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Track Francis

Your Say


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is water.

Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 34.10% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Questions on the Order Paper October 29th, 2014

With regard to the government’s plan, announced in the 2014 budget, to acquire privately-owned lands through the National Conservation Plan: (a) how much has the government already spent in 2014-2015 on purchasing ecologically-sensitive privately-owned lands and how much does it plan on spending on the purchase of such lands, either directly or through third parties, in the three fiscal years 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017, in Quebec; (b) how much of this amount has been or will be spent specifically on purchasing wetlands in Quebec; (c) where in Quebec has the government purchased, if it has done so, ecologically-sensitive lands, including wetlands, in 2014-2015 and where does it plan to purchase ecologically-sensitive lands in the province, including wetlands, in the three fiscal years 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017; and (d) does the government purchase ecologically-sensitive lands, including wetlands, through programs other than the National Conservation Plan and, if so, (i) how much has been spent in the last three fiscal years purchasing ecologically-sensitive privately-owned lands, including wetlands, (ii) how much will be spent in the next three fiscal years (2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017) on purchasing such lands through any programs other than the National Conservation Plan?

Public Safety October 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about the new national security legislation. Will the government be creating a parliamentary oversight committee?

I am not talking about red tape but about a parliamentary oversight committee that includes our security agencies and all of the parties. Its role would be to ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place and that there is a balance between the needs of our security agencies and the rights of Canadians. That is what our allies are doing.

The Environment October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in 2011, waste water from a Suncor oil sands project was accidentally released into the Athabasca River. We were surprised to learn that the test applied to determine if this was a violation of the Fisheries Act was whether more than 50% of affected fish died. I am told this is a provincial standard, one that appears to be in contradiction with the traditional federal standard that says nothing that could be harmful to even one fish should be allowed to enter water.

How can this more lax standard be allowed to exist under the enforcement provisions of the Fisheries Act? Is it because Fisheries Act enforcement has been devolved to the province, where the provincial Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act applies weaker standards? Are the regulatory changes in budget 2014 at least partially aimed at allowing the minister to retroactively exempt this and other industries from more stringent federal anti-pollution prohibitions in favour of more lax provincial ones?

If so, which other industries and provinces will be benefiting from the minister's new power to single-handedly exempt pollution-generating activities from Fisheries Act prohibitions?

The Environment October 21st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Fisheries Act is the federal government's main and, by far, most powerful legislative instrument for protecting Canada's lakes, rivers, and streams. In other words, the Fisheries Act is at the heart of federal water policy.

Since first being elected, the Conservative government has waged an almost incessant crusade to progressively undermine the Fisheries Act; in other words, to effectively weaken the act's prohibitions against harming fish and, by implication, polluting Canada's watercourses.

First, the government used schedule 2 of the Fisheries Act's mining effluent regulations to open the door wide to converting more and more northern freshwater lakes into dumping grounds for toxic mine tailings. The original intent of the regulations was to grandfather lakes that had already been destroyed by mine tailings in clear contravention of the Fisheries Act. In other words, the intent was to retroactively make these toxic lakes legal under the act.

In 2012, the government weakened section 35 of the Fisheries Act, the act's provisions for fish habitat protection, by restricting the section's application to recreational fisheries, commercial fisheries, and aboriginal fisheries only. In regard to section 36 of the act, the section that prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters, absent an explicit regulatory exemption granted by entire cabinet, the budget gave greater power to the minister of fisheries to, by himself or herself, carve out exemptions to the act. In other words, he or she could accord permission to those who wished to be allowed to legally pollute waterways for purposes of research or in the process of conducting various industrial activities, including agricultural production.

In the case of agriculture, the government's aim is to make it easier to allow pesticides to leach into waterways.

In budget 2014, the government followed up on the broad enabling provisions adopted in the 2012 budget, by more precisely defining the regulatory framework within which the minister could create blanket exemptions to the water pollution prohibitions found in section 36 of the Fisheries Act.

Is the government's aim to carve out exemptions for the oil sands industry specifically? It is an industry that, despite persistent and, I would say, stubborn earlier denials by the government, has been found by scientists, including the government's own scientists, to be causing to harm to the Athabasca River watershed.

Business of Supply October 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, what I will say is that I think it is completely inappropriate that we allow exploratory work at very sensitive times of the life cycle of whales in this particular case. It is obvious from my remarks that I think the decision that was made on the northern gateway, a review panel decision that ignored the impacts on the humpback whale, is a mistake. It really undermines confidence in the environmental processes that are going to be done in future by the National Energy Board. Yes, we have to be sensitive to these seasonal patterns and so on. That is why the Superior Court in Quebec made the decision it did, and I agree with that decision.

Business of Supply October 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, a certain culture has been created within federal departments. Scientists are being muzzled and management is being given carte blanche to issue advice without consulting the experts.

It is as though the government gave its permission for departments to give non-scientific advice that appears scientific for all development projects, without having to consult any scientists.

A culture has been created where everyone believes they have this right. Officials in these departments feel they have the right to issue an opinion on subjects without having any evidence to back it up, in order to please the political higher-ups.

Business of Supply October 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, we are open to economic progress. We do not close the door on every industrial project in the oil and gas sector. We must move forward with the pipeline.

However, the law and common sense dictate that we must proceed with a rigorous environmental assessment before making any final decisions regarding this project.

Business of Supply October 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to this motion. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Halifax West.

The Cacouna port project is no small potatoes, as the saying goes. According to Le Devoir:

TransCanada has ambitions of building...nothing less than the largest infrastructure in history for transporting and exporting oil from the oil sands.

As an aside, let me say that if this energy project is seeing the light of day today, that is partly because the government has failed with the Keystone XL pipeline. We are still waiting for a positive answer from the U.S. government. We have reached this stage because of the Conservative government's clumsy diplomacy, and now it is talking about building a major port on the St. Lawrence.

I will continue quoting the article from Le Devoir. TransCanada “actually wants to build a port that is unprecedented in the history of Quebec”. That is no small thing. To better understand the scope of this project, the ships that will come to the port to take on cargo, “will carry two to five times more oil than the amount spilled by Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989”; this is according to Le Devoir once again.

It must also be noted that navigation in this part of the river will necessarily be complex. If the project gets the green light, and this was mentioned by my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, we would also be facing the problem of the discharge of enormous quantities of ballast water. As we all know, ballast water is a kind of conduit for invasive species that come from elsewhere and fundamentally and irreversibly alter aquatic ecosystems, in particular the Great Lakes ecosystem.

I will not say more about the potential impact of this gigantic project because the real nub of the question we are debating today, as far as I am concerned, is the process that will be used to either confirm or dispel the concerns about a future port in Cacouna. In other words, we are talking today about the quality and rigour of the environmental assessment process that will be used to reach a decision about this project.

We know that the assessment is coming and I have serious doubts about it. To begin with, I do not have a lot of confidence in the assessment, and that is partly because of one of the mammoth bills the government introduced in the House, a budget bill that, as we know, completely changed the rules for federal environmental assessments in this country. In other words, since 2012, energy projects such as pipelines are assessed not by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, but by the National Energy Board.

We are entitled to wonder whether that board has the expertise needed for properly assessing the impact of projects like these on the environment; we might also wonder whether its priority is to protect the environment or simply to advance the private interests of companies in the oil industry.

We know that because of that bill, in 2012, apart from the fact that responsibility for environmental assessments of these projects has now been handed to the National Energy Board, the number of stakeholders with the right to present their views on the potential environmental effects of an energy project has been reduced. That bill, which is now law, also shortened the time allowed for doing an environmental assessment. And last but not least, under the new law, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will now be acting as a mere consultant to the National Energy Board, and has had all its decision-making powers on this kind of project taken away.

I would like to draw a parallel between the environmental assessment that will be done for the energy east pipeline and the one that has already been done for the northern gateway pipeline project. In British Columbia, there is talk about the impact of a pipeline on whales. In that case, they are not belugas, they are humpback whales, off the coast of British Columbia.

In that environmental assessment, the issue was the risks that the pipeline project posed to the whales. According to a professor at the University of Calgary, the report and recommendations of the assessment committee frankly left a lot to be desired, because they seem to have disregarded the concerns about the fate of the whales in the context of the northern gateway pipeline project.

In recommending the approval of the project, Professor Shaun Fluker said that the National Energy Board panel erred by

...accepting that known threats to the humpback whale will occur from tanker traffic in critical habitat and [yet] by concluding that this will not be a significant adverse effect on the species.

Then he went on to say that:

Enbridge [the project's promoter] submitted that knowledge on whales is sparse, vessel strikes and other impacts on whales are unavoidable....

However, in the end, the panel wholly accepted Enbridge's view that the project would not have a significant adverse impact on the humpback whale. Therefore we see that, yes, the Energy Board does do assessments now, but when it comes to the impacts on wildlife and, in this case, on whales, it just seems to skirt the issue a bit.

Even if we can assume a rigorous environmental assessment process, we have to have good information, and we see that the government is not really forthcoming with good information that is the product of research by scientists. We know that scientists are muzzled; that is pretty clear. We have seen in the court case that imposed an injunction on the exploratory wells at Cacouna that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was not very forthcoming with very important information needed for the decision on whether to allow exploratory wells. I am just saying that I am not very confident that the environmental review will be as rigorous as it should be.

Health October 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the “Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality” are weaker than drinking water standards in other national jurisdictions. Canada has no standard for certain substances, while other countries do.

For example, there are 189 substances regulated in other countries for which Canada has no standard.

In other cases, our Canadian standards are much more lax than those in other countries for the same toxic substance.

When will the Conservative government start to show leadership on the vital issue of drinking water quality?

The Environment October 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, to date the government has failed in its feeble attempts to reach its own greenhouse gas reduction targets. The cause of this failure: federal inaction, and by that I mean the abysmal lack of leadership on the part of this Conservative government, which has not even bothered to meet with representatives of the oil sector since March 2013 to discuss regulations for this sector.

When will the government take action and finally take the threat of climate change seriously?