- On the Parliament site
Last in Parliament November 2009, as Bloc MP for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2008, with 46.03% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act May 5th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his speech. He informed us of the extensive consultations that were conducted. There was a great deal of collaboration amongst the various parties in order to adopt this bill.
It is appropriate at this time to acknowledge the extent to which non-profits in our society contribute to the quality of the social and economic life of Quebec and Canada.
However, I would like to make one comment. My colleagues who sat on the committee made suggestions that were not retained concerning a situation that may require the review of part of the law in a few years. I am referring to the classification system for non-profit organizations. I will give two examples. There are charitable organizations, that is organizations that provide services or benefits to individuals who are not members. For example, people collect money for a cause of some kind. There are also mutualist organizations, which provide benefits to their members.
The fact that there is no classification in the law to distinguish between these categories represents a problem that could grow in the future. In any event, that is the opinion of the Canadian Bar Association. Organizations with quite different purposes will all be in the same category. That is unsatisfactory.
What does my colleague think about that and why did the committee not retain this suggestion?
Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act May 5th, 2009
Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech, especially in light of the fact that I was industry, science and technology critic when this legislation was first introduced a few years ago. The drafting of a completely revised bill was delayed by elections. I believe it was urgent that it be done. Indeed, members of the committee did a good job and at this stage, the bill should be adopted as soon as possible.
However, as my colleague mentioned, bills can always be improved. This bill does not contain a classification system for existing types of organizations. This means that a charitable organization whose purpose is to provide services to non-members will be in the same situation as a mutualist organization that provides services to its own members. Under this bill, all not-for-profit organizations covered by the act will belong to the same general category. The Canadian Bar Association sees that as a weakness in the bill.
Could my colleague tell me if he thinks this situation should have been rectified? Was this noted in committee and did the committee decide to leave the bill as is? It seems to me that the current updating of the act, which had not been done in a very long time, may require further adjustments in three, four or five years to take the size of not-for-profit organizations into account.
I would like to know my colleague's point of view on this to ensure that the maximum has been done already so that the act is perfectly adapted to the new realities of the 21st century.
Customs Act May 5th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this bill which addresses the administration of customs.
In recent years, as the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a very marked tightening of customs security. There is at the same time an awareness that a balance must be struck between security and the need for proper service and for avoiding problems because of the way things are being done. If all the priority is given to security alone, the end result may be hindrance of the border-crossing mechanisms.
The border between Canada and the U.S. is a very long one. Obviously it can be crossed by road, or even just on foot, but it can also be crossed in a plane. This bill before us is an attempt to remedy the situation. The Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour of this bill because we feel that the measures it contains are appropriate. Time will tell whether they actually succeed in improving the situation on any ongoing basis, but the bill is evidence of good will and we hope it will be passed.
Primarily, though, this bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently. Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada.
In the last few years, particularly with the cooperation of the U.S., a system was put in place to ensure security within the companies themselves. Care is taken to ensure that the products are protected and isolated, and also that shipping does not reopen to question their seal or their security when handled, when additions are made to them, or when they are processed. This is what these amendments reflect.
With this advance electronic information on transportation, the Canada Border Services Agency will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians and Quebeckers. We see this as a positive measure. Of course, we have to ensure that implementing this electronic system will not interfere with existing laws and regulations, such as those governing privacy. However, in the transportation sector, this kind of situation occurs infrequently, and we have not seen any such complications in the existing act.
Other changes will allow the Canada Border Services Agency to fully establish customs controlled areas. These areas will be specific territories, legal entities. When an individual arrives at an airport, customs officers will have the authority to exercise the rights set out in the act. This will clarify notions that are set out in the existing act but that do not enable customs officers to take appropriate action. That is what this bill seeks to fix. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states. The current law does not allow officers to search individuals until they have left the customs controlled area. People exhibit all kinds of behaviours within the areas themselves, and in the past, situations have arisen that may have required officers to intervene, but they could not. This bill would resolve that problem.
At first sight, the bill seems adequate, but an in-depth review and close questioning of Canada Border Services Agency inspectors and government officials will be necessary. As I said at the start, we must not nitpick to the point where we would be creating a situation more complicated than the one we already have. What we need is a fluid border for land and marine crossings but also for the movement of people and goods by air.
That will be the primary concern of the Bloc Quebecois when the bill goes through detailed analysis in committee. That is why we will want to hear witnesses from the government agency and from companies that do transborder trade and want decent services. We can also expect that organizations advocating privacy protection and individual rights will want to make sure that the legislation does not complicate the situation on the Canadian side and does not undermine citizens' rights.
The bill was introduced on January 29, 2009 by the Conservative leader in the Senate and later sent to this House. We do not think that the introduction of bills first in the Senate which then sends them to this place is the best way to do things. It is always better to introduce bills first in the elected House of Parliament instead of the other chamber, where members are not elected. This way of proceeding should be changed to ensure the government does not use it to get around the urgency of certain issues or to introduce through the back door measures it does not want to introduce directly.
This bill is identical to the one introduced on December 2, 2008 and to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008 during the second session of the 39th Parliament. Both these bills died on the order paper. We can therefore understand how anxious the Canada Border Services Agency is to have the act finally amended. The Bloc will cooperate on passing the bill and will support it at second reading by not prolonging the debate. However, it will also make sure that the committee hears witnesses and considers the bill in a timely manner.
Bill S-2 amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions of the French version of the act and to make technical amendments to others. We felt it was important to correct these provisions. Often, bills are initially drafted in English, and there are regularly problems with the translation, which can lead to misinterpretation of the act once it comes into effect. These things must be corrected. The current bill makes much-needed improvements and should be passed as soon as possible.
The bill also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, amends provisions concerning the determination of value for duty and modifies advance commercial reporting requirements. The search powers of customs officers are expanded to include individuals and their goods that are in or are leaving a customs controlled area. The current Customs Act does not allow officers to go and get someone who refuses to be searched and stays in the buffer zone. This legal vacuum causes unacceptable situations and needs to be addressed.
The bill also provides that regulations may be enacted that describe the time frame and manner in which information about passengers may be provided by prescribed persons. This is the whole issue of personal information that I was talking about earlier. With regard to searches, we must ensure that customs officers do not have undue authority and that the rights of Canadian citizens and foreign travellers are properly protected.
The current Customs Act was passed in 1986 and is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act. This shows that the customs sector has been around for a very long time. When Canada was created, a customs service was established and has evolved over the years. The pace of change seems to be accelerating, driven by the arrival of new electronic technologies that can be used both to improve the system, but also by people who want to bring illegal goods into Canada. In that regard, it is very important to ensure that our technologies are up to date in order to detect potential inadvertent errors or malicious acts.
As we have heard, since 1986, the act has been amended continuously in response to free trade and related international agreements, and to fine-tune international trade measures.
Again recently, we have seen how certain countries can also use customs legislation to practice a form of protectionism. We hope that is not the case at this time and that Canada does not anticipate that kind of situation. In the past, the fluidity of the border between Canada and the U.S. has benefited Canada and particularly Quebec. We also know, however, that since the establishment of free trade agreements that are casting the net wider in light of globalization, we are seeing increased competition. We must ensure that Canadian products are imported and exported properly. The same is true when it comes to people crossing our borders, and that is how we must look at this bill.
I will elaborate on this.
Clause 2 of the bill removes the authorization-by-regulation requirement by which the minister currently approves access to a customs controlled area by a person.
There will be no need for a regulation to allow that. It will be possible to do so directly under the act. The minister will be able to grant that access directly.
Clause 3 of the Bill removes an exemption that applied to persons boarding a flight to a destination outside of Canada who were leaving a customs controlled area. By the removal of this exemption, such persons are obligated to present and identify themselves to an officer and to report any goods obtained in the area and answer questions asked by an officer.
We will examine closely what this means in order to avoid administrative duplication, for example. It will be important to verify such concerns.
Clause 4 amends the regulation-making powers of the Governor in Council to include regulations prescribing the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to customs controlled areas and the manner in which a person must present himself or herself upon leaving, or while in, a customs controlled area.
Therefore, these are fairly technical points that are being amended in order to give customs officers more latitude as well as the ability to act more quickly and efficiently within customs controlled areas.
Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale... This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.
They must try to state the real value of the goods to ensure that we do not open ourselves to the black market or to a market that does not reflect the true value of the good.
Clause 11 [amends the bill] so that a customs officer is authorized to conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person in or leaving a customs controlled area, in accordance with the regulations.
After seeing how people often behave in customs, it is important that, on occasion, action be taken to allow the non-intrusive examination of goods that is not detrimental to the individual and that does not create an undesirable situation for the person concerned.
We could say that this bill makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.
The proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. We hope that the number of disputes will decrease and that border traffic will flow more freely but with adequate control.
It is also thought that revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported is more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value. There is no point in pretending that the changes will probably result in additional revenue for the government because they will be taxed on the real value of the goods much more than is done at present.
The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. In the past, particularly with the implementation of what is called C-TPAT, an American law to ensure oversight of what is happens in factories, we have seen that there is no rechecking done at each stage during transport. We hope that there could be this new type of facility for the new powers granted. Combined with the creation of the broader search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.
We have seen in the past that goods entering Canada were in fact illegal copies that infringed rights and patents that had been paid for, for example, but most importantly they were goods that could have negative impacts on health and that could even affect children’s health. As well, there are people who travel and may bring back samples of products. We also want to ensure that there is less and less counterfeiting occurring, to eliminate the problem at the source rather than having this unacceptable situation.
We are also told that border services officers may now search persons only when they leave controlled areas. In future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself, and this will be easier because we know that, at present, the officer questions people as they leave and can even conduct a search if the officer thinks it necessary.
In the new scenario, officers will be able to ask the same kinds of questions inside the controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds, they will be able to conduct a search. They will be given adequate training and people who enter a controlled area will be informed of the possibility of a search. They would have notice. So we see the bill as a whole and the perspective the minister wishes to take.
I hope that this bill will reflect a different philosophy from the one we see at present in the government’s approach, for example in connection with Mr. Abdelrazik's return to Canada. He is a Canadian citizen who is currently at the embassy in Khartoum and wants to return here. There is an international convention that allows him to return to his country, even if he is on a UN no-fly list.
The Canadian government is currently refusing to apply the agreement that it signed. The government behaves this way in regard to a symbolic matter, but we certainly hope it does not when it comes to the implementation of an actual piece of legislation, such as the one we will be voting on with Bill S-2. If this kind of behaviour turns up in other similar cases, if it occurs in the enforcement of a law, if the bill we are voting on allows this sort of thing, I think these kinds of excesses would be totally unacceptable. That is why the committee must ensure that the bill respects with all individual rights.
I invite all groups that want to make presentations to do so in committee. When the bill comes back to us at report stage and at third reading, all the necessary changes will have been made to ensure that customs officers can do their jobs more effectively and satisfactorily and speed up border crossings for airlines, while at the same time showing respect for the citizens who are being processed, both Canadians and people from abroad who are visiting us.
Over the last few years, there has been a major drop in tourism to Canada. Every time we make a decision about customs, we should ensure that we are not adding another obstacle, as we did to some extent by increasing the cost of passports.
The Americans now require passports of people even when they are using a land crossing and we have seen the additional costs involved. This will probably cause some American families interested in vacationing in Canada to go instead to another American state. For a family of four or five, that is an additional cost that could equal the cost of two, three or even four vacation days. As a result, some will prefer to stay in the United States and spend their money there, even though we were trying to create a free trade area in which everyone would benefit from more exchanges.
When we pass bills like S-2, we will have to adopt a perspective and take an approach that avoids this kind of complications. We will also have to look into whether the situation will be different at small airports and large airports. We should ensure as well that the customs controlled areas that are created—I am thinking of small airports like those in Gatineau or Rivière-du-Loup where there are no customs services as such—do not require additional security services to be established that are not necessary and currently not required.
We will have to pay particular attention to this if we want to have a bill that facilitates the flow of people rather than impeding it.
I will conclude on that note and encourage the House to pass this bill as soon as possible.
Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention May 4th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech. It is urgent that we adopt an Arctic policy that reflects the importance of climate change and the new reality in this part of the world. Therefore, the Bloc Québécois will support this government bill.
However, I would like the minister to indicate if he intends to use a particular angle, that of history, to ensure Canada's sovereignty in this part of the world. This year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the completion of Captain Bernier's expedition. This is an important historical event and I would like to draw the minister's attention to this chapter of history. There was also John Franklin's expedition.
Does the government plan on promoting this history through the production of movies or books or by some other means? One of our local organizations made a presentation on this subject in order to obtain funds from a program to commemorate such events. Is the minister prepared to invest energy and resources into promoting history in order to support Canada's position in this regard?
Foreign Affairs April 28th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's response confirms that the organization Lawyers Without Borders is right to be worried about this government's strong tendency to minimize, if not trivialize, illegality. The government's stubbornness only fuels suspicions about its underlying motives.
Since the Prime Minister claims to respect the rule of law, why does he not abide by the decision and demand Omar Khadr's repatriation?
Foreign Affairs April 28th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, in 2005, the Prime Minister said there was no danger in giving him a majority mandate because the number of judges, senators and other officials appointed by the Liberals would ensure checks and balances against any arbitrariness. In spite of that, this government continues to ignore the courts and refuses to repatriate Omar Khadr, even though Canada signed the convention on child soldiers.
Can the Prime Minister tell us how Omar Khadr does not fit the definition of a child soldier?
Business of Supply April 28th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, my answer is in two parts.
First, on the question of equalization, the problem is the unilateral decisions by the federal government. One year ago, there was $1 billion more coming and we suddenly learned there would be $1 billion less. Imagine the impact it has on the Government of Quebec to have $1 billion less to count on in revenue, in its envelope.
Second, when Quebec is sovereign, we will no longer need equalization. We will be autonomous then and we will manage our affairs properly. The equalization system provides compensation for the results of poverty--
Business of Supply April 28th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question.
Why does the federal government want to take over collecting the taxes again? Because it has realized that Quebec had acquired a significant tool for financial autonomy. The example I just gave, the reduction in the GST that will be recouped by Quebec, that is gradual financial autonomy. Several years from now, we might have less and less income tax, and taxes might be increasingly collected through consumption taxes.
There is choice in this situation, there is autonomy. Perhaps the federal government has realized this, because at the same time it is losing the hold it has through systems like equalization and other systems where it can set national standards and engage in what it calls Canadian nation-building. In this situation, Quebeckers want their own model and want their nation to have as much autonomy as possible to control its development. Money is the sinews of war.
In my opinion, that is the direction the federal government is going. I would not be surprised if this new position on collection came from high up in the federal bureaucracy, from the people who outlive governments, who were here under Mr. Chrétien and even under Mr. Trudeau. Those people are determined to build the Canadian government with the Canadian framework and Canadian values, while we want to build Quebec with Quebec values.
Business of Supply April 28th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, being the representative of a Quebec riding makes one very happy in this place on some days. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois has been elected to promote sovereignty and to defend Quebec's interests. I will read today's motion because I think it is in line with what Quebeckers want collectively:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should negotiate in good faith with the Government of Quebec to resolve the dispute dating back over ten years regarding the harmonization of the QST with the GST in the early 1990s and agree to provide $2.6 billion in compensation to Quebec for this harmonization, and that Quebec continue to administer these harmonized taxes.
That motion illustrates clearly what it means to defend Quebec's interests because it supports a motion adopted unanimously by all parties in the National Assembly. Since Quebec regained the right to have a provincial income tax system 50 or 60 years ago, it has always tried to get as much financial autonomy as possible. In the end, total financial and legal autonomy will be necessary.
I want to read the unanimous motion of Quebec's National Assembly because I believe it sums up the position of Quebec very well:
WHEREAS Québec was the first province to harmonize with the Federal goods and services tax (GST) in the early 1990s:
This is nothing new. In the early 1990s, Quebec was the first province to do so.
WHEREAS since then, three Atlantic provinces have harmonized with the GST in 1997 and have received compensation for this from the Federal Government totalling close to 1 billion dollars;
Quebec, on the other hand, received no compensation.
WHEREAS the Government of Ontario announced that it would harmonize its sales tax with the GST beginning on 1 July 2010;
WHEREAS the Federal Government will grant a 4.3 billion dollar compensation to Ontario for this harmonization, an amount that is justified in the Canada-Ontario memorandum of understanding particularly owing to the desire to stimulate economic growth and job creation, and the Federal Government will administer this new provincial tax free of charge on behalf of Ontario;
It is the Quebec government that administers this tax in Quebec, although the federal government will do so free of charge for Ontario.
WHEREAS the Ontario sales tax will be very similar to the Québec sales tax (QST) since certain goods, such as books, will not be subject to the provincial tax and that input tax refunds in Ontario may be identical to those agreed to by Québec for an 8-year period;
So the two cases are comparable.
WHEREAS Ontario is the fourth province to receive compensation from the Federal Government as part of the harmonization of the provincial and federal sales taxes, while Québec has not received any compensation to this day even though it was the first province to harmonize its sales tax;
All parties in the Quebec National Assembly unanimously agree on this.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the National Assembly ask the Federal Government to treat Québec justly and equitably, by granting compensation that is comparable to that offered to Ontario for the harmonization of its sales tax with the GST, which would represent an amount of 2.6 billion dollars for Québec.
So as we can see, today's Bloc Québécois motion is actually the Quebec National Assembly motion. The Government of Quebec is unanimously saying that they are the ones who have been moving forward on this, acting in good faith, reaching agreements and administering this tax for many years, without ever receiving any compensation, as we watch other provinces receive compensation year after year for various reasons.
Ottawa invents arguments to compensate the other provinces, but it does not compensate Quebec. The federal government's latest invention is very hard to swallow: it is saying that it should collect the money, even though nearly 20 years ago, the federal government said Quebec could collect it. The current government, which has said it is open to Quebec, is more regressive than previous governments in this respect. Quebec truly cannot understand or accept such an attitude.
Quebeckers have always been open-minded. For example, we took positions on free trade that we felt were important for proper trade. But the federal government has always been very jealous of the rights of the National Assembly of Quebec. I believe that there has not been one Government of Quebec in more than 75 years that has not tried to make Quebec more autonomous, and especially more financially independent. As I mentioned earlier, Maurice Duplessis was the first premier to make sure that income tax in Quebec was collected separately from federal income tax.
Later, the government of Mr. Bourassa entered into an agreement whereby Quebec would collect and administer the tax and then send the federal government its share.
So even though there was an internal debate in Quebec and even though the Parti Québécois was ahead of the Liberals on this issue, Quebec realized that this could be an important, worthwhile tax tool. When the federal government lowers its tax and Quebec takes its place, it becomes more financially independent.
It took the Liberals a year or two longer, but they included this measure in the latest budget. They are finally going to recoup the 1%. The Parti Québécois had been calling for this for many years and had suggested it in the past. It is a good measure.
Every time Quebec becomes more financially independent, Quebeckers win, because they are able to assume their responsibilities and invest all the money they need to in their own areas of jurisdiction.
We see all the cuts the federal government is making. For example, it is constantly changing the rules for equalization, forcing Quebec's finance minister to do financial gymnastics, which is unacceptable.
The more financially independent Quebec is, the less dependent it will be on such decisions, and the less it will be in a paternalistic relationship with the federal government. That is the message the Government of Quebec has sent, and it is the message the Bloc Québécois hopes to get across.
Financial independence has always been an important criterion for developing nations. Let us remember that in the United States, it was the issue of a tax on tea that, in a symbolic way, became the reason why the United States of America decided to become independent from the British Empire.
In Quebec, opinions are divided concerning independence. We have not yet achieved a solid majority but there certainly is a consensus on the fact that Quebec must have the most financial independence possible. It is that consensus that the Bloc Québécois brings before this House today, and we hope that the House will listen to it.
It is important, because the response to this motion will have a large impact on the way the people of Quebec view this Parliament. During the next year or so, there will probably be a federal election campaign. When Quebeckers are asked to decide which party will best represent them, they will certainly take a look at who has defended their interests here in this House, in particular the interests formally expressed by the Quebec National Assembly. It is the Bloc Québécois that has done so today.
Quebec has acted in good faith in this matter. In the past, federal government documents even recognized that taxes were harmonized in Quebec. Now, they have come up with this approach to collecting taxes in an effort to avoid having to compensate Quebec.
We are not here begging for money. We just want what we are entitled to. As Mr. Duplessis would have said, we want what is ours. This is money that is due to us under this system. It is not true that the rest of Canada has the right to be compensated but not Quebec.
Rest assured that on this point we represent all Quebeckers. Everyone knows that what we are talking about here is only about half the financial envelope of Canada, and that when decisions are made by the federal government in its areas of jurisdiction, such as national defence, where a great deal of money is being spent on Afghanistan, those decisions mean that money is not available for other types of spending.
Quebeckers are well aware that the more financially independent they are, the more likely it is that they will be able to develop the social model they desire. They have done that with the parental leave system, with day care centres, and they want to continue to do so. In fact, Quebec has a social model, a society, a nation that is different. Our nation has even been recognized as different by this House. Now, it is time for the Conservative federal government and the federalist parties here to make a gesture toward Quebec. a gesture of fairness, by supporting this motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois. Otherwise, Quebeckers will know what conclusions they should draw.
Foreign Affairs April 27th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, clearly the government wants to buy time by filing an appeal. That is the only reason it is prolonging the debate.
But beyond procedure, there is a question the government has never answered. We know that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations convention on the protection of child soldiers. Consequently, can the minister give us his definition of a child soldier?