Highlights: Our Government
A Strong Economy.
Our economy is stronger now than it’s been in over a decade. In 2017, employers added 400,000 jobs, the unemployment rate fell to below 6%, and Canada’s economic growth is expected to be the best in the G7.
Our policies helped to contribute to that growth. As Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz put it, our Canada Child Benefit was “highly stimulative” and government infrastructure spending will further add to productivity, with billions in funding allocated in Budget 2017 for public transit, a national housing strategy, and early learning and childcare.
With economic growth outpacing estimates, and additional revenue as a result, the Finance Minister announced that the Canada Child Benefit and Working Income Tax Benefit will increase, that small business taxes will be reduced as promised, and that our deficit will be lower than projected. As the Parliamentary Budget Office reported in early October, “current fiscal policy at the federal level is sustainable over the long term,” and our debt-to-GDP ratio continues to decline.
On a personal note, I’ve been pushing to increase the Working Income Tax Benefit, an income support program for the working poor in Canada. It was nice to see those advocacy efforts rewarded. Basic income programs like the WITB, CCB, and GIS are efficient and effective, and the WITB is especially important considering that 70% of Canadians in poverty are working.
Equality and human rights at home and abroad.
Our government continues to defend Canadian values on the world stage. We launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy to promote gender equality and empower women and girls, and have contributed humanitarian aid to global crises from the atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar to the famine in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve also supported the rainbow railroad in bringing persecuted LGBTQ2 people to safety from Chechnya.
Here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau delivered a historic apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the House of Commons, our government tabled a bill to expunge criminal records for historical same-sex offences, and we passed C-16 to give transgender Canadians human rights protections.
We also passed C-6 to repeal Harper’s two-tiered citizenship, and restored and expanded the court challenges program to ensure that similar actions by future governments can be better held to account.
Progress towards reconciliation.
In a speech to the United Nations in the fall, Prime Minister Trudeau described Canada as a “work in progress” in our path towards reconciliation.
Progress this year included small symbolic decisions, such as renaming the Langevin block, as well as major funding commitments for housing, education initiatives, and to address the over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal justice system.
Over 30 water advisories have been lifted, which is significant, but another 20 have been added at the same time. We remain committed to our goal of eliminating all such advisories by 2021. There are over 300 water projects underway, and a longer-term funding model is expected to pay dividends going forward.
We also passed S-3 to end discrimination in the Indian Act, committed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, settled the 60s scoop class action and the human rights tribunal decision on the issue of child welfare funding, reached a landmark agreement for self-governance on education, and established a National Council for Reconciliation. While there were real problems for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry this past year, it is well-funded and we will ensure that it fulfills its important mandate.
Reconciliation remains an important goal for our government in 2018 and beyond, and our Ministers expect to deliver.
Respect for experts and evidence.
We advanced evidence-based drug policies, passing C-37 to expand safe injection clinics across the country, and passing the Cannabis Act in the House of Commons.
And based on extensive consultations with advocates and experts, we established a parliamentary committee to oversee national security agencies, and introduced legislation to fix the over-reaching Conservative anti-terror legislation, known as C-51.
Highlights: Our Office
Representing Canada on the world stage.
In February, I represented Canada at a UN Parliamentary Hearing in New York to discuss the preservation and protection of the world’s oceans, and in April I represented Canada at a global conference of parliamentarians in Bangladesh.
As the Chair of the Canada-Bangladesh Parliamentary Friendship Group, it was an honour to have a number of constituents join me in Dhaka and to help arrange meetings with Bangladeshi officials.
In October, our privacy committee traveled to Washington to meet members of the US Congress, FTC officials, and large businesses like Facebook. I also met with officials at the US Department of Justice and Homeland Security and with lawyers at the ACLU to discuss privacy issues and civil liberties protections.
Finally, in November, I helped to host in Ottawa the 4th IPU global conference of young MPs, where we were joined by over 120 young MPs from over 50 countries. Our discussion focused on social, economic, and political inclusion, and I participated as a panelist in support of a basic income to end poverty, and helped open the conference with a few words:
“Some of you will be the next leaders of your countries. The bonds you continue to build with the next leaders of other countries have the potential to change our world for the better. Don’t underestimate the opportunity.”
Advocating for sensible drug policies.
In a speech to the House of Commons, and in an op-ed in VICE News, I argued that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime, and called for more progressive drug policies to help address the opioid crisis.
Subsequently, I put forward a caucus policy resolution that Canada should adopt Portugal’s successful drug policies. With enough hard work in 2018, the resolution will hopefully make its way into our platform for the next election.
Our government remains committed to legalizing and regulating recreational cannabis by July 2018, and I was vocal in support of this evidence-based promise. I delivered a speech in the House of Commons, debated the issue on TVO’s new series Political Blind Date, with further advocacy on TVO’s The Agenda, and in The Toronto Star.
I rose in the House on a number of occasions to dispute false Conservative claims about cannabis regulation, and spoke in the media and in the House about the need for an expedited record suspension process after we’ve passed the Cannabis Act.
Recognizing and representing Beaches-East York.
I recognized notable constituents in the House of Commons, from the scientists who invented the UV Index, to the scientist who first discovered cancer stem cells, to a couple of hardcore Leafs fans who invented the Babsocks. I also raised awareness in the House for important community service organizations and programs, from Community Centre 55, to Access Alliance, to The Neighbourhood Group (which recently received $1 million in funding for a youth employment program).
I continued to elevate constituents’ voices in the House of Commons through petitions and speeches, from denouncing international tax havens, to raising awareness of Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingya, to calling for greater efforts towards reconciliation. And I regularly reached out to Ministers with constituent concerns (advocacy for stronger environmental action was top of my list), and in some cases to bring constituents home, not to mention the hundreds of constituents my office helped to navigate the federal bureaucracy.
Finally, as the vice-chair of the Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics committee, I helped to lead studies on improving privacy protections, and I continued to be a vocal member of our animal welfare caucus, writing an op-ed in NOW Magazine about improving animal advocacy in Ottawa, and giving a presentation on the same topic at Toronto’s Veg Fest at Harbourfront.
Our hard work was awarded this year, as we received recognition as Best MP in Toronto by NOW Magazine.
Principles and thoughtfulness in politics.
In March, I participated in a Samara Canada panel discussion on the question of political engagement.
I believe that hard work, authenticity, and a principled approach are critical to improved engagement, and I try my best to bring a sense of integrity to my decision-making and advocacy.
To that end, I continued to exercise a degree of independence in my voting record and representation.
In a February article, Eric Grenier of the CBC noted that I remained one of the most frequent “dissenters”:
“Constituents want strong local representation,” Erskine-Smith said in an interview with CBC News. “Reasonable disagreements are the foundations of democracy.”
The Toronto MP says he “consults constituents, evidence and one’s own conscience” when deciding how to vote — the only pressures exerted on him, he says, are the personal pressures of being a member of a team.
As one high profile example, I candidly expressed my disappointment with our government’s decision to abandon our promise of electoral reform through an article in the Huffington Post and an interview with CBC’s As It Happens.
At the same time, the ability to express reasonable disagreement is itself an incredibly important democratic reform that our Prime Minister and government have implemented. I will continue to exercise my voice on your behalf, and you can track my (dissenting) voting record, along with the reasons for my decisions, here.
As a testament to our government’s commitment to free votes, our caucus voted to pass the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act this past year, without cabinet support. Moments like that serve to strengthen our democracy.
In his final speech in the House of Commons, Arnold Chan reminded us all of our obligation to work to strengthen our democracy. His speech is worth everyone’s time. Our caucus, parliament, and country will all miss Arnold, and it is incredible that his wife Jean Yip will now carry on his legacy.
Highlights: In Our Community
January to March
I also attended International Mother Language Day events, hosted a budget breakfast and a seniors care town hall, walked with my family in the Women’s March, and stood together with dozens of neighbours of different faiths at a local mosque alongside our local Muslim community in the wake of the Quebec attack.
April to June.
I marched in the Beaches Lions Easter Parade with Amy and Mack, visited the Park View Hills Community’s annual picnic, hosted a drug policy town hall, participated in new years celebrations with our Bengali and Nepali communities, and attended Vimy ceremonies, including a tree planting at Notre Dame of an oak from a Vimy acorn.
On one busy day, I spoke at a morning Eid prayer and then marched in the Toronto Pride parade in the afternoon.
And in one busy week, I attended and spoke at over 10 graduation ceremonies.
July to September.
We delivered thousands of Canada flags and Canada 150 pins to constituents, and it was incredible to see so many flags fly across our riding (special shout out to Coleridge Ave).
We had a huge crowd at the East York Canada Day Parade (after the early morning citizenship ceremony), we had booths at the East Lynn and East York farmers’ markets, at the Crescent Town flea market, and at the Jazz Festival on Queen Street East, I attended Durga Puga festivities with our Hindu community, and we organized a KAIROS Kitchi Blanket Exercise in East Lynn Park, and hosted a reconciliation town hall.
We also helped to secure funding for local Canada 150 celebrations, including a huge multicultural festival in Dentonia Park in August.
October to December.
I took part in the Remembrance Day service at Kew Gardens, hosted a human rights town hall with Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve, marched in the Santa Claus Parade along Kingston Road and dropped gifts off at Santa’s Streetcar on Queen Street East.
I also talked politics at seniors programs and in high schools, volunteered with The Neighbourhood Group’s meals on wheels program and with the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank, and helped to pack holiday hampers for both Access Alliance and Community Centre 55.