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View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, as my first term draws to an end, I take this time to thank the constituents of Scarborough—Rouge River for giving me the honour of representing them in Parliament. They took a leap of faith in electing the first ever woman and person of colour to represent the constituency federally, Canada's first ever member of Parliament of Tamil heritage.
At this point, I would like to recognize the members of the Islamic faith who are observing Ramadan, a month dedicated to spiritual reflection; zakat, giving to those in need; and sawm, fasting during the Holy month.
In the face of many challenges over the four short years, I always strove to do my best in the interest of my constituents and all Canadians by working together with members of my community and parliamentarians alike. I have championed initiatives and conversations about the elimination of poverty, the promotion of women's rights, affordable housing, access to education, employment equity, and the preservation and celebration of our diverse cultures. I have worked tirelessly to improve the immigration system and the lives of our seniors and veterans as well as to increase youth engagement and opportunities for leadership.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of my staff and volunteers for everything they have done and continue to do, and I look forward to coming back here as the MP for Scarborough North, with an NDP government.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-696, Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act (ecological protection).
She said: Mr. Speaker, over the last year, the government has pushed through critically flawed legislation for Rouge National Urban Park, ignoring the advice of several thousand Canadians, 106 members of Parliament, the Ontario government, and several of Canada's top environmental organizations. Even the former chief scientist for Parks Canada, Stephen Woodley, publicly stated that the Rouge National Urban Park Act “falls considerably short” of the accepted environmental standards for protected areas, whether urban or wilderness.
The new park that is being created would be less than two square kilometres and would not include the currently existing Rouge Park. The bill that I have put forward would actually fix many of the serious flaws in the existing Rouge National Urban Park Act by prioritizing and protecting the restoration of ecological integrity and watershed health; by respecting water quality agreement objectives and policies for the provincial Greenbelt, Rouge Park, the Rouge watershed, the Oak Ridges Moraine, and the Great Lakes; by requiring good public consultation and scientifically sound park management; by supporting healthy and sustainable farming in the park; and by respecting the history and heritage of the first peoples of the land.
I hope that we will be able to move forward with the bill and see a Rouge national park that is 100 square kilometres, a people's park and will continue to be the gem in everybody's backyard in the city of Toronto and the greater Toronto area.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present three separate petitions.
The first petition is from petitioners who say that multinational seed companies are gradually replacing the immense diversity of farmers' seeds by industrial varieties. They are obtaining an increased number of patents on different seeds and are threatening the ability of small family farms to produce the food that is required to feed their families and their communities.
The petitioners are asking the government to adopt international aid policies that support small family farmers, especially women, and recognize their vital role in the struggle against hunger and poverty, and that these policies be developed in consultation with small family farms.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
The second petition, Mr. Speaker, is signed by youth and adults alike across the country and talks about the flavouring of tobacco products that are marketed to youth by the tobacco industry. The petitioners are requesting that all flavours be removed from all tobacco products.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the third petition contains thousands of signatures of petitioners who are calling for the removal of the gender-specific discriminatory tax on feminine hygiene products.
I am happy to report while I table this petition that the NDP motion to do the same thing has now been adopted by this House, and as of July 1 this year, this gender-specific discriminatory tax on women and feminine hygiene products will no longer be in effect.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have spent $13 million already on a witch hunt against Canadian charities that disagree with them. Now the Canadian Bar Association is warning that loopholes in the Criminal Code could allow the Conservatives to target legitimate charities and accuse them of funding terrorists.
People are worried that the real target here are the charities that disagree with Conservative policies. Will the government fix the loophole instead of leaving the law open to abuse?
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, many Canadians face long commutes made worse by overcrowded transit and crumbling roads and bridges. Liberal and Conservative governments have left our cities with a staggering $170-billion infrastructure deficit. They downloaded costs and failed to keep pace with the funding needs.
This week, mayors from across the country are coming together to demand real federal investment in our cities; funds to cut commute times, boost local economies and make our cities more livable.
New Democrats are ready to partner with our municipal leaders to invest in our cities. Why are the Conservatives not?
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of hundreds of Canadians from across the country who are calling on the House to adopt Motion No. 534 to eradicate child poverty in Canada.
I want to thank all of the petitioners for their hard work and thank the House for supporting the motion. I hope we will be able to move forward to actually create an action plan to end child poverty in this country.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to let you know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Churchill.
I rise today to speak in support of this motion put forth by the NDP member for Northwest Territories. I must also add my gratitude in recognizing the tremendous work that my colleague has done for many years in serving as the tireless voice of the people from the territories.
Many communities across Canada's three territories as well as in the northern parts of several provinces are accessible only by air for part of or all of the year. The cost of living and doing business in these isolated communities is higher than in many of the other southern regions of the country. Necessities such as perishable foods must be flown in to the communities, and it is not easy. In my community of Scarborough and Toronto we can walk down the street to a grocery store, but people in many northern communities do not have this luxury. Even though food insecurity is prevalent in Scarborough—Rouge River and north Scarborough, it is far worse in the northern parts of our country, and we need to recognize that. I thank the member for Northwest Territories for his work and for his recognition of this situation.
The NDP has taken a leadership role in trying to alleviate some of the problems by coming up with new solutions that might actually work.
Perishable foods should not cost such exorbitant amounts. For example, in April 2014, the price of two litres of milk was $7.99 in Old Crow, Yukon, compared with $3.35 in Edmonton, Alberta. In Fort Albany in northern Ontario, baby formula costs $60 and two pounds of frozen beef cost $16. These types of prices are through the roof. In Treaty 5 territory, bread costs $6, a jug of milk is $13, and a case of eggs is $37. If we are going to go all out and have the luxury of fresh produce, something as simple as a bunch of grapes will cost $12.
These exorbitant prices occur in communities that are living in crushing poverty, communities where people's main income is about $371 of social assistance a month. I do not know how much $371 can actually buy a person who is feeding a family, trying to feed children, trying to feed three or four mouths.
These types of high prices have been prevalent in our northern communities for far too long. To help with these high costs of food in the north, the federal government created the food mail program in the late 1960s. After 1991, the program was managed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I would like to go through a little bit about this program, especially for the benefit of members of my community who may not know about the nutrition north program because they are in Toronto.
Under the program, Canada Post received a transportation subsidy from the department to deliver items to isolated northern communities. Over the years, because of population growth and increasing fuel prices, expenditures continued to increase and the program often exceeded its budget.
In April of 2011, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada introduced the nutrition north program. The objective of the program was to make healthy foods more accessible and affordable to residents of isolated northern communities.
Nutrition north Canada is a transfer payment program based on a market-driven model. It has an annual fixed budget of $60 million, of which $53.9 million is allocated annually to the subsidy component. The subsidy is provided directly to northern retailers, food suppliers, distributors, and food processors through contribution agreements. Retailers make their own supply chain arrangements.
About 40 retailers, suppliers, and food processors participate in the program, and three northern retailers have accounted for about 80% of the subsidy each year. Why are we giving these subsidies to retailers, suppliers, and food processors, rather than directly to the people who are the end consumers? We are counting on the government giving the subsidies to these retailers and hoping that the retailers will actually transfer these subsidies and cost savings over to the consumers, but in reality we are not seeing that.
I would like to quote Ron Elliott, former Nunavut MLA for Quttiktuq. He said:
That's been one of the problems from the onset of the program. You are providing a subsidy to the people who are responsible to board members or shareholders who are supposed to make profits. So there are conflicting interests.
He is right when he says that when they give subsidies in the hope the retailers will transfer these cost savings on to the end consumer, the retailers are not necessarily going to always make that their priority when their priority is, of course, lining their pockets and making profits for themselves and their shareholders. That is one of the many problems with the system.
However, let me go back. Soon after the program was initiated, complaints began. People were seeing increased food costs compared with those experienced under the old food mail program, which allowed a bit more control for the direct end user.
Norman Yakeleya, Northwest Territories MLA for Sahtu, said:
The transition to the NNCP was painful and frustrating for my people. We are basically at the mercy of our one or two stores, especially when these stores are now saying “believe us — this is how much you are saving and this is what you'll get...no more personal orders.” We feel our choices in the old Food Mail Program were stomped out by the New Improved NNCP.
Nutrition north is a failure because the criteria used to determine which communities receive assistance are flawed, with the result that close to 50 communities that should qualify actually do not receive the full subsidy or the full assistance. We know that at least 46 northern communities that receive either no subsidy or a 5-cent-per-kilogram partial subsidy on the food should actually qualify for the full subsidy.
We are speaking about families and children being able to leave the vicious cycle of poverty. The additional cost for the government to alleviate this situation and lift these families out of poverty would be about $7.6 million. That is what it would cost to add these 46 communities to the full subsidy list, but the government refuses to be there to support these communities that are living in conditions of extreme poverty.
We have also seen the Conservatives spending dollars on advertisements for the government's action plan, or inaction plan. Recently it spent $13.5 million just to promote its budget, but apparently $7.6 million is just too much money to spend on our northern communities to try to alleviate conditions for the many northerners who are living in poverty.
Of the 46 communities that I mentioned, 27 are in Conservative-held ridings. If the Conservatives wanted to at least support their own communities, these 27 communities, they should be able to do something to alleviate the situation, the condition, the reality of our elders in our communities, who are rooting through garbage to scavenge for food.
This really should not be the case. In such a rich country as ours, no one should be living in poverty, let alone so many entire communities.
When I put forward Motion No. 534 to end child poverty in this House, it was because far too many children in this country, 967,000 of them, are living in poverty or extreme poverty. UNICEF's report tells us that one Canadian child in five lives in poverty today. Among our aboriginal children, it is far more extreme: half—one in two—of our aboriginal children are growing up in extreme poverty. Just two days ago, I was in Toronto with Keep the Promise, where children were speaking out and asking our government to work to end poverty among children in this country.
Food insecurity is a real problem in many of our communities, even in Scarborough, but it does not even come close to the level of food insecurity in northern Ontario and in many other parts of northern Canada.
In conclusion, I would like to end my remarks for now with a reminder and a quote from a mother.
Her name is Leesee Papatsie. She is the creator of Feeding My Family, a Facebook page that she created. Of the aboriginal first peoples of this country and how their culture is one of working together and supporting one another and not creating friction, she said:
It's against our culture. The Inuit never protested. Traditionally, for the Inuit to survive, everybody had to get along and we didn't create friction. But if we don't start saying something about high costs, then people will think it's okay.
Our children are going hungry. Our country's children should not be going hungry, and it is our responsibility as legislators and as a government to ensure that all of Canada's children have food and security.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is sad to hear that government members are not actually interested in food security for our northerners. The member said that this program was not created as a measure to alleviate food insecurity in the north, and it is sad to hear that. It is just not right. He said that it was created to send nutritious, healthy food to northerners.
I want to quote once again from Leesee Papatsie, an Inuit woman. She said:
What they consider healthy food is not traditionally the Inuit diet. It's imposing the idea of, 'Here, this is what we think is healthy for you guys.' What we've been saying all along is that we're not used to cooking fruits and vegetables....
Northerners are saying that they want to have access to nutritious food and food that is part of their traditional diet, instead of just having imposed on them what this member or the current government feels is nutritious or healthy food for Inuit. We should be respecting their cultures and their traditional way of life.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, yes, any produce and products that need refrigeration or need to be preserved are going to be more difficult for the communities to get. That is why we are seeing more and more of our parents having to feed their children pop and chips.
The member suggested milk or anything that is more nutritious than pop or chips. The problem is that even water is even a scarce resource. The parents do not have access to good, clean water. They do not have access to running water all the time in all the communities. We should not have a situation like this in our country. In Canada, which is such a have country, we should not have communities that do not have access to clean drinking water.
Of course I agree with the member in saying that we do not want to be feeding our children pop and chips. Those kinds of food habits are the reason we are seeing exponentially growing rates of diabetes and many other health concerns in our northern communities, and we should not have this situation. We, as legislators at the federal level, should be working with all levels of government to ensure that all our communities can be safe and that all our children can grow to their full potential and have healthy food.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are failing consumers on bank fees and they are also failing on the economy.
When the Governor of the Bank of Canada said that the economy would be “atrocious”, he was talking about zero growth, but the truth is even worse. Under the Conservative economic mismanagement, our economy is actually shrinking, with thousands of Canadians struggling to make ends meet and worried that their jobs might be the next to disappear.
When will the Conservatives drop their tired talking points and start taking action to protect Canadians and create jobs?
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present petitions on behalf of thousands of Canadians across the country with respect to the unfair and gender-specific discriminatory tax on feminine hygiene products and what has been known across the country as the “tampon tax”.
The petitioners are requesting that the tax, GST specifically, on feminine hygiene products, be removed, as the burden is disproportionate on women in this country.
I would like at this moment to also give my personal thanks on behalf of women across this country to the New Democrats, as well as to the member for London—Fanshawe, for being a champion of this cause. I am very excited that we will be able to vote on this tonight.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present petitions on behalf of hundreds of Canadians across the country on the cessation of taxes on menstrual hygiene products.
Clearly, a tax on feminine hygiene products is a gender-specific discriminatory tax, and we need to end it. The petitioners are calling for the Government of Canada to extend a 0% GST rate to menstrual hygiene products.
View Rathika Sitsabaiesan Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for attempting to continue debate on the actual bill during this question and answer period, which is really not about the bill itself but about the fact that the government has moved time allocation. The government has moved a motion to stop debate on a bill for the 97th time in this House. That is what this debate right now is about.
Sure, the minister may have had consultations with the Privacy Commissioner before bringing forward the bill, but after the bill was brought forward, the Privacy Commissioner brought forward amendments, which the government has chosen to ignore.
The official opposition New Democrats and experts have proposed amendments to the bill because it is ill conceived. The government chose to ignore all of those, so let us not go to debate on the bill right now, because that is what we are trying to have, actual debate on the bill. The government is stopping debate on the bill, yet once again, stopping debate on yet another bill.
My question to the minister is this. Why do the minister and the entire government seem to have absolutely no respect and complete disregard for parliamentary process?
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