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

The Environment April 4th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, students from Nelson recently participated in a climate change strike and Ktunaxa students in grades five and six from the ?aq'am reserve wrote me passionate letters warning about climate change.

It is clear my constituents from Kootenay—Columbia and Canadians from across the country want immediate action, but the Liberal government is failing them. The Liberals' budget continues fossil fuel subsidies, which limit our ability to transition to a low-carbon economy before it is too late. We have fewer than 12 years to act.

When will the government end fossil fuel subsidies and help workers transition to the green jobs of the future?

Child Care March 22nd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal budget acknowledges that lack of affordable child care is putting education, employment and home ownership out of the reach of parents, particularly mothers. Despite this, there is no new funding for child care and the crisis persists across the country outside of Quebec.

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women said almost 50 years ago that universal child care was critical to women achieving true equality, yet the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development is still calling this a “long-term vision”.

Will the government stop making promises and show leadership on the child care crisis?

Post-Secondary Education March 20th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, earlier this month, I wrote to the Minister of Finance about the struggles young Canadians are facing because of student debt, like putting off starting a family or buying a home. I encouraged the minister to follow the lead of British Columbia's NDP government, which stopped charging interest on student loans last month. Instead, the Liberal budget proposes a half measure of simply reducing interest rates.

Post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence. Why are the Liberals choosing to hurt young Canadians and their chance to build a better future?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns March 18th, 2019

With regard to federal spending in the constituency of Kootenay—Columbia, for the calendar years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018: what are the details of all grants and contributions, and all loans to every organization, group, business or municipality, broken down by the (i) name of the recipient, (ii) municipality of the recipient, (iii) date on which the funding was received, (iv) amount received, (v) department or agency that provided the funding, (vi) program under which the grant, contribution or loan was made, (vii) nature or purpose?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns March 18th, 2019

With regard to federal spending in the constituency of Kootenay—Columbia, for each of the following fiscal years 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-2018 and 2018-19 to date: what are the details of all grants and contributions, and all loans to every organization, group, business or municipality, broken down by the (i) name of the recipient, (ii) municipality of the recipient, (iii) date on which the funding was received, (iv) amount received, (v) department or agency that provided the funding, (vi) program under which the grant, contribution or loan was made, (vii) nature or purpose?

Parks Canada March 1st, 2019

Mr. Speaker, this week marked three years since the Phoenix pay system fiasco was rolled out. It is reported that it will take three to five years to clear the backlog and potentially 10 years until the system is fixed.

In the meantime, Parks Canada employees continue to have problems with the system, as many work full-time in the warmer months and are on call in the winter. Their pay transactions vary and they continue to encounter serious errors with pay and benefits.

These timelines are unacceptable. Will the Liberals commit in the 2019 budget to invest what is needed now to properly pay our workers?

National Defence Act February 28th, 2019

Madam Speaker, we are very much in favour of the bill, but we did propose an amendment and I would like to hear from the member why the government did not accept it. I want to read a quote from Sheila Fynes, who appeared as an individual before the committee. She said: is disturbing that even today, under paragraph 98(c), a service member could face life imprisonment for an attempted suicide. It would be more appropriate to consider self-harm under such circumstances as being symptomatic of a serious and urgent mental health concern, and signalling the need for appropriate and immediate medical intervention.

Why did the Liberal government not remove subsection 98(c) from the legislation?

Housing February 22nd, 2019

Madam Speaker, with the high cost of student loans, day care and rent, many young Canadians are finding it extremely difficult to achieve the dream of home ownership.

Through a series of rule changes by the former Conservative government, the maximum term for insured mortgages went from 40 years to 25 years. Instead of making it easier for first-time homebuyers, Liberals further tightened mortgage rules.

This is the same old story: While they make life easier for corporate friends, Liberals are shutting out young families from owning their own homes. Will the Liberal government put young families first and commit to introducing a 30-year term on insured mortgages?

Petitions February 21st, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today regarding protecting the future of Gatineau Park. I know Gatineau Park is near and dear to the hearts of many people here in the chamber. If any members have not been there, they really have to go. Over 1,600 people have signed, both on an e-petition and a regular petition.

Gatineau Park is really important right across the country. It has almost 2.7 million visits a year. I am the critic for national parks, so I know how significant that number is. There are 90 endangered plants and 50 endangered animals in the park. It contributes almost $242 million to the local economy, and 4,728 full-time jobs.

However, the boundaries of the park are not protected currently. Therefore, this petition calls upon the House to amend the National Capital Act to give Gatineau Park the necessary legal protection to ensure its preservation for future generations.

I encourage everyone in the House to support the petition. Gatineau Park really deserves long-term protection.

Rural Digital Infrastructure February 20th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the importance of high-speed Internet to the people living in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, and to all Canadians.

The Internet has become an integral part of modern life and an essential driver of the knowledge economy, yet there is a digital divide preventing Canadians in rural and remote areas from getting the full benefits of new technologies.

The failure of the federal government to make sufficient investments in digital infrastructure impacts Canadians' quality of life, compromises public safety and limits innovation and economic growth. In 2019, reliable high-speed Internet should be an essential service, available to everyone no matter their address.

As a former mayor of Cranbrook, I understand municipal infrastructure needs and the funding models local governments are working with. While infrastructure programs have traditionally focused on sewer, water, roads and storm drains, it was evident even a decade ago that high-speed Internet access needs to be considered as fundamental infrastructure. Unfortunately, in rural and remote areas the private sector business case for investing in digital infrastructure is not the same as it is for higher density urban areas. With market forces failing to connect rural Canada, it falls to government to provide this essential service.

The Canadian Federation of Municipalities represents municipalities making up more than 90% of the population, and almost 80% of its members have fewer than 10,000 residents. It is championing rural connectivity and is calling on the federal government to do its part.

Across Canada, for every dollar collected in taxes roughly 50¢ goes to the federal government, 42¢ to provincial governments and 8¢ to municipalities, yet municipalities are responsible for 70% of all infrastructure. This is not sustainable for meeting traditional infrastructure needs, nor for meeting the digital infrastructure needs of the 21st century.

When municipalities seek infrastructure funding from higher levels of government they are generally required to match funds. The typical breakdown is one-third federal, one-third provincial and one-third municipal funding. This poses a major challenge. For small communities like Cranbrook, which has about 20,000 people, generating $1 million of new funds for a capital project could mean a 4% increase in property taxes. Even generating the funds to produce shelf-ready plans required for government grants is a barrier.

The burden for getting rural communities connected with high-speed Internet should not fall mostly on these communities. The federal government needs to step up and give this issue the priority it deserves if Canada is to be able to compete in the knowledge economy.

In 2016, the CRTC set a standard for adequate download and upload speeds. While 96% of urban Canadians had access to those speeds, only 39% of those in rural and remote areas did, and 5.4 million Canadians were paying for substandard service. While some progress has been made, there is much work to be done. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities estimates more than two million Canadians cannot access a reliable Internet connection.

However, an Internet connection alone is no longer enough. Many of the technologies moving society forward require high-speed Internet. Traditional sectors like forestry, mining and hydro need to go high tech to stay competitive. Farmers too are looking to new technologies. High-speed Internet is becoming key to maximizing crop production and reducing climate change impacts. Online learning has become increasingly popular for retraining or upgrading credentials. Also, e-health delivery is expected to be utilized more in the coming years and could greatly benefit those who would need to travel long distances to access care and those who cannot find a family doctor.

While house prices have increased in urban centres, the lack of digital infrastructure may present a barrier to young Canadians considering relocating to rural communities. By contrast, adequate digital infrastructure can improve telework opportunities and promote work-life balance for young families.

In 2016-17, I conducted a series of small business forums in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia where owners identified the need for improved broadband connectivity for day-to-day business operations.

Paul, who manages a self-employment program in Nelson, recently explained the challenge of inadequate Internet in the area. The program's federal funding has been substantially reduced, however, video broadcasting and conferencing cannot be delivered in much of its operating area where some clients rely on dial-up or spotty over-air Internet connections.

This is not just a problem for businesses, though. One of my staff, Trina, is a school board trustee. She says that rural Internet is a challenge for many school districts across the province. Inadequate Internet access negatively impacts the technologies teachers can use in the classroom and limits the ability of students to complete homework.

Meanwhile, David from Wardner wrote me simply to say that he wanted the same unlimited data packages available for rural Internet customers that were offered in urban communities.

Lack of cellphone coverage has also been repeatedly raised by local governments and constituents. In rural British Columbia, it represents a public safety issue for those travelling remote, mountainous terrain who may need emergency help.

The St. Mary's Valley Rural Residents Association wrote me to advocate for improved wireless phone service in the area which was used for recreation, small businesses, logging and mining. The need to call for emergency assistance can arise from auto or industrial accidents, avalanches, etc. The ability to promptly report forest fires is also a concern.

While I support the intent of the member for Pontiac's Motion No. 208 and will vote in favour of it, we do not need more studies on rural digital infrastructure.

The chair of the Kootenay Boundary Regional Broadband Committee, Rob Gay, recently told me that around 60% of the region was currently covered by high-speed internet, mostly in the more urban communities. He said that in Kootenay Columbia they did not need another study, that they knew what needed to happen, which was they needed the federal government to continue to provide funding.

In the final year of the government's mandate, directing two standing committees to study this issue only serves to delay the action rural Canadians need now. These Canadians want a strategy, with timelines for getting people connected and the funding to make it happen.

In April 2018, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology presented a report titled, “Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide.” This report was two years in the making and resulted in 12 recommendations to improve connectivity in rural Canada. There are sensible recommendations in this report, such as simplifying access to federal funding for non-traditional network operators, like local governments.

Last fall, the Auditor General released a report, “Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas” which found Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada had accurate and detailed information on the current state of connectivity in Canada. The report found that the department did not have a strategy for working towards universal connectivity.

The Auditor General highlighted the need for a national strategy with timelines. The standing committee's report also called for the development of a strategy as well as the need to integrate issues such as affordability and digital literacy. Despite repeated calls for a national strategy, the Auditor General found the department was reluctant to do so without the funding to implement it.

This leads to the other critical piece of the puzzle, which is adequate funding is needed to fill in where market forces will not. The CRTC estimates it will cost about $7 billion to achieve universal connectivity. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities has called on the federal government to commit $4 billion over the next 10 years.

The government has so far committed $500 million through its connect to innovate program, which is appreciated but falls far short of what is needed. Meanwhile, the same government purchased an aging pipeline for $4.5 billion.

The CRTC recently launched another fund aimed at improving rural connectivity, but set the minimum speeds for eligible projects at half the basic service objectives established in 2016. An overarching goal should be to reduce the disparity between urban and rural Canadians.

The 2018 budget focused on strategic innovation, but did little to promote the growth of broadband in rural communities. The more the digital divide grows due to inaction, the greater the economic and social costs.

While I support the member for Pontiac's efforts to bring attention to this issue, the NDP calls on the government to make the overdue substantial investment in rural connectivity a priority in the 2019 federal budget. Rural Canadians deserve no less.