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Last in Parliament November 2005, as Bloc MP for Verchères—Les Patriotes (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2004, with 67.62% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

I am told she was speaking on behalf of all my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois in delivering this message, not one of farewell, but rather of au revoir. I will, in fact, never be far away. I have always said that, from the moment I announced my intention of leaving the House of Commons before long.

It is now my turn to express my appreciation and consideration to all past and present Bloc Québécois colleagues. It has been a real pleasure and a great honour to work with them.

I am absolutely sure that I have made the right decision. I am leaving, more than ever convinced of the importance and pertinence of the Bloc Québécois. I am leaving, more than ever convinced that the Bloc Québécois, in conjunction with the Parti Québécois and the other sovereignist forces in Quebec, will lead Quebec to its logical destiny, that is as a member of the concert of nations.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I have been greatly moved by all the comments and praise. These are particularly meaningful when they come from members of one's own party.

I thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, whose words were, I gather, on behalf of a number of Bloc Québécois colleagues.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I must say that it is starting to be somewhat embarrassing to have to reply to every compliment paid to me. I am deeply touched and moved by so much praise.

I am also touched by the generosity of the House, which has agreed to extend by 10 minutes the time for questions and comments to allow members who may wish to pay me tribute to do so. Those who will be speaking next may have something other than praise to say, who knows. That said, I thank my hon. colleagues for being so kind and graceful to me.

I would be remiss if I concluded these remarks without thanking my hon. colleague for what he said and telling him how much I too appreciated the opportunity of working together on the issue of international trade. He should know that it was a great pleasure for me to work with him on those occasions when, for instance, we went on trade missions outside Canada.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank you because you are being very lenient about time.

Naturally, I want to thank the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and tell him that the feelings are mutual. It was a great pleasure to work with him when he was the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and I was the chief whip of the Bloc Québécois. We had to work quite closely together. Generally speaking, even though there were moments of intense disagreement between our two political parties, people always approached each other in a cordial and civilized manner. This allowed us, despite our disagreements, to maintain, at least until the most recent election, some decorum in this House, a decorum the public most certainly could be proud of. Decorum has probably diminished over the past few months and with good reason.

That said, I think my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell is quite right to stress the importance of the work of volunteers. We all know certain democracies—no need to look far—where money is the driving force and large numbers of handsomely paid employees run election campaigns. In Canada and Quebec, there is a spending ceiling and rules on political party funding, and we cannot afford highly paid staff for an election campaign. What we have are people who offer their services and give their time and energy because they believe in the cause, because they believe in their political party and because they believe in the person representing their political party.

In closing, I think I could not agree more with my colleague in saying that the true heroes of democracy in Canada and Quebec are those who give freely of their time to causes they believe in.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his kind words. Many of my colleagues expressed their good wishes as soon as I took my seat. I like to think that the hon. member represents the view of many of our colleagues in this House and I thank him for it.

That said, he raised a very important question. As previously mentioned, this bill seems like a step in the right direction, but a number of deficiencies remain, including some I pointed out a few moments ago.

I must point out that our colleague from Winnipeg Centre just touched on another major gap in this bill. As I was saying earlier, although we are in favour of this bill in principle, it is very important that we make a number of changes and improvements to it in later stages. Then we could find all the provisions we would like to have in a bill to protect workers and retirees in the event of a bankruptcy or the abrupt closure of a company.

I call on our colleagues, especially those in the government, to be open to the concerns and proposals that will be presented in committee and at report stage, so that we can bring about a bill that Canadians and Quebeckers can be really proud of.

Wage Earner Protection Program Act September 29th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, if you would permit me, I would like to warmly thank my colleague from Shefford. I thank him for his concern in permitting me to express myself today on this bill. I also thank him for being so flexible, for at first I was supposed to speak ahead of him, but gradually we reorganized things. So very great thanks to my colleague from Shefford.

It is with some emotion that I take the floor today on Bill C-55, an Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Not only is this bill important to me, but this is probably one of the last speeches I will give in this House. I therefore ask the indulgence of the Speaker and my colleagues should I ever digress.

We must be very aware of the fact that when there are brutal closures or bankruptcies of companies, the fate of the workers is often tragic. Their families have to suffer the consequences of this as well.

Thus far, these employees do not rank very high in priority among the creditors when the time comes to wind up a company's remaining assets. So, as was mentioned earlier, we find wages and severance allowances unpaid, and, sometimes, pensions lost or heavily mortgaged. After working all their lives for one firm, often these people find themselves without resources, without a pension fund, and often with a reduced likelihood of returning to the labour market.

It is imperative that this Parliament consider the tragic situation of these employees who are the victims of brutal corporate closures or bankruptcies. It is high time that we did so.

A number of my constituents experienced such a situation when the Aciers Atlas plant closed in Sorel-Tracy. In fact, the Aciers Atlas retired steelworkers' association contacted me to ask Parliament to pass legislation to deal with this problem. That people should be lobbying for this is nothing new. The Steelworkers have been pressuring parliamentarians for months to look into this glaring problem. This was due in large part to the worrying situation of a number of steel plants, particularly in the Hamilton region.

After that, our colleague from Winnipeg Centre introduced Bill C-281, a bill we supported 100%. We must admit we even helped our colleague prepare the bill.

Obviously, we are extremely pleased to see the government step in with Bill C-55. In this way, we are assured that the existing legal framework will be improved in order to protect workers and ensure that they are among the preferred creditors when a company is dissolved.

As was said earlier, we support the principle of Bill C-55, but it still contains a number of irritants and gaps, particularly with regard to the concept of secured creditor. The Government of Quebec should be consulted as to how this new legislation may work with the provisions of the Civil Code.

A few moments ago, my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert spoke quite pertinently about the waiting period that students face before being allowed to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy. This is another area of concern with regard to Bill C-55, as is the issue of penalizing individuals receiving EI benefits, who may be taxed on the benefits they receive when a company is dissolved.

We will have to ensure that a number of amendments and improvements are made to the bill in later stages, so that it is able to truly respond to the very legitimate expectations of workers and pensioners of companies that may one day close.

As I said earlier, I am very happy to speak on this issue. It is clear just how important it is to me.

As I said, I will be leaving this place soon for another arena where I hope I will be able to continue to serve and to meet new challenges.

I would like to take the few minutes I have left to thank all my present and former colleagues in this House. It has been a great privilege and honour for me to be able to sit in this House and be surrounded by extraordinary people here to represent their constituents in Canada and in Quebec.

I would like also to say goodbye to everyone here, House staff, clerks, security personnel and so on. I have particularly fond memories of the late Major General Cloutier, with whom I worked closely during my time as chief whip for the Bloc Québécois.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the legal advisors, and in particular Diane Davidson, an extraordinary woman now working with Elections Canada. These legal experts provide such devoted services to parliamentarians. Then there are the maintenance staff, the support staff, the food services people, the mail room employees, the pages, the researchers and Library staff, in short, all personnel of the House, past and present, who make it possible for us to do as worthy and efficient a job as possible of serving our fellow citizens.

I wish to mention the efficient, competent and devoted staff of the Bloc Québécois in general, and in particular the ones who have worked with me since 1993, who have made it possible for me to do this exciting job of representing the people of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes in the House of Commons. Words are not enough to express my great appreciation for their devotion, which has made it possible for me, I hope, to do my job as effectively and appropriately as possible.

And then there are the countless volunteers who have worked in the federal riding of Verchères and later Verchères—Les-Patriotes, the ones who have made it possible for me to be here for four terms, a total of some 12 years.

I wish to pay particular tribute to my family, my wife Johanne and my daughter Audrée-Anne. Without them, I could never have fulfilled this mission for the past 12 years.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not express my equally warm and heartfelt thanks to the people of the federal riding of Verchères and Verchères—Les-Patriotes, who have showed their faith in me in four elections, who invested in me and reiterated their confidence in me. There is no way I can fully express my gratitude for the touching support they have manifested in me on four occasions, starting in 1993.

I thank them for allowing me to go through the exciting adventure of representing them in the House of Commons. I hope I always lived up to their expectations.

250th Anniversary of the Deportation of the Acadians September 27th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, this past July 28, monuments were unveiled, and the Acadian tricolour flag with its star was lowered to half mast in Acadia, Quebec, Louisiana and Canada to commemorate the 250th anniversary of a tragic event, the deportation of the Acadians.

I feel it is essential as Parliament resumes to invite my colleagues to pay solemn tribute to the victims of that historic tragedy, and to their brave descendants who, by their mere presence and their vitality, are a moving reminder of that first Acadia, which no longer exists because of the rivalries and greed of the colonial powers.

The deportation of the Acadians had but one goal: the disappearance of this courageous and ingenious people with its vibrant culture. That culture is, however, still alive and flourishing today, far beyond the confines of the now defunct Acadia.

The only thing that remains to be done is for the British Crown to take the noble step of acknowledging these undeniable facts, so that this tragic page in the history of the Acadian people can at last be turned.

Private Members' Business June 23rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, since this is a question of my vote or non-vote, and since you have very clearly cited the confusion that reigned on this side of the House at the time of the vote, I think the only thing to do under the circumstances is indeed to retake the vote so that my vote can be expressed clearly this time without any confusion whatsoever.

Main Estimates, 2005-06 June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the notice of opposition by our Conservative colleagues. I think that it arises out of some wholly legitimate and valid intentions and concerns. The government has struck a commission of inquiry into the partisan use of public funds and it is absolutely necessary that we get to the bottom of it.

The more things move along, however, the more we realize that the government has in a rather hidden way, rather under the table, set some benchmarks, some guardrails to keep things from going off the tracks for it and for this commission. We are certainly aware of that sort of Privy Council war room which was apparently set up to coach the witnesses, channel media messages, fine tune them, all of course in the government's favour.

Is there not a danger of things going off the rails again and of more partisan use of public funds? The question certainly arises.

We also got wind of the possibility of a secret agreement between the attorneys for former Prime Minister Chrétien and the government's attorneys. It would appear that the agreement was more or less along these lines: the Chrétien attorneys would agree to withdraw the legal proceedings questioning the credibility and impartiality of Justice Gomery, while still retaining the possibility of being able to come back to it later. The government attorneys are saying, “If by any chance you decided to come back to that later, we will have no objections.”

The danger, after the Prime Minister promised the nation, cross his heart, that he would call an election 30 days at most after the tabling of the final report of the Gomery inquiry, is that now this secret pact might end up releasing the PM from this solemn promise to Canadians, and most particularly to Quebeckers.

Needless to say, those who still have an axe to grind and who wanted to have their say in an election, are the people of Quebec. The Liberals' sneaky tricks on May 19 deprived Quebeckers of the possibility of expressing themselves democratically. This is something that merits discussion, something that is most disconcerting in a democracy. But back to my main point.

This secret deal could free the Prime Minister from this promise. How is that possible? Quite simply, if the attorneys for former Prime Minister Chrétien decided once again to question Judge Gomery's credibility and impartiality when the judge tables his preliminary report and if, by chance, they managed to have him removed, this would have the effect that the judge would not be able to table his final report. Consequently, the government would not have to keep its commitment of holding an election 30 days following the tabling of the final report, since a final report would not be tabled.

Thus, the notice of opposition by the Conservative Party arises from extremely valid and legitimate concerns.

That being said, we must recognize that the procedure that was used to bring these concerns is very questionable. It shows some degree of amateurism and improvisation. Why? Because when we talk, for example, about removing $1 million from the vote, we should know to what we are referring exactly. We should trace this amount to know why it is $1 million, and not $1.5 million, or $2 million or $750,000. Thus, the amount put forward in the notice of opposition seems arbitrary to us and is not supported by specific data.

Also, we must recognize that our rules of procedure do not allow us to remove some amount from the initial vote. We must accept the vote or reject it entirely.

The program expenditures vote of the Privy Council is about $125.413 million. If we decided to cut the whole amount of $125.413 million, we would not only run the risk of sending this country into an election. It could also spell chaos for governance in Canada.

Of course, we have very serious reservations about the relevance of the Privy Council as the central agency of the government, but we have to admit it would not be justified to abolish it completely. Any government needs a central coordinating body where interdepartmental consultation can occur. That is exactly the role of the Privy Council.

Therefore, if we went along with the notice of opposition of our Conservative colleagues, which again is based on extremely valid and legitimate concerns, and if we opposed these votes, the consequences could be dramatic to say the least.

The Bloc Québécois has always advocated responsible action. In our opinion, it would be irresponsible, to say the least, to vote against this vote, given the dramatic consequences that could result.

Therefore, even though we obviously recognize the basis and the validity of the concerns expressed by our Conservative colleagues in this notice of opposition, we will not be able to join them in rejecting this vote.

It will not be our pleasure to do this, but we will do it because we have always said we would act responsibly in this House, and that is why we feel we have to adopt this vote and not reject it completely.

Canada Elections Act June 8th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, all I have heard is empty rhetoric with no basis in reality. Boasting about having a caucus comprised for the most part of young people is not enough to get young people more interested in politics. I was elected to this place at age 28. I belonged to the statistical category of youth. But I never regarded that mere fact as an opportunity to get young people more interested in politics.

In Le Cid , Corneille has his hero say:

Young I may be, but to those well bredWorth is not measured by age.

I think that this goes to the heart and core of our debate today on Bill C-261, to lower the voting age to 16.

I have heard arguments put forward to oppose this bill similar to those heard when considering lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, the same kind of slightly paternalistic argument suggesting that young people are cynical, not interested and not mature enough to make an informed decision. I do not believe a word of that. I will explain why I believe it would be appropriate to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote.

Before going any further, I would like to thank our colleague from Ajax—Pickering and commend his initiative. It was his idea to bring the issue of lowering the voting age to 16 back on the floor of the House. The issue was debated in this place previously. Two similar bills or motions have been put before this House by members of the New Democratic Party, including our colleague from Churchill.

The member for Ajax—Pickering therefore took up the fight again with this initiative, but had the brilliant idea of making it non partisan. He wanted a multi-party initiative. So he involved a number of colleagues from the various parties: the member for Newmarket—Aurora, a Conservative member until the events we know about occurred; the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, of the New Democratic Party, and myself, of the Bloc Québécois. Many members from all the political parties joined us. I want to recognize and congratulate our colleague for Ajax—Pickering for his highly honourable initiative.

As parliamentarians, we must be deeply concerned about voter turnout, which is tending to become, as in most western countries, increasingly anemic, election after election, to the extent that the latest voter turnout, in the June 28, 2004, election was among the lowest in Canadian history.

In view of this disturbing situation, we must take vigorous measures to correct the situation. They include lowering the voting age to 16. I will explain a little further on why such a measure could have a positive effect on the outcome of things.

Needless to say, the trend will not be reversed by the measure to lower the voting age to 16. The government and public authorities have to establish a series of measures to create an interest in politics. They will have to cultivate an interest among the very young in public life and bring the provincial and territorial governments in on it. Civic education, political and history courses will have to be introduced very early in the schools.

That said, why should we lower the voting age to 16?

There is a whole series of justifications of a philosophical nature that have to be brought into it. For example, in Quebec and most provinces, the legal working age is 16 years. Consequently, that is the age at which young people can be required to pay taxes. In keeping with the principle of no taxation without representation, it seems normal to us they would also be able to help choose the people in government who will be involved in administering the tax dollars their work provides.

People can drive when they turn 16, and that activity has far greater potential consequences than just entering a polling booth and performing one's duty as a citizen by voting.

As soon as young people turn 17, they can enlist in the armed forces, and potentially serve in theatres of operations at risk of their lives. It seems to us therefore—and this is an argument I had thought our Conservative friends would support—that, as we have always thought, a young person prepared to risk his life for his country should be given the right to choose those who will control the destiny of his country.

There are a number of purely practical considerations as well. Studies have shown that the earlier a young person gets involved in elections, the more likely he is to continue to exercise his franchise throughout his life. This is the reasoning behind reducing the voting age to 16. If a young person develops the habit of casting his ballot early in life, it can be presumed that he will continue throughout his life to be a citizen actively involved in public life, even if it is only by casting his vote.

It has been found that young people not allowed to do so are likely to drop out. This means a very long period of opting out of the electoral process. This is the explanation for the poor showing among 18 to 25 year-olds. We have not managed to attract their attention and give them a taste for getting involved. We have not got them interested.

As my colleague from Ajax—Pickering was wont to say—and rightly so, in my opinion—the major corporations have clearly understood that to create consumer habits you need to start young. Nike, McDonald's and the like focus on youth. Why not use the same approach to create positive habits of civic duty?

Political parties understood that young people were mature enough, responsible enough and interested enough to take part in public debate. Most political parties in Canada accept members as young as 14 or 16.

We have this contradiction where a young person can participate in the selection of the person who could eventually become prime minister of the country but where that same young person is not allowed to choose his or her member of Parliament at the riding level. We must end that contradictory situation.

We often hear that young people are not interested in politics. That is true. They are more or less interested and they do not know if or for whom they would vote if they had the right to vote. In fact, they do not feel they have to choose because we do not even care to ask for their opinion. When asked if they would vote for the Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democrats or the Bloc, they do not know. However, when asked if they have an opinion on the environment, Kyoto, globalization or the war in Iraq, they do have very clear opinions. It so happens that political parties are the vehicles of those opinions. When we make them realize that, the young recognize that in the end, they have a great deal of interest in politics.

I will conclude by saying that in 1991, in its report Reforming Electoral Democracy , the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing concluded that Parliament should review the question regularly. The time has now come. On March 27, 2004, the chief electoral officer himself declared that lowering the voting age to 16 had some benefits. We could not say that our chief electoral officer does not have an informed opinion on the issue.

I would have liked, and I would still like, to see the House adopt the bill.