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Last in Parliament September 2008, as Bloc MP for Repentigny (Québec)

Won his last election, a byelection in 2006, with 66.26% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Official Languages June 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, we can see how unimportant French is to this Conservative government. There was the plaque at Vimy that was riddled with mistakes, the website for the Office for Disabilities Issues that is full of errors and now we see that Health Canada's website is full of translation errors. What is more, we have learned that the minister will not be attending the FCFA annual general meeting tomorrow, June 14, in Quebec City.

Is it because she is ashamed of her government's lack of interest in French, the common language of the Quebec nation?

Official Languages June 13th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, on May 29, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages said to us in this House that, “The government will table the second phase of the action plan very soon, in the spring”. Spring will be over in two weeks and we have not seen anything yet. We have been waiting since March 31; today is June 13 and nothing has been done.

Is the minister sneaking out the back door because she does not have the ability to present this plan and, in fact, she has nothing concrete to propose?

Bill C-490 June 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, today, June 4, members of the House are invited to vote on the bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-490, at second reading. The bill calls on the government to correct the terrible injustice to seniors who have been cheated by the guaranteed income supplement or GIS program, and improve the lives of those most vulnerable.

Introduced in December 2007 by my colleague, the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan, this bill has four components: automatic registration; an increase of $110 a month; full retroactivity for seniors entitled to the GIS; and a six-month compassionate measure for seniors who have lost their spouse.

With this bill, we will really find out if the Conservative members are willing to respond to the appeals of the many seniors' associations that have shown their support.

Since this is Seniors Month, I urge all members to vote unanimously in favour of Bill C-490. It is a matter of justice and dignity for all seniors in Quebec.

Official Languages May 30th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, in his report on official languages, Graham Fraser put it clearly: the Conservative government has shown a lack of vision, coherence and, above all, leadership. The federal website for Status of Persons with Disabilities, which is riddled with errors, is glaring proof of that. We have been waiting for an action plan for months now, and the government is delaying for purely partisan reasons. The government could not care less about francophone communities.

Will the Minister of Official Languages give us a plan now rather than waiting and making a splashy announcement in Quebec City in order to look good and hide her incompetence?

National Patriots Day May 16th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, next Monday, Quebeckers will celebrate National Patriots Day, a day that commemorates the dedication and sacrifice of the patriots of 1837-38. The Rassemblement pour un pays souverain, a Quebec sovereignty coalition, organizes the annual Gala des patriotes, which will be held on May 16 in Montreal and on May 19 in Quebec City. Prizes awarded during the gala highlight the contributions of individuals who have helped advance the sovereignty movement.

The Montreal gala will honour activist Umberto Di Genova and singer Paul Piché. The Quebec City event will honour Lise Payette, who will be receiving the Marie Victoire Félix Dumouchel prize, and the former premier of Quebec, René Lévesque, who will be awarded the Louis Joseph Papineau prize posthumously.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I wish to congratulate the honourees, and we want them all to know that we are here for Quebec.

Komagata Maru Incident May 15th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Motion M-469 introduced by my Liberal colleague, which calls on the Conservative government to officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada.

Although some progress has been made, most notably the acknowledgement of this incident by the Prime Minister, the federal government still has not made an official apology. Canada should therefore apologize officially in order to close this sad chapter in Canadian history. In so doing, Canada would recognize the important contribution Indians have made to society in Canada and Quebec. In addition to official recognition, Canada could consider other means of acknowledging this incident, such as a commemorative monument or a museum, because of the tragic outcome.

The federal government has officially apologized for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants. Since the Komagata Maru incident is similar, we believe that the government can take the same approach.

Considered in the light of our modern values, the Canadian government's actions in 1914 were reprehensible. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois believes that an apology is warranted. However, other equally tragic events require official apologies. I will mention these events at the end of my speech, but I am thinking in particular of the native residential schools and the 1918 suppression of anti-conscription demonstrators. The Bloc Québécois has always called on the government to officially apologize for these two events.

Let us place this particular event in its historical context. First, in 1908, Canada passed a law that seriously restricted immigration from certain parts of the world. The Canadian government had ordered that immigrants who did not come to Canada by continuous journey—meaning that they did not come directly to Canada from their country of origin—were prohibited from immigrating to Canada. The law also prohibited Asian immigrants from entering Canada unless they were carrying at least $200.

Before the Komagata Maru, there was an incident with the Panama Maru on October 17, 1913. This Japanese ship, with 56 Indians aboard, docked in British Columbia. Seventeen of the Indians were already Canadian residents, but the other 39 Indians were detained in a Canadian immigration hall. This case was brought before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and a decision was rendered on October 27, 1913. The judgment declared the orders in council relating to the requirement for the possession of $200 invalid because they did not conform to the precise wording of the Immigration Act. The 39 Indian passengers were released from the immigration hall and allowed entry into Canada.

Following this incident, the federal government ensured that the orders in council conformed to the Immigration Act. The government was then able to limit immigration from Asian countries. In short, the government found a legal way to uphold the orders in council on continuous journey and the requirement for the possession of $200 on arrival.

This was the context in which the Komagata Maru incident took place. On May 23, 1914, the passenger ship Komagata Maru arrived in Canadian waters on the British Columbia coast. It was carrying approximately 376 immigrants of Indian origin. Of these 376 immigrants, 340 were Sikh, 12 were Hindu, and 24 were Muslim. The Komagata Maru did not make a continuous journey to Canada. It was chartered out of Hong Kong and stopped in Shanghai, Moji, and Yokohama. Because it did not make a continuous journey to Canada, it was in violation of the existing Immigration Act. Twenty-two of the passengers were considered to be Canadian residents and were allowed to disembark. The remaining passengers had to remain on the ship.

The Conservative government at the time cited legal grounds to deny permission to land to the remainder of the passengers: they had not come by continuous journey from India; they did not possess the specified minimum amount of money—$200; and they were subject to recent immigration regulations prohibiting the landing of labourers at Pacific ports of entry. Although the Conservative government prohibited them from entering Canada, it did not deport them.

In other words, the status of migrant was not defined. A few weeks later, the case of a single passenger was chosen to serve as a test case for all other passengers on board. Ultimately, on July 6, 1914, five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously found that the immigration regulations were legal and valid and, in effect, maintained an earlier deportation order.

After this decision, and after almost three weeks to negotiate the ship’s departure, the Komagata Maru was escorted into international waters by a Canadian warship on July 23, 1914.

In September of that year, the vessel delivered the passengers to Budge Budge, near Calcutta, India, where British officials intended to transport the passengers to the Punjab. The passengers did not want to go to the Punjab region, and a riot ensued; 29 passengers were shot by British soldiers, and 20 of these passengers died. That is what is so tragic about this story.

In the past 50 years, the Indian community has been very active in Canada. In 1951, there were about 2,000 people of Indian origin in Canada. Now, there are some 750,000. According to the 2001 census, there were more than 34,000 people of Indian origin in Quebec, most of them—94%—in the greater Montreal area.

This event is important to the Indian community in Canada. Members of the community now feel that the incident showed that they were second-class Commonwealth citizens. In some families, the story has been passed down from generation to generation, while others heard about it once they came to live in Canada.

Indo-Canadians believe that with an official apology, Canada could right a historic wrong and emphasize the importance of their community's contribution to Canada and Quebec. An official apology would be one way to proclaim that such incidents must never happen again. Things have certainly improved. The Canadian government created the community historical recognition program on June 22, 2006, but neither the Prime Minister nor the government has apologized for this incident. Although an apology has a merely symbolic value, it would be greatly appreciated by the Indian community in Canada.

There have been other times when the government offered an apology, as in the case of the Chinese, for example, as I mentioned earlier. The federal government recently offered a formal apology to the Chinese community for the head tax, because at the beginning of the last century, Chinese immigrants were employed in western Canada, to a large extent in mining, but especially in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. These immigrants were not necessarily voluntary immigrants, but were cheap labour brought over from Asia. The government apologized for this situation. Thus, we do have a precedent for situations like this. The government could offer an apology to the Indo-Canadian community.

Other apologies are also in order, and the Bloc Québécois recognizes that the government should apologize for the Komagata Maru incident. That is why we support Motion M-469, which seeks to offer a formal apology to the immigrants who tried to enter Canada.

We are delighted to see this willingness to address the worst examples of human rights violations in Canadian history, and to clean up Canada's shameful past.

There are other examples of incidents for which Canada should apologize. In 1918, under a Conservative government, the same government responsible for the Komagata Maru incident, some Canadian soldiers opened fire on a crowd that was protesting conscription. Four people were killed and many were injured. After reviewing the events, the coroner's inquest concluded that the individuals shot by the soldiers on this occasion were innocent victims in no way involved in the riot. It is therefore the government's duty to pay fair and reasonable compensation to the victims' families, but this has yet to be done.

To commemorate this tragic event, a work of art was erected at the very location where these tragic events took place in Quebec City's lower town.

Another example is residential schools. As everyone knows, nearly 150,000 aboriginals suffered through the hell of residential schools.

Many victims have sadly already passed away but an estimated 87,000 survivors are left. It would also be nice if the House of Commons—

Old Age Security Act May 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to this bill. I am going to follow the lead of my hon. colleague from Alfred-Pellan who introduced this bill, which I seconded.

I have been a member in this House for a year and a half, and I am the critic for the seniors file. I try to be attentive to their requests, their desires and their needs. Incidentally, I would like to thank my Liberal colleague and my NDP colleague. I listened carefully to their speeches and they really touched on the points in our bill.

For instance, I must say I am a little shocked by what the parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Blackstrap, said earlier in her speech. I had the impression that I was listening to a tape recording of what she said last December, when the bill was introduced.

I would like to come back to what she said earlier, because I find it completely absurd. I cannot believe she is repeating this six months later. She talked about increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $110 a month and she wondered how we could be sure that this money would go to those who need it most. I would point out to her that the guaranteed income supplement is intended for the poorest seniors, not the wealthy ones. If the guaranteed income supplement is increased, it will naturally be the poorest who will receive it. Thus, the reason given is not a valid reason to vote against this bill.

She then said that full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement would cost $6 billion. We do not have the same figures on this side of the House. In fact, our calculations found the total to be half that amount. We all know that the government has accumulated a surplus of over $10 billion. It would be worthwhile to allocate a portion of that to our seniors, who are growing in numbers and becoming poorer and poorer. We have seen this over the past 10 years.

Perhaps we could draw a parallel with the military spending the government has adopted. It is scandalous to see how much money has been invested in the military, when hardly anything is being invested for our seniors.

I will give a few examples of the military spending. On June 6, 2006, the former Minister of National Defence announced the purchase of 16 heavy helicopters to the tune of $4.7 billion; 4 C-17 strategic lift aircraft for $3.4 billion; 17 C-130J tactical lift aircraft for $4.9 billion; 2,300 transport trucks for $1.2 billion; 3 supply vessels for $2.9 billion, for a grand total of $17.1 billion, and they are not ashamed of that. That amount went to the military alone, to make war in Afghanistan. How nice.

I am scandalized. I may be a fish out of water here in Parliament, but it seems to me that we should be scandalized to see so much money being invested in the military when the government cannot even give a bit of money to seniors who need it because their incomes are below the poverty line.

Earlier, the parliamentary secretary spoke of the compassionate care benefit. She said that this would be unfair because widowed persons would receive more than single seniors. She did not understand that compassionate care benefits are paid for only six months; it is not a permanent benefit. The purpose of the benefit is to give seniors in mourning time to deal with the loss of a certain part of their income after their spouse has died.

It does not take a genius to realize this is a temporary measure to allow people to go through mourning, especially seniors who are still living in their homes. If a person loses their spouse, they wonder whether they will keep their home, or how they will maintain and keep the family home. These questions come up. The compassionate care benefit simply shows a bit of humanity toward our seniors.

At the end of her speech, I heard her say that the Conservative government has been very generous to seniors. It showed extraordinary generosity by increasing the guaranteed income supplement twice in two years. It was increased by $18 in 2006 and by another $18 in 2007, which means $36 for two years. That is indescribable generosity. I cannot believe that such speeches would not get a reaction from our seniors.

We have the support of numerous seniors and seniors' associations.

This morning at a press conference, we presented a stack of support letters that were sent by AQDR, AREQ, FADOQ and numerous seniors' groups from our parishes and communities. In my opinion, our seniors are able to see that if the government does not support this bill, it is totally off the mark.

I would ask the Conservatives to support this bill at second reading. We will evaluate the cost when it goes to committee—I have a bit of experience in that—and we can vote at third reading. The government can vote against it if it so chooses, but it would seem to me to be a good idea to vote in favour for now so that we can at least analyze the Bloc Québécois request to increase the guaranteed income supplement and analyze the other aspects of the bill, such as automatic registration.

It would not be terribly difficult to automatically register people who need the supplement. What is needed is an increase in the amount of the guaranteed income supplement, full retroactivity and a compassionate measure for people who have lost a loved one. I ask all the members in this House to vote for this bill. It will be studied in committee, and members will still have an opportunity to vote against the bill at third reading, but at least this will give everyone a chance to understand the bill and listen to seniors.

This weekend, we will celebrate Mothers Day. The members of the Bloc Québécois are going to meet with seniors in drop-in centres and even at church if need be to tell them about this bill. In my opinion, this is necessary. When I toured Quebec, many seniors asked us to pay attention to their needs, because they are really living in poverty, and often these are people who do not ask for anything. I believe it is our role to defend these people. They built Quebec and Canada as well, because there are people like this across Canada. These people deserve more than what the Conservatives want to give them today.

In conclusion, because the member for Alfred-Pellan alluded to this earlier, I would simply like to go over what I said in the House when this bill was introduced. I spoke about the National Council of Welfare's definition of poverty. Poverty is not just about having or not having money. It is more than that. An increased suicide rate among seniors is linked to increased poverty among seniors. The National Council of Welfare also said that poverty is not just a lack of income; it can also be a synonym for social exclusion.

When people cannot meet their basic needs, they cannot afford even simple activities. Single parents or persons with a family member who is sick or disabled often suffer from poverty of time as well, and have too few hours during the day to earn income, take care of others, obtain an education, have some social interaction or even get the sleep they need. This form of social exclusion and isolation can lead to other problems, such as poor health, depression and dysfunction—and I would add that it can even lead to suicide. Poverty can quickly deprive individuals of their dignity, confidence and hope.

I think that our bill is realistic. It is a matter of dignity, justice, entitlement and rights for our seniors.

Seniors May 2nd, 2008

Mr. Speaker, big oil companies are filling up on profits. During the first three months of 2008, Petro Canada socked away net profits of $1.1 billion, an increase of $590 million over this time last year. Moreover, the oil company is benefiting from tax measures that are allowing it to keep making even more money.

The price of gas has gone up spectacularly and may top $2 per litre next year, which will affect all consumer products. Quebec seniors will suddenly see their buying power slashed when it comes to essential products, such as food. The poorest have nothing left to cut back on.They are already living below the poverty line, and now they will have even less, yet the Conservative government has the nerve to say that it is being generous toward them.

Promises do not put food on the table. The Bloc Québécois strongly condemns this ongoing situation that abandons seniors to unacceptable living conditions.

Doctors Munger and Lamontagne April 11th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to echo the Sherbrooke AQDR which, on April 4, thanked two doctors from the region for taking a stand on behalf of seniors who are not receiving the guaranteed income supplement.

Doctors Munger and Lamontagne put out an appeal to all citizens with an interest in social justice to spread the word about the guaranteed income supplement and offer to help a senior take the necessary steps to receive the money they are owed.

The two doctors said that this would be productive because there are approximately 1,500 people in the Eastern Townships who are eligible for the supplement yet do not receive it. Their pension income totals about $6,000 per year, but they are eligible for an additional amount that could be as high as $7,000 for a single person. They added, “If only this money could lead to better food and housing—”.

Along with my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, I would like to congratulate Doctors Munger and Lamontagne for their initiative, and I hope that it will produce results.

Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, Martin Luther King was assassinated 40 years ago today in Memphis. We all recall his famous speech, which is forever etched in our memories, entitled “I have a dream”, condemning the segregation of blacks in the United States. His action resulted in the adoption of legislation guaranteeing blacks the same rights as whites in public places and polling stations.

Dr. King fought for equality between whites and blacks and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was a hero of the black civil rights movement and advocated a fairer distribution of wealth and social justice. The night before he died, Reverend Martin Luther King said he wanted to live a long time. The next day he was assassinated at the age of 39.

Forty years later, his spirit lives on in those who believe in justice, equality and freedom. Let us pay tribute to this great man today and keep in mind the principle of equality among people in our actions as legislators in this House.