House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was parks.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Kootenay—Columbia (B.C.)

Lost his last election, in 2021, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions May 3rd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure of presenting three petitions today as well.

The first petition is very important to Canadians and everyone who lives in Ottawa and Gatineau. It is related to Gatineau Park. As most people who have been there know, it is a very special place. It has over 90 endangered plants and 50 endangered animal species. It is one of the most visited parks in Canada, yet unbelievably, it has almost no boundaries that are recognized in Canadian law. This is the second petition I have presented on this matter in the last year.

The petition asks the House of Commons to adopt legislation to give Gatineau Park the necessary legal protection to ensure its preservation for future generations. It absolutely deserves more protection. I would like to thank the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ottawa valley chapter, for its ongoing caring for Gatineau Park.

The Environment May 3rd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, today students in my riding will be protesting with youth across the country, calling for urgent action to avert a climate catastrophe.

The Liberal climate change plan exempts the biggest polluters and fails to meet even Stephen Harper's weak targets. We need a bold plan that reduces emissions while creating sustainable jobs for workers. We can do this by committing to renewable energy, retrofitting homes, expanding public transit and investing in clean manufacturing.

When will the government stop praising its failed climate plan and commit to a version of a green new deal to ensure a liveable future for all?

Seniors May 3rd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about challenges facing many of my constituents who are older adults. They are living on pensions that have not kept up with the rising costs of living and are inadequate in meeting their needs. Some are struggling to stay in their family homes, while others face major challenges finding affordable housing.

Phone and internet costs in Canada are among the highest in the world. Seniors struggle to afford these services on a fixed income, yet they are necessary for safety reasons, maintaining family and social connections or accessing government services.

I recently heard from a constituent that the medical benefits she received at work were unfairly discontinued when she turned 65. The high cost of prescription drugs in Canada is another major burden for seniors.

The NDP has a plan to build more affordable housing, lower telecommunication fees and implement universal, comprehensive public pharmacare. In addition, we are calling for a national seniors strategy so all Canadians can retire and age with dignity. Older adults deserve no less.

National Suicide Prevention Action Plan May 2nd, 2019

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Timmins - James Bay.

Motion No. 174 calls for the government to establish a national suicide prevention action plan, with concrete steps and timelines. Government can and should take a leadership role in working to reduce the number of Canadians lost to suicide each year.

Suicide has impacted my family personally. My niece, Mikki Everett, died on November 21, 1994. She was 15 years old. Our family still is not clear whether her death was accidental or deliberate, but the impact her death had on all of us continues today. Her mother Heidi was never able to return to work. One never stops wondering why or what could have been done to prevent it.

Mikki was a joy to be around. We took her on family vacations and our kids adored her. We shared the same birthday, and my daughter Kellie honoured Mikki by giving my granddaughter, Lalita, middle names of Micheline Dawn in Mikki' s memory. We still miss her today. Her death was almost 25 years ago. Has anything really improved around suicide prevention since then?

One area we are starting to see some improvement in is in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. This is a positive step in ensuring that people feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.

I would like to read an excerpt from a column written by Anglican Reverend Yme Woensdregt from Cranbrook. He shared how he came out on the other side of depression and offered advice for those who find themselves struggling, using words of wisdom from a source members may recognize, Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh:

“Piglet?” said Pooh.

"Yes Pooh?" said Piglet.

“Do you ever have days when everything feels ... Not Very Okay At All? And sometimes you don't even know why you feel Not Very Okay At All, you just know that you do?”

Piglet nodded his head sagely. “Oh yes,” said Piglet. “I definitely have those days.”

“Really?” said Pooh in surprise. “I would never have thought that. You always seem so happy and like you have got everything in life all sorted out.”

“Ah,” said Piglet. “Well here's the thing. There are two things that you need to know, Pooh. The first thing is that even those pigs, and bears, and people, who seem to have got everything in life all sorted out...they probably haven't. Actually, everyone has days when they feel Not Very Okay At All. Some people are just better at hiding it than others.”

“And the second thing you need to that it's okay to feel Not Very Okay At all. It can be quite normal, in fact. And all you need to do, on those days when you feel Not Very Okay At All, is come and find me, and tell me. Don't ever feel like you have to hide the fact you're feeling Not Very Okay At All. Always come and tell me. Because I will always be there.”

A piece of advice shared both by Piglet and Reverend Yme is knowing that one can reach out for help during times of crisis. We need to ensure people can both ask for and receive the help they need when struggling with thoughts of depression.

Clinical depression is more than just a bad day. Depression can be persistent and can interfere with every aspect of life: relationships with family and friends, participation in hobbies, performance at school and work and physical health. Left untreated, depression can worsen, leading to substance abuse, obesity, self-harm or suicide.

Despite recent efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness, there remains much work to be done. Many people still suffer in silence and three-quarters of those who die by suicide have no contact with mental health services in the year before their deaths.

This statistic shows that we need to do a better job of identifying individuals and groups at elevated risk and conducting proactive education and outreach activities to help prevent tragic losses of friends, family members, co-workers, neighbours, classmates and children.

Motion No. 174 proposes measures that will improve our understanding of suicide and, in turn, our prevention efforts. These are steps we need to take because too many lives are being lost every day.

According to British Columbia's minister of mental health and addictions, more than 500 people are lost to suicide every year in the province. Nationally, the most recent statistics available indicate approximately 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year. That is about 11 people every day lost, and the circle of grief expands well beyond that.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. With each person lost, lives are broken and we lose so much potential in our communities.

Suicide is especially prevalent among men in rural areas. We need to understand the factors at play in at-risk populations to respond appropriately. Adopting Motion No. 174 would begin the work of filling in knowledge gaps and establishing best practices.

We also need to ensure that those who take the brave step of seeking help are taken seriously and have access to mental health services they need in a timely manner.

One of my staff members in Ottawa lost her cousin, Christopher, to suicide last fall on World Mental Health Day. In the month before he died, he attended the local emergency room three times with suicidal thoughts. Each time he was sent home and not connected with mental health services in the community. He was 26-years-old and wanted to be a writer. He was an only child, and his loss has left a terrible hole in the lives of his parents.

Christopher's story is sadly not an unfamiliar one as mental health crises are too often dealt with in emergency rooms not equipped to provide the treatment people need. Canadians across the country continue to face lengthy wait lists while they are in crisis, unless they have the means to pay out of pocket for help. Barriers and delays in accessing mental health services put the lives of people at risk not only due to suicide, but to overdose as well.

Canada is facing an opioid crisis and many people who struggle with mental health issues fall into addictions after trying to self-medicate. The tainted supply of street drugs puts those with concurrent mental illness and addiction at a high risk of death while they wait for access to treatment.

One of my staff has a close family member who suffers from mental health and addiction issues. He has been admitted to the hospital several times following suicide attempts. The family has been trying to access publicly funded treatment services, but have faced endless barriers and delays while his situation continues to deteriorate. My staff member says that it has come to the point that every time her mother calls at an unexpected time, she is afraid it will be to convey the news this family member has died by suicide or overdose.

The NDP has called for increased federal funding so those who are struggling addiction can access treatment on demand. One important part of Motion No. 174 is the requirement to conduct a comprehensive analysis within 18 months on barriers Canadians face in accessing appropriate health, wellness and recovery services, including substance abuse, addiction and bereavement services. It also requires an analysis within the same time frame of the funding arrangements required to provide the treatment, education, professional training and other supports required to prevent suicide and assist those bereaved by a loved one's suicide.

While we work to reduce the number of Canadians lost to suicide, we also need to ensure those left behind have the supports they need to cope with the aftermath. Survivors of suicide loss face trauma and grief, often mixed with complex feelings of guilt, confusion and sometimes anger. The impact of suicide reaches beyond the immediate family and can affect an entire community. One death by suicide is sometimes followed by another and clusters have been seen among adolescents and in some indigenous communities.

I attended the funeral of a Cranbrook resident who died by suicide. During the eulogy, we were asked to remember this person by the individual's entire life, not just the few seconds before it ended. That was an important message, but without appropriate supports it can be challenging for loved ones to process their feelings and navigate the aftermath in a healthy manner. That is another reason why I support Motion No. 174. It calls for an analysis of bereavement services for those impacted by suicide.

One other group we must keep in mind in this discussion is the first responders who are exposed to the tragedy of suicide and must navigate interactions with families during an extremely difficult time. First responders are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress injury, which may elevate their own risk of dying by suicide. We must ensure first responders have training on best practices for responding to mental health crises and suicide and that they have the support needed to deal with the trauma they face on the job. We need to properly support all of our men and women who serve us in uniform who are at an increased risk for suicide.

As parliamentarians, we must do everything we can to prevent lives from being ended too soon due to suicide and the devastation it causes for those left behind.

I commend my colleague for bringing forward Motion No. 174 and I urge all members to support this important motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 30th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the damage has to be shared between the Conservatives and the Liberals, because it was the Conservatives who reduced the period for mortgages to 25 years, which makes it much more difficult, particularly for young people, to qualify. We would like to see the mortgage period increased to at least 30 years, which would then allow more people to get into the market and afford their mortgages. Some of those problems actually started with the Harper Conservative government, and they have been exacerbated by some of the policies of the Liberal government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 30th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, if my colleague across the floor had kept up to date with the proposals we were putting forward to benefit housing and to ensure affordable housing for the future, while at the same time improving what is happening with the environment, he would have noticed that recently we announced that we want to restore the energy retrofit program and increase the energy retrofit program for houses across Canada to make them more efficient, make them last longer and make them more desirable places to live.

Our platform is evolving. We are looking to have half a million affordable homes in place in the relatively near future. We know it can be done, because just after the war, when the government actually was serious about providing affordable housing, it created 350,000 war time houses that people still live in across the country. These were small houses but affordable houses built over the period of about two years. We know that if the government is serious about affordable housing, rather than just saying nice words about affordable housing, we can benefit hundreds of thousands of Canadians going forward.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 30th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak about the budget implementation act, 2019. While the budget acknowledges anxieties facing Canadians today, the government is failing to show a sense of urgency for addressing the underlying causes.

The budget contains misguided priorities and also includes delays and a lack of funding for serious issues, such as climate change, child care and universal prescription drug coverage. With the last budget of its mandate, the Liberal government has failed to take the bold actions Canadians want to build a more sustainable and equitable future and a better Canada.

Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are deeply worried about climate change. Last month, high school students in Nelson joined thousands from across the country and the world, who had been walking out of class to demand stronger action on climate change. I also received passionate letters from grades 5 and 6 Ktunaxa students. They are worried about polar bears and the environment. I have special concern for my granddaughter Lalita, who at times worries if her generation will have a future at all.

The IPCC says we have less than 12 years to act to avert climate catastrophe and a recent report found Canada was warming at twice the global average. Bold, urgent action is needed. However, the budget continues to delay phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that jeopardize our ability to transition to a green economy before it is too late. It proposes simply to study subsidies pointing to a peer review process announced last June.

Earlier this month, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development found the government's attempts to study fossil fuel subsidies had been flawed. Her audits found the government had failed to do a fulsome inventory of subsidies and did not consider long-term environmental and social impacts on an equal basis with economic factors.

The time is now to end fossil fuel subsidies and begin the shift to renewable energy, public transit and energy efficiency. That should not, however, include handouts to hugely profitable corporations such as Loblaws. Actions such as that show the government is out of touch and failing to support Canada's small businesses and workers in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

As the NDP's critic for national parks, I am also disappointed to see no funding has been allocated to protect Parks Canada's assets from climate change despite a recent report commissioned by the agency estimating this would cost up to $3.3 billion. In fact, it seems Parks Canada has lost $15 million from its budget, which was returned to the fiscal framework after the cancellation of the Icefields Trail project instead of being allocated to other urgent park priorities, like adaptation.

Canadians are also deeply anxious about affordability issues. They are grappling with sky-high housing costs in a time of stagnant wages and precarious work. The dream of owning a home and being able to retire feel like they are slipping out of reach for many.

The budget includes measures targeting millennials who want to buy their first home, but these measures are misguided. One proposal is to increase the amount first-time homebuyers can borrow from their registered retirement savings plans to $35,000. However, Abacus Data reports its research found only 36% of millennials even had an RRSP. Many young Canadians are struggling to save for a home or their retirement because of high student debt and lack of affordable child care. The budget does little to address these issues.

In British Columbia, the $10-a-day child care pilot project introduced by the NDP government has been a game-changer for the families selected to participate, including one of my former staff members in Nelson. There have been media reports of families saving around $1,000 a month or more on child care under that program.

The budget acknowledges that the lack of affordable child care is putting education, employment and home ownership out of reach for parents, particularly mothers. Despite this, the 2019 budget provides no new funding to make affordable child care a reality for more families.

One of my staff members in Ottawa spends more than a third of her take-home pay on day care for her toddler, but considers herself lucky because she was able to secure a licensed spot. Like most of the country, in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, there is a shortage of licensed child care spots and parents sign up for wait-lists before their children are even born.

The budget acknowledges that women's participation in the workforce has stalled since the early 2000s and researchers cite access to quality, affordable child care as an important factor in encouraging women's attachment to the workforce.

Last month the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club announced it was closing its licensed child care program for three-year-olds to five-year-olds because it had been unable to recruit qualified staff.

Recruitment and retention of early childhood educators is a major problem in Canada due to the low wages in this female dominated field. However, the federal government is not taking urgent action to address this issue.

Meanwhile, Sarah, a pharmacist in Kimberley, is leading an effort to get more after school care programs running in town. She conducted a survey that found that many local mothers are unable to work because of the lack of after school care or their employment options are extremely limited due to school hours.

Almost two decades ago, scholar Rianne Mahon termed the quest for universal child care the never-ending story. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development has called it a long-term vision. Frankly, mothers are done listening to this story. An NDP budget would make funding universal, high-quality, affordable child care a priority, because it is good for families, for children and for the economy.

I was also disappointed to see that the budget would take the half-measure of reducing interest rates on student loans instead of eliminating interest entirely. Last month I wrote to the Minister of Finance and theMinister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to request that they follow B.C.'s lead. It stopped charging interest on provincial student loans this February.

Too many Canadians of all ages are also anxious about how they will afford the medications they need, and the health of our nation is suffering. My constituency offices have heard stories of people taking half doses of their medications, risking anaphylactic reactions instead of purchasing EpiPens or waiting until payday to fill prescriptions.

Instead of acting with a sense of urgency to establish a universal, comprehensive public pharmacare program that would lower drug costs and cover everyone, the budget would delay this important work. The budget proposes funding over four years for the establishment of a new drug agency while not taking steps to deal with inadequate and unequal coverage across the country. It would also delay funding for those living with rare diseases until 2022.

Studies show that pharmacare would save Canada money and improve health outcomes, and most Canadians want us to fill this critical gap in our medicare system. The time for talk and study is over; it is now time to act. Canadians need to be able to use their health care cards, not their credit cards, when picking up their prescription medications.

The NDP has a plan to ensure that pharmacare is available for all by 2020, and I encourage the Liberal government to take a serious look at what can happen if it is truly committed to a better Canada.

Another anxiety many retirees and workers have is whether the pensions they have earned from years of hard work will be secure and not stolen if their company goes bankrupt, as happened with Sears Canada.

Instead of moving forward with overdue changes to bankruptcy laws to protect workers and pensioners, as suggested by my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, the budget asks them to rely on the good faith of corporate executives. This is out of touch with the experience of retirees who saw their pensions cut while executives got bonuses and shareholders received dividend payments. Pensions are deferred wages and need to be given super-priority status in bankruptcies.

The budget does contain some positive measures, such as increasing federal investments in broadband and setting a target for achieving high-speed Internet connectivity across the country by 2030.

In February, I gave a speech in Parliament about the digital divide between rural and urban Canada and urged the government to make funding this issue a priority in the budget. I am pleased to see that the government is acting on this issue, but 2030 does not show urgency. Rural cellphone coverage and the affordability of cell and Internet service also remain pressing concerns for Canadians.

I am also pleased to see a top-up of the federal gas tax fund this year, which will lead to an estimated $280 million in extra funding for local governments in B.C. and funding for the green municipal fund to support energy efficiency initiatives.

Every year I ask my constituents whether their lives are better, worse, or the same six months after a federal budget. While the government has been quick to bail out corporations like SNC-Lavalin or Kinder Morgan, it continues to tell ordinary Canadians to wait for solutions to their problems. Unfortunately, there is very little in this budget that will benefit my constituents, while adding $19.8 billion in debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off. An NDP budget would make different choices and put people and the planet at the centre of government policies.

The Environment April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, last week we learned that Canada is warming at twice the global average. This finding should be a wake-up call for all of us.

As the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, I am pleased that on Tuesday the committee tabled two reports, one entitled “Clean Growth and Climate Change: How Canada Can Lead Internationally”, along with a second report on forestry, agriculture and waste, with a total of 34 recommendations on how the government can and must do better.

Climate change is no longer a distant threat, and the cost of inaction is too great. The impacts are already being felt in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia and across the country. My constituents are calling for stronger action, just like the high school students who protested in Nelson or the grades 5 and 6 Ktunaxa students who wrote me letters worried about polar bears and the environment, or my granddaughter Lalita, who at times worries if her generation will have a future at all.

Canadians expect us to work together, and we must all commit to doing so. Let us start by agreeing to more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and to making climate change a non-partisan issue. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 April 11th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend across the floor, and I do consider him a friend, for his speech. At times when he was making his speech, I thought we were speaking about my bill, Bill C-281, to establish a national local food day, which of course was supported unanimously by the House and is now in the Senate.

During the election the last time around, as well as this time, I called myself a “liberal-minded, environmentally green, fiscally conservative NDPer”. However, I finished with the NDP because I truly believe that it has the best vision for Canada. That vision includes affordable housing, affordable child care, certainly universal public pharmacare and eventually, I hope, becoming a tuition-free country. Those are the fundamental things that I think will make Canada better.

However, this budget does not go nearly as far as it should at getting to any of those things that I think will really make Canada better. Therefore, I would be interested in my friend's comments on the disappointment that certainly the people in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia feel with respect to the budget.

Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act April 9th, 2019

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives had a member of Parliament for the riding Kootenay—Columbia for 21 years up until the election of 2015. One of the reasons I am standing here today is because my constituents were concerned about the attack, and it really was an attack, on the environment by the Harper government. It attacked the federal Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and other legislation.

I am curious as to why the member does not support local people being able to make local decisions around their resources, which is one of the things the bill would do, and why the Conservatives oppose proper environmental protection going forward.