrepreneurial spirit and to turn some of it toward manufacturing.

The NDP currently has a plan. More of it will roll out over the next number of months before the election, but it is to do exactly that: to spur the next generation of middle class.

After a decade of Conservative economic mismanagement, middle-class families are working harder and longer, and yet they feel they are falling further and further behind.

We hear the talk about the 1.2 million net new jobs, to use the Conservatives' own language. It leaves out the 400,000 people who no longer have the jobs that went under during their time.

In the city of Hamilton, where the failed manufacturing is, the government has failed them. It has failed them on research and development funding. It has failed them in several areas. It has failed them in long-term planning. As I said earlier in my remarks, the rip and strip of our resources became the focus of the government and nothing else. As an end result of that, we have Canadians unemployed today at levels we have not seen in decades.

I was sadly visiting a food bank in my home lately. I walked into it and took a step back. I am of an age where I could be retired, and a friend of mine who had a plant job was at the food bank. One stops and considers: we were on a similar path at one point in the work we were doing, and his company went under.

The government has done nothing to protect these jobs. We allowed the Chinese to buy $15 billion into Canada and we allowed for future investments on their part. That company, CNOOC, has a horrendous reputation around the world. What are we doing for our own investment, for our own remanufacturing?

I am kind of losing words. I guess it is appropriate. I am at the end of my time, but it is so very frustrating.

Tibet March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, today, outside of this place, there are hundreds of Tibetans marking the occasion when, on March 10, 1959, tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets of Tibet's capital, rising up against China's illegal invasion and occupation of their homeland. Tibetans formed a human chain around the Potala Palace, the home of the Dalai Lama, to protect him from Chinese soldiers.

Fast forward 56 years. A few days ago, March 6 to be exact, a 47-year-old woman burned herself to death in protest against Chinese policies in Tibetan areas. She becomes the 137th known case of self-immolation by Tibetans since the practice started in 2009.

Mr. Prime Minister, it is time for action from Canada. We must take the lead in initiating a multilateral forum on Tibet. There is a role for the ambassador of the Office of Religious Freedom in investigating the reasons behind the rise in self-immolations in Tibet. Canada should urge the Chinese government to allow independent monitors to assess Tibet's situation—

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I will take it as a supreme compliment that I would be asked one of the hardest questions to answer on the face of the Earth.

I think we have to go back over century after century of this hatred. It has been taught, and taught systematically. It has gone through the so-called grapevine of community after community.

Today one of the reasons it is arising is through communication. In Egypt and the revolution there, in Syria and other countries where people have risen up, the one common thing in that phenomenon is the iPhone. It is communication. If we talk to seniors in a Tim Hortons, they will tell stories of things they have read on the Internet that they absolutely believe. Nobody can say why they believe those things. Hatred is one of the things. Xenophobia is another one of the things.

The communication factor that we have today plays a role in the hatred that is spewed out there, uncontrolled, against many different people, but particularly the Jewish people. It is unbelievable and it is sad.

Again I come back to the fact that we have hate laws. If hate is purveyed by anybody on the Internet, it should be addressed. The problem we get into when trying to track these things is that they use shadow locations, going through three different servers, to get that message out. There are some people who are very sophisticated in delivering these messages.

What we are seeing with ISIS today, which is shocking the world, is how professional the things are that they are putting forward. Those videos, as horrific as they are, are professionally planned and orchestrated. The people who are purveying hate on the Internet are doing precisely the same thing.

I think that is one of the keys to the explosion that is happening. In hard times, in Europe and in those capitals where people are rising up and the hatred is boiling again, people are unemployed and there is high youth unemployment. That winds up scapegoating many people. In the old stories, the Jews are the people with money and the Jews are the business people who are affecting capital around the world. All of those stories that have been perpetuated for generations bubble back up again, but in a different context.

Rise in anti-Semitism February 24th, 2015

Mr. Chair, I will start by saying that I do not have the wisdom of Solomon. It is hugely difficult to stand as a democrat to protect our rights to democracy, our rights to that communication, but I do not think one has the right to preach hate. We have laws against preaching hate and if that occurs, those laws should be enforced

I will not pass judgment on any particular group I have not heard directly about, but if they are teaching hate, that has to be addressed. There are boards of directors in universities. The problem is that until someone is there and says it there, they do not have jurisdiction over them. That complicates the issue, I am sure.

I would trust the judgment of most of the boards of those universities after the fact, once the hate, or whatever it is, has been preached, like the incident at McMaster about the niqab that I mentioned. They brought a group of people together. I attended because I happened to be in town that week. We spoke about the unfairness. It was not at the same level as Israeli Apartheid Week in my opinion and the opinion of many people there. However, where will we find the wisdom to reach the point that the member is alluding to? I really cannot answer that.