Last in Parliament October 2000, as Bloc MP for Terrebonne—Blainville (Québec)
Won his last election, in 1997, with 50.36% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Economic Policy October 19th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, once upon a time there was a highway robber who lurked in the woods to relieve passersby of their gold. He accumulated ill-gotten gains of 1,000 gold coins in this way.
One day, he decided to give back 500 of these gold coins to his victims. Foolish fellow that he was, he thought he could buy back their friendship by doing so.
The robber's cronies were greatly impressed by this magnanimous gesture. They were indignant that the victims showed no gratitude and shouted at them “You could at least say thank you”.
No connection with this little fable, of course, but yesterday our Minister of Finance played Santa, yet he neglected to tell us that this money he is redistributing so magnanimously came from our own pockets, the pockets of the unemployed, the workers, the employers, the pensioners.
I hope, for our minister's sake, that he is not naïve enough to expect a thank-you from the voters, who will cast their votes in favour of the Liberals. Despite what he seems to think, people are not that dumb.
That was my last statement in the House, Mr. Speaker.
Civilian War-Related Benefits Act October 6th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, better late than never. Our government has just realized, a half-century after the fact, that various categories of Canadian civilians, including firefighters and members of the Red Cross, shared the same merits and the same hazards during the second world war and the Korean war as uniformed personnel. Yet they not been entitled before now to the pensions and other benefits that are a concrete indication of the national gratitude enjoyed by war veterans.
Bill C-41, which we are considering at the moment, is intended, and I congratulate myself on this, to correct this injustice, but it achieves this end only partially, as I will soon show.
Another category of deserving civilian fighters has waited 55 years for recognition. I am speaking of the sailors of the merchant marine. The injustice they suffered has now been corrected.
The bill before us today concerns other categories of civilians serving abroad. They are primarily the members of the Corps of Canadian Fire Fighters for Service in the United Kingdom. These men helped fight the fires ignited nightly by the German bombardment of London, in particular, during the first two years of the war.
Others benefiting from the bill are the Canadian members of the voluntary aid detachment of the British Red Cross during the first world war. It took 82 years to remember them.
Welfare workers and voluntary aid workers in the second world war and the Korean war are also finally being recognized.
Not forgotten either are the civilian pilots in the Ferry Command, who often at the risk of their lives convoyed aircraft built here and destined for the European front between Canada and Great Britain.
The members of these various categories of civilians deserving of recognition by their country are, under this bill, being accorded the same treatment as military veterans and therefore are entitled to a pension. As many of them are dead, their widows will benefit. And if the widow is dead, no one will benefit.
The problem is that this good legislation will not be retroactive. It does not provide any compensation for the 55 years during which all these brave people were forgotten by their government.
This is an injustice. From the moment we recognize that these people are entitled to national recognition just like military personnel, who have been getting pensions since the end of the war, it is totally unfair to make them pay for the fact that the government waited for over half a century before acknowledging their contribution and thus their rights to national recognition.
I do not find it acceptable for the government to permit itself what would be considered a reprehensible abuse of power, had it been an individual's treatment of his employees. Can anyone imagine the head of a firm admitting that some of his staff had been unfairly treated for years and agreeing to remedy the situation only if the remedy were not retroactive?
But this principle of obvious equity does not seem popular with the government, if we are to judge by its reaction to the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruling ordering it to compensate those of its employees who, because they were women, had for years been paid less than their male counterparts. It will be recalled that Ottawa held out against making these retroactive payments for a long time. It only did so because it was forced to by the tribunal.
The purpose of Bill C-41 is to correct another anomaly and this is a good thing. This one involves members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are still serving but are suffering from service related disabilities. These men and women are not currently entitled to disability pension before their release. This situation is going to be corrected. We need hardly say that we are in favour of this provision of the bill.
However, we could not understand why clause 46 excluded the RCMP from this measure. I called on the government to withdraw this provision from the bill. We are pleased to hear that it just amended the act accordingly.
Another anomaly was also corrected. As the result of an error for which the recipient is in no way responsible, a veteran might receive a higher amount of pension than his entitlement for a certain period of time. Until now, when the error was detected, the person concerned was required to pay back the overpayment under conditions and a deadline that might be prejudicial to his quality of life. From now on, the victims of these administrative errors will be treated more humanely. We approve of this provision, while once again regretting that it has been so long in coming.
To summarize and to conclude, we support this piece of legislation, but we regret that it comes some 50 years too late and that it does not provide for the payment of an indemnity to recipients for this delay. However, as I said at the start, better late than never, and we will support this bill.
Civilian War-Related Benefits Act October 6th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, I have already had an opportunity to tell the House that I support the bill now before us. I did, however, mention three reservations and I will repeat them today.
First, I was critical of the fact that RCMP officers were excluded from compensation during their career for service related injuries. This anomaly, this injustice, has fortunately been corrected by an amendment introduced by the government itself, in response to representations from the opposition, including my own.
Second, I expressed my concern with respect to the three clauses in the bill which allow the minister the dangerous power of exchanging with various departments and agencies information of a personal nature obtained under the terms of the legislation. We must watch out for slip-ups. Big Brother is never far away. We remember the megafile HRDC secretly compiled on every person in this country using information provided by various federal departments and agencies.
Third, and most important, I have already said how fortunate it is that the contribution of civilian personnel who served overseas during the wars has finally been recognized. And I also pointed out how sad it is that it has taken 55 years to achieve this.
Bill C-41 does not take this huge delay into account. This bill would be perfect if it had come to the House 50 years ago. That was not the case, however, and there is nothing in Bill C-41 to compensate for that half century that has passed. These people are being penalized for our delay in looking after them. I tried to bring that up yesterday with the minister in committee, but to no avail.
The minister indicates that the average age of those eligible would be around 79. This means that a number have already died, and will have nothing but our esteem and recognition of their merit.
Nevertheless, we approve of this bill despite its imperfections. We would not like to hold up benefits to this group through delaying tactics. Most of them have been waiting now for 55 years. That is long enough. I would feel badly to make them wait a day longer.
Civilian War-Related Benefits Act October 6th, 2000
Motion No. 1
That Bill C-41 be amended by adding after line 21 on page 13 the following new clause:
“6.7.1 For greater certainty, the disclosure referred to in section 6.7 and any other disclosure of personal information referred to in this Act shall be made solely for the purposes of this Act, and in no case shall records containing personal information be made available to another federal department or agency or the personal information contained therein be disclosed in any manner.”
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-41, in Clause 41, be amended by adding after line 6 on page 32 the following:
“109.2.1 For greater certainty, the disclosure referred to in section 109.2 and any other disclosure of personal information referred to in this Act shall be made solely for the purposes of this Act, and in no case shall records containing personal information be made available to another federal department or agency or the personal information contained therein be disclosed in any manner.”
Motion No. 4
That Bill C-41, in Clause 84, be amended by adding after line 36 on page 53 the following:
“(2.1) For greater certainty, the disclosure referred to in this section and any other disclosure of personal information referred to in this Act shall be made solely for the purposes of this Act, and in no case shall records containing personal information be made available to another federal department or agency or the personal information contained therein be disclosed in any manner.”
Mr. Speaker, instead of speaking on these motions, I ask for the unanimous consent of this House to withdraw the three motions standing in my name.
Civilian War-Related Benefits Act September 22nd, 2000
Mr. Speaker, better late than never. Half a century after the fact, we have our government acknowledging that a variety of Canadian civilians, such as firefighters and Red Cross personnel, took part in World War II and the Korean War and shared the merits and often the dangers of military personnel. Yet until now they have not been entitled to the pensions and other benefits received by uniformed veterans which are concrete expressions of this country's gratitude.
Bill C-41, which we are looking at now, has the praiseworthy objective of remedying that injustice. It does so only partially, however, as I shall attempt to demonstrate.
Another category of civilians also has been waiting 55 years for recognition of their merits. These are the merchant mariners. Until now, it appears that those in high places have forgotten that these are the people to whom we owe the fact that the weapons and ammunition, without which our soldiers could do nothing, were able to be shipped across the Atlantic on merchant ships hounded by German U-boats. Many of these merchant mariners now sleep at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Only this year did the surviving brave mariners, or the widows, get any compensation.
The compensation was awarded to the Merchant Marine veterans of Canada and Newfoundland who served in wartime and were not members of the armed forces, or to their surviving spouses if they were deceased.
This settlement for the Merchant Mariners is close to the amount of compensation mentioned in the dissenting report tabled by the Bloc Quebecois on this issue. We called for a minimum of $20,000. They received a maximum of $20,000. It is interesting that this amount is within $1,000 of the amount that would have been paid in 1945, taking inflation and interest into account.
The bill before us today concerns other categories of civilians who served overseas. They are primarily the members of the corps of Canadian firefighters for service in the United Kingdom. These men helped fight the fires in the German bombing raids in London and elsewhere for the first two years of the war.
Others benefiting from the bill are the Canadian members of the voluntary aid detachment of the British Red Cross during the first world war. It took 82 years to remember them. Welfare workers and voluntary aid workers in the second world war and the Korean war are also finally being recognized.
Not forgotten either are the civilian pilots in the ferry command, who often at the risk of their lives convoyed aircraft built here and destined for the European front between Canada and Great Britain.
The members of these various categories of civilians deserving of recognition by their country are, under this bill, being accorded the same treatment as military veterans—and this is fair—and therefore are entitled to a pension. As many of them are dead, their widows will benefit.
The part of Bill C-41 that grants them full eligibility for pensions from the Department of Veterans Affairs is an improvement over an existing act, namely the Civilian War-related Benefits Act.
Under that act, welfare workers who worked with the Canadian armed forces during the war have had limited access to pensions from the very beginning. The same goes for Ferry Command personnel. In order to have access to the benefits provided under that act, these people had to have suffered injuries during an offensive or a counter-offensive.
Many of these civilians did not get any disability pension following accidents that occurred in situations such as the moving of troops and materiel. Bill C-41 would eliminate that restriction, which has the effect of granting pensions, contrary to what is done in the case of veterans, only to those who were injured while on duty, under certain conditions.
The problem is that this good legislation will not be retroactive. It does not provide any compensation for the 55 years during which all these brave people were forgotten by their government.
This is an injustice. Since we are now recognizing that these people are entitled to national recognition just like military personnel who have been getting pensions since the end of the war, it is totally unfair to make them pay for the fact that the government waited for over half a century before recognizing their contribution, and thus their rights to national recognition.
Consequently, when this bill is reviewed in committee, I will propose that the government take action to correct this anomaly by making the act retroactive in this respect.
I do not find it acceptable for the government to permit itself what would be considered a reprehensible abuse of power by the courts if it had been the action of an individual against his employees. Can anyone imagine a business leader admitting that some of his staff had been unfairly treated for years and agreeing to remedy the situation only if no retroactivity were involved?
But this principle of obvious equity does not seem popular with the government, if we are to judge by its reaction to the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruling ordering it to compensate those of its employees who, because they were women, had for years been paid less than their male counterparts—another example. It will be recalled that Ottawa held out against making these retroactive payments for a long time. It only did so because it was forced to by the tribunal.
The purpose of Bill C-41 is to correct another anomaly. This one involves members of the Canadian armed forces who are still serving but are suffering from service-related disabilities.
These men and women are not currently entitled to disability pay before their release. This situation is going to be corrected. We need hardly say that we are in favour of this provision of the bill.
But we do not understand why clause 46 excludes the RCMP from this measure. I will be raising this in committee and calling on the government to withdraw this provision from the bill.
Another anomaly is corrected. As the result of an error for which the recipient is in no way responsible, a veteran might receive a higher amount of pension than his entitlement for a certain period of time.
Until now, when the error was detected, the person concerned was required to pay back the overpayment under conditions and a deadline that might be prejudicial to his quality of life. From now on the victims of these administrative errors will be treated more humanely. We approve of this provision, while once again regretting that it has been so long in coming.
I will now give some of the other provisions of this bill in favour of pensioners with which we are totally in agreement.
Permitting veteran disability pensioners who are married to, or living common-law with, each other to both receive the married rate;
Providing for a one-year continuation of a deceased veteran's pension to the guardian of the veteran's orphaned children;
Correcting the pension indexing formula to accommodate declines in the consumer price index;
Consolidating the provisions relating to service in special duty areas, peacekeeping and Korean war service, directly into the Pension Act;
Allowing compassionate awards to be continued to survivors without the necessity of a time-consuming high-level re-adjudication.
Finally, we naturally approve the housekeeping amendments to clarify regulation-making authorities, ensure the use of gender neutral language, correct cross-references, correct the French name of the department—it is called in French the ministère des Anciens combattants, with a small “c”, whereas it should be a capital “C”, thus ministère des Anciens Combattants—and, finally to repeal obsolete acts and provisions.
In conclusion, I come to the date the bill will come into effect. In light of the already considerable delay in the bill's correction of the various injustices, the Royal Canadian Legion would like, quite rightly, that once the bill has received Royal Assent and an implementing order has been issued for it, to have the changes it provides to be made effective not on the date of the order but rather as of March 1, 1999, the first day of the month the minister announced it.
Once again all these civilian and military individuals, who are entitled to recognition must not be penalized by the length of time it has taken to put a statute in place in order to correct the various injustices these people have faced up to now.
To summarize, we support this piece of legislation in principle, but reserve the right to propose certain amendments to improve it. Subject to these amendments we are happy with the content of Bill C-41.
I repeat, we regret that this legislation comes some 50 years too late. However, as I said at the start, better late than never. We will propose to the government that the text of it be amended, either to make it effective retroactively or to have it provide for the payment of an indemnity to correct, at least for those still living, the injustice this delay represents.
We will also propose that the RCMP not be excluded from the application of the law with respect to the pension for individuals wounded in the line of duty but still serving. I add that we will ask for a greater assurance of confidentiality for personal information that candidates for benefits will have to disclose to the department.
Korean War September 19th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, the Korean war has been called Canada's forgotten war, although 27,000 Canadian soldiers took part in it. Of these, 516 Canadians, 113 of them Quebecers in the 22e Régiment, perished. They must not die forgotten.
I wish to mention last Sunday's unveiling in Quebec City of a commemorative plaque in tribute to these Quebecers. The 22e Régiment laid on a guard of honour for this ceremony, which was attended by Quebec's Lieutenant Governor, Lise Thibault. I find it regrettable that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not see fit to contribute financially to this tribute, as it was asked to do.
Personally, and on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I congratulate the Korea Veterans Association of Canada, especially Roland Boutot and his wife, Carmen, on this fine initiative, which will serve as a memory to future generations of the sacrifice made by these Quebecers, who lost their lives in the Korean war.
Species At Risk Act September 19th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, despite the fact that the preamble to the bill states that responsibility is shared between the two orders of government in matters of species protection, the bill is not drafted in these terms. It does not reflect the reality, namely that habitat protection essentially concerns the provinces.
Indeed, this legislation would automatically take precedence over existing provincial legislation even when habitats are entirely under provincial jurisdiction.
An example. Clause 34 provides clearly that “The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the minister, by order, provide that certain sections apply to lands in a province that are not federal lands”. In addition, the minister must recommend that the order be made if he is of the opinion that the laws of the province do not protect the species. Of course, the bill provides as well that the minister does not recommend that the governor in council make an order until he has consulted the appropriate provincial minister. Nevertheless, only the word consultation is used.
Here is another example. The choice of terms with respect to recovery strategies is also of some concern as it applies to the jurisdiction of the provinces in the matter. Indeed clause 39 provides that the competent minister will prepare the recovery strategy with the appropriate provincial minister to the extent possible.
The same applies to action plans, in which case again, it is provided that co-operation will be to the extent possible. More particularly, the entire section on protecting the critical habitat allows the government to develop codes of practice and impose national standards or guidelines, when the federal government has no legal authority over most of the lands concerned and no power over the management of the resources in these areas.
This bill encroaches squarely on the jurisdiction of the provinces and excludes their making any real and direct contribution in the process. Existing laws are ignored.
This is just the way it is with so many other recent laws and will be the same with future ones, we have no doubt. This law does not respect provincial jurisdictions.
Another point needs to be raised. Most environmental groups are opposed to the bill introduced by the Minister of the Environment, even though these groups should be the minister's allies.
Most stakeholders feel that the proposed legislation does not go far enough. Even organizations representing the industry think that this bill will not provide greater protection for species and will not help them determine what they should to protect species living on the sites of their operations.
But the main problem raised by environmental groups has more to do with the fact that the decisions concerning the designation of species will be made by the minister and by cabinet, rather than by scientists.
A lawyer from the Sierra Club strongly condemns such an approach. She condemns the fact that such discretionary power about the designation of species is given to politicians, not to scientists. The minister is being criticized for resorting to a piecemeal approach dictated by cabinet, instead of a global approach supported by compelling legal measures if an agreement cannot be reached.
What is the position of the government of Quebec, which is directly concerned, on Bill C-33? As soon as the federal Minister of the Environment introduced his bill, his Quebec counterpart, Paul Bégin, said that the proposed legislation was just another example of useless duplication for Quebec. Indeed, the Quebec minister indicated that Bill C-33 sought not only to create a safety net for endangered species and their habitat on federal lands, but also on lands all over Quebec, regardless of whether the lands are under federal jurisdiction or not.
Although it is a federal responsibility to pass legislation to protect migratory species, the federal government has no constitutional power over habitat management in provincial territory. Obviously, as far as Quebec is concerned, there is no question of the federal government invading areas of jurisdiction that do not belong to it and dictating what approach is to be used to protect Quebec ecosystems when Quebec already has legislation aimed at protecting endangered species and their habitat.
The government of Quebec believes in fact that legislation such as that proposed by Bill C-33 might be acceptable if it were to exclude any species or habitat under provincial jurisdiction and were applied to provincial territory if, and only if, the province or territory were to specifically request it.
The government of Quebec passed its own legislation on this in the late 1980s. In fact, Bill C-33 represents a direct overlap with Quebec legislation which has been in place since 1989 and is working well, with conclusive results already evident.
This bill therefore represents a risk of creating more red tape instead of making it possible for limited resources to be properly channelled into the right things. The government of Quebec already has legislation in the areas addressed by Bill C-33.
While we recognize that the environment is a shared responsibility, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that the federal government is ignoring this fact, flying completely in the face of genuine environmental harmonization between the various levels of government. It is introducing legislation in an area which is outside its jurisdiction and liable to again bring about unnecessary duplication in areas which are already handled by the provinces and which affect their lands and resources.
What the federal government calls a double safety net, for example, two levels of government operating in the same area of jurisdiction, in fact waters down the accountability of both and needlessly complicates the assignment of responsibilities.
There is nothing new under the sun in Ottawa. With its arrogance, incompetence, and scorn for provincial jurisdiction, Bill C-33 is typical of traditional Liberal policy. But let us be fair. Whales, a protected species, seem to be beyond the reach of those whom Ottawa claims come under its exclusive jurisdiction, provincial jurisdiction notwithstanding. This was an oversight I am sure. Henceforth, I suppose that whales will sport a maple leaf. The oversight has been corrected.
I need hardly point out that our party will be voting against this bill, with its fresh demonstration of this government's incompetence and arrogance. Only sovereignty can save us from the mess of Canada's federal system.
The Prime Minister June 15th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, so our Prime Minister in a speech in Berlin to an international audience proposed, with a straight face, Liberal compassion as an example to the world as a whole. History does not say whether his host, Chancellor Schroeder, managed not to laugh when he heard this astounding remark. Liberal compassion—mind boggling.
The man who savagely cut benefits to the unemployed, the man who, despite a unanimous request by the National Assembly, refuses to discuss extended parental leave for all couples, the man who is largely responsible for the staggering number of poor children in Canada, this man dares set himself up as an example of compassion to the world. What arrogance, in what contempt he must hold his peers in order to dish out such revolting untruths.
Let us be fair, however. One category of citizen has benefited from Liberal compassion: the shareholders of our major banks. The Minister of Finance is giving them tax relief to the tune of $500 million.
Our Prime Minister's compassion is for billionaire companies. Everything for the rich and as little as possible for the poor. More of a hypocrite than that is not possible.
The Unknown Soldier May 18th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat familiar with the Vimy area, in France, where, next week, we will go to gather up the remains of an unknown Canadian soldier.
A few years ago, I visited this World War I battlefield. I remember walking over the plain, which now looks so peaceful with its wheat fields and small wooded areas, in a contemplative mood but also feeling the anguish that grips us when we find ourselves in a place where thousands of men died while fighting for freedom.
“Morts pour la liberté”. These people made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. It is with reluctance that I use this expression, because I am well aware that after having been used in so many speeches and read, unfortunately, on so many tombstones, it may have lost some of its meaning and may no longer fully reflect the noble yet terrible reality that it should evoke. Still, let us try to visualize what happened.
We are close to the village of Vimy. Can we see that young man, whose remains we will bring back home? Like thousands of others he is there, alive, with his helmet, his rifle and his khaki uniform in a trench, where he is taking cover, alongside his brothers in arms.
Stunned by the din of battle, which prevents him from thinking, he shoots again and again. His rifle is hot. But in the lulls between firing, he lights a cigarette and, leaning on the muddy wall of the trench, he dreams. For the hundredth time, we can be sure, he imagines the wonderful moment when the war is ended, he has travelled back across the ocean, and the train carrying him and his buddies home finally reaches its destination.
He can picture himself already, a young soldier flush with victory, searching through the cheering crowd on the platform for the anxious faces of his mother, his father, his girlfriend or his wife, and perhaps his children, older now. “Will he be there”, they must be asking themselves. There, he has seen them. “Yes, yes, I am here”, he shouts to them, leaning out the open train window.
A whistling sound, an explosion, a blast—it must have been a shell that killed him because his remains, likely mixed in with those of other soldiers, could not be identified. A shell which shattered his dream and robbed him of his identity. But today, it is this anonymity which has earned him a place in history by conferring on him the honour of forever representing in his native land, to which he has returned after more than 80 years, all those who, like him, gave their lives for us.
Next week, the coffin of this soldier will be on view in parliament's Hall of Honour so that his fellow Canadians may pay tribute to him. I hope that many men and women will do so for, were he not back among us, they might perhaps have eventually forgotten to whom they owe their freedom. They need not be great readers of literature to help make the following two lines of verse ring as true today as when they were first written:
Those who for their country gave their lives
Should hear the prayers of many at their grave
Criminal Code May 17th, 2000
Mr. Speaker, I rise today as Bloc Quebecois critic for veterans' affairs. I also rise as one of the twelve members who served with the Allies during the second world war.
I agree with what my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm said earlier. I am surprised that some parties are opposed to this bill, although I agree with the argument as to what veterans want in this regard.
As far as I am concerned, I will repeat what my colleague has said. Wearing decorations on the right side clearly shows that the person wearing them is not a veteran but a relative.
I would like the committee to specify what relative means. It would obviously be too broad a definition if distant cousins were included. It ought to include only the veteran's mother, widow or children. It ought not to include anyone else. The term relative should be more narrowly defined.
If I can say something, I also have medals, and I would be proud, not annoyed, if my children were to wear them on the right side after I am gone.