Last in Parliament November 2005, as Bloc MP for Beauharnois—Salaberry (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2004, with 50.67% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Liberal Government May 11th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, last night, a motion calling on the government to step down was passed in this House.
With that vote, the Bloc Québécois has confirmed its commitment toward Quebeckers to defend the best interests of Quebec.
To do otherwise would have meant the Bloc Québécois was condoning the action of a government that denies the Quebec difference, that refuses to recognize the fiscal imbalance, that ignores the urgent needs of the unemployed and that scoffs at Quebec's constitutional jurisdictions.
To do otherwise would have meant the Bloc Québécois was condoning a corrupt regime that did not hesitate to pig out at the public trough.
To do otherwise would have meant the Bloc Québécois was condoning a government that, for two weeks now, as a last ditch effort, has been throwing around billions of dollars to try to hang on to power.
The Liberal government does not have the legitimacy or the moral authority to govern. Today we are vehemently denouncing it.
Société d'histoire et de généalogie de Salaberry April 11th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, in the aftermath of the various commemorations relating to Auschwitz, I would like to draw hon. members' attention to an excellent initiative taken by the Société d'histoire et de généalogie de Salaberry.
On February 16, this historical and genealogical society hosted a lecture on Ile Lalanne and its past links to Nazism in Quebec. The lecturer, historian Hugues Théoret, spoke of the pro-Nazi actions of the mysterious Dr. Lalanne, who used to live on an island on Lake Saint-François, close to Sainte-Barbe.
Dr. Lalanne funded the activities of Adrien Arcand, leader of the Quebec Nazi movement during the 1930s and 1940s, one of the darkest periods in human history. In 1941, a series of arrests put an end to Dr. Lalanne's activities.
I congratulate Hugues Théoret on his painstaking efforts. He discovered Paul-Émile Lalanne's records in the course of his 15 years of research on this subject.
If we are to ensure that such horrors are never again possible, our fellow citizens must be informed of what has happened in the past. We must be aware of history if we are to learn from it.
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act April 6th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise in this House to speak to the bill to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, a bill that is very dear to my heart.
First, I must say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-236. It is thus in favour of reducing from ten to two years the period of time during which a former student cannot be released, through bankruptcy, from the reimbursement of his debts relating to student loans.
This legislative change will specifically assist the least fortunate among former Quebec and Canadian students and will restore a balance between the moral duty to reimburse the state for the loans and the right to be released from their debts through bankruptcy.
The Bloc Québécois considers that the ten year period, which affects only former students, is too long and is thus a discriminatory measure that is uncalled for.
The Bloc Québécois is aware that bankruptcy must not become an easy way for students to be released from their debts. However, it is unfair to deny this relief to former students who are really in need.
It is because of the fiscal imbalance created by the federal government that Quebec and the provinces now have to increase tuition and change the bursary and loans programs. These measures have a direct impact on the level of student debt.
Allowing former students to clear their student debt by declaring bankruptcy does help the least fortunate Quebeckers and Canadians, but does not provide a sustainable funding solution for the post-secondary education system.
The federal government's lack of vision and willingness to significantly increase education transfers is a clear indication of how much it prefers visibility measures such as the millennium scholarships over truly beneficial measures.
Reducing the timeframe in which a former student cannot declare bankruptcy to clear their debt would help reduce the financial pressure on the poorest in our society, people who, upon finishing school, do not find gainful enough employment to pay back their loans.
Although in Quebec—by virtue of a social choice that distinguishes us from the other Canadian provinces—the average student debt is less than in the other provinces, this does not change the fact that some students are burdened by debt they are unable to pay off. The proposed measure would allow students to benefit, with a very reasonable limit, from the same right as other people, and that is to clear their debt by declaring bankruptcy.
The two-year period proposed in Bill C-236 is short enough so as not to hurt lower income former students. There does need to be a certain period where the student must try to make arrangements to fulfill their financial obligations.
I also want to point out that student debt is a major contributing factor to the drop in Quebec's birth rate. Debt overload discourages thousands of Quebec students from starting a family.
The bill has two major flaws. First, it does not include any measure to hold students responsible for fulfilling their financial obligations and using their loans appropriately. Obviously, students are not irresponsible and there is no reason to believe they do not manage their money as well as other individuals.
However, measures to raise student awareness of the use of loans and of repayment terms would have added value to what Bill C-236 proposes.
Second, the bill is not providing any real answers to the underfunding problem of post-secondary education systems. The fiscal imbalance that is continuing to choke Quebec and the provinces is the primary reason why students get into debt. A substantial increase in direct transfers to Quebec and the provinces is the best way to curb student debt and ensure quality education.
Since the 1990s, federal transfers for post-secondary education have dropped dramatically. Even the Canadian Association of University Teachers came to the conclusion that the weakening of the provinces' ability to fund post-secondary education is primarily due to the reduction in federal transfer payments.
When the member for LaSalle—Émard became Minister of Finance, Ottawa paid 1.7¢ on every dollar of revenue into the transfers for education and social services. When he left his position, nine years later, Ottawa was paying only 1¢ on every dollar of revenue. This represents a 40% decrease.
The federal contribution to total expenditures in education and social programs is now less than 12%.
The Bloc Québécois wants the issue of fiscal imbalance resolved, which would mean a substantial increase in funding available to post-secondary education.
In keeping with the consensus of the provincial premiers, the Bloc Québécois wants federal funding to be 25% of the total expenditure on education and health care by 2009-2010.
Currently, the Quebec system of education is short of resources as the result of cuts in transfer payments, a lack of funding, a shortage of teachers and so, despite the monumental efforts of the Government of Quebec with the meagre resources at its disposal.
The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the FEUQ, and the Canadian Federation of Students are also critical of the federal government's refusal to increase transfer payments for post-secondary education by $4 billion to offset the cuts during the 1990s. This money would have allowed Quebec to expand its manoeuvring room in order to reinvest in universities, and the rest of Canada to reduce tuition.
In closing, I want to reiterate the Bloc Québécois's support for this bill so students can start their working life in a respectable fashion, and I invite the other parties to support it.
Older Workers March 24th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, one quarter of all workers in the region of Huntingdon are over the age of 55 and do not have a high school diploma.
Does the minister understand that training and outplacement assistance are insufficient, and that what these workers need is a broader social support program, such as a POWA?
Petitions March 24th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to table, in both official languages, a petition bearing the signatures of 5,300 people of the region of Huntingdon, situated in my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry.
The petitioners are calling on the federal government to implement an assistance program for older workers who are hard hit by the crisis in the textile industry, so that they can retire with dignity and respect.
Supply February 8th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
The industry is very active at present. What did it do? Seeing as the textile industry had been affected for a long time, a petition went around that was tabled in the House on December 9. The purpose of the petition was to inform the government of a problem that needed to be resolved before it was too late.
My colleague was repeatedly told in the House that the Bloc was crying wolf and that it was getting ahead of itself. However, the Bloc never got too far ahead. It took the bull by the horns and wanted to wake up the government by telling it about a problem that absolutely needed to be resolved before everything collapsed. That is the point the people of Huntingdon were trying to make with their petition.
The region is currently working on finding other projects and employment for the workers who are going to lose their jobs in other industries. Most of these people are manual labourers. We are working on this right now in cooperation with the local CLD and the mayor of Huntingdon. In an effort to encourage the regional economy, we are trying to find new jobs in other industries, not for all of these people, but most of them.
Many workers in these industries are often members of the same family. A father and mother of a family might work in these industries. Many families will be without work. In these regions, people work in the textile industry from generation to generation. It is important to help these people have a better local economy and to find new work elsewhere.
Supply February 8th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, given that situation, if we refer to the programs that have been announced hastily, the measures taken by the government are far from satisfactory. As a matter of fact, they do not help at all the workers in those industries, since 800 jobs will be lost and a portion of them have been lost already.
At this point, we must think of the workers who have been hit by that cataclysm, so to speak, and put programs in place to help them. POWA is being mentioned. It used to be in place. However, it was cancelled in 1997. Therefore, it could be easily reinstated to help those older workers, 53% of which in my riding have not even completed a secondary 5 education. How can they find a new job at the age of 55? Of course, I am not saying that going back to school at that age is not feasible, but it is very difficult, even more so since they have not reached the secondary 5 level.
Therefore, we must find effective ways to help those people on the ground. Some of them will be able to find another job. Others will go back to school, but we must also help them to get back into the labour force. We are in a situation where the government must put in place good programs to help people on the ground.
Supply February 8th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today that the Bloc Québécois proposed this motion relating to the closure of clothing and textile plants. This is a very alarming situation, and many more closures are to be expected.
As we know, the federal government was slow to react to that situation. Its assistance package is inadequate, especially for the plant workers in Huntingdon, in my riding, who have lost their jobs.
The Bloc Québécois is concerned about this situation and has worked together with local stakeholders to resolve it for the workers who have seen their plants shut down. Today, I urge the federal government to act, as I did a few weeks ago in this House.
Many textile and apparel plants have closed, and closures will continue over the next few weeks and months.
Like many ridings in Quebec, my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry was hard hit. On December 13, two plant closures were announced in Huntingdon, with 800 jobs lost. That represents 40% of all manufacturing jobs in the area. That is a huge percentage.
In Huntingdon, 30% of the population in general is living under the poverty line, and 70% of the working population is employed in plants which will be closing. These two plants were spending $25 million on wages and accounted for $600,000 annually in municipal taxes.
On February 1, the Gildan clothing company announced it was closing two plants, whose operations will be transferred to the United States. This meant the loss of 285 jobs, including 115 in Quebec. In these two cases, the workers that were laid off will have a hard time finding new jobs. Nearly half of them never graduated from high school. The 800 jobs lost in Huntingdon and the 285 at Gildan's are in addition to the disastrous 1,340 previous layoffs.
The federal government was slow to react and the measures it proposed are inadequate. The CATIP and CANtex programs have failed to prevent major closures.
All the assistance available under the CATIP has been used up. These programs are but a drop in the ocean. They do not provide enough funding to significantly improve the situation of businesses in difficulty.
On December 9, I tabled in this House a petition signed by 2,845 workers from Huntingdon, to make the federal government aware of the growing problems in our textile industry. In response to this cry of alarm from workers in my riding, no assistance was forthcoming.
On December 14, 2004, in response to pressure from the Bloc, the government announced in a hurried fashion, hastily, three measures to help the textile industry.
The most galling thing about it is that the federal government had been aware for a long time that something was afoot and it did not do anything. The Bloc Québécois had been mentioning for several months the serious threat of massive job losses in the area of textile and had been calling for the implementation of transition measures. Ottawa always turned a deaf ear to those entreaties.
The federal government slashed the employment insurance system to pieces. It terminated POWA in 1997. It accumulated huge budget surpluses, up to $9.1 billion dollars, at the expense of workers and the provinces.
It must set quotas on Chinese imports under the protocol regarding China's entry into the WTO and prevent the Canadian market from being flooded with highly competitive Chinese products.
We also need to put in place measures to encourage the use of textiles from Quebec and Canada by allowing the duty-free entry of clothes made abroad, from textiles of Canadian origin, and guarantee to local textile producers an additional market outlet for their products.
When that is consistent with international agreements, we could also adopt a buy local policy for uniforms and clothes for the government. By so doing, we would ensure stable orders to part of the industry. An international policy capable of averting low-cost offshoring should also be adopted.
Canada should enhance its negotiating position by setting an example and by signing the three core ILO agreements, ILO being the International Labour Organization, which have yet to be signed, namely Convention 29 on Forced Labour, Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and Convention 138 on Minimum Age.
We are also asking the government to impose labelling indicating where the products came from, that is the exact place of manufacturing. This measure will have the effect of informing consumers on what they are buying. If they are better informed, they will be in a better position to make informed choices on the production methods that they find acceptable.
Assistance to textile workers who will lose their jobs must also be provided. This will be totally necessary, because some businesses will inevitably close their doors. Given the low education and the older age of workers in this sector, many of them will not be able to re-enter the workforce. They will thus need a program such as POWA, which will allow older workers to make the transition between employment insurance benefits and retirement.
The Bloc Québécois believes that Ottawa should pay the maximum amount provided by the Employment Insurance Act with respect to training and should transfer to Quebec the share to which it is entitled. The yearly shortfall for the Government of Quebec is over $200 million.
The government must put in place a program to help modernize the clothing and textile industries that will stimulate both research and development as well as creation.
The amounts that were added to CANtex last December, that is $50 million over five years, are totally inadequate. Furthermore, the money is needed now, not in five years. Thus, the government must invest more money in the short term in this program and expand its scope.
It is not too late for industries that survived NAFTA, and which will survive the WTO, to recover, provided that the government wakes up and gives them a little help now.
Supply February 8th, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and I would like to ask him a few questions.
As we well know, Canada is competing with China in the textile industry. Now, the sales of Quebec's industries are going down because they are not competitive and, consequently, they get fewer orders.
I would like the parliamentary secretary to explain how those industries can get the support of the CATIP program, for instance, since all its funds have already been distributed?
Besides, as we well know, 85% of the support available under the CANtex program is allocated to the clothing industry and 15% to textile manufacturers. This program helps businesses obtain the funding they need to buy new capital equipment.
How can one use this program when one's sales and orders are down by half? How can it be done?
Textile Industry December 14th, 2004
Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his question.
Indeed, the people of the riding are experiencing a tragedy. Economically speaking, it is also a tragedy for the Haut-Saint-Laurent RCM.
Concerning the textile industry, about 15 couples, some with children, used to work for Huntingdon Mills. I am thinking in particular about a family with three children. The situation is tragic when, on the eve of Christmas, the two parents are laid off, without any income. How will that family, these three children, spend Christmas? That was the question I wanted to ask.
On the other hand, some employees received a simple thank-you letter, having been employed more than 30 years by the same factory, one generation after the other. This letter is the only thing they did receive. They have no retirement plan. At this time, they do not even have the means to provide for their basic needs. That is pitiful. The government must take some concrete action. It is very important.
Employment insurance benefits must be paid now, without delays, since 43% of the population do not have post-secondary diplomas.
Inside the riding, some measures were taken by the former member. However these did not amount to anything. Some meetings were scheduled with the employers—