- His favourite word was federal.
Last in Parliament October 2010, as Bloc MP for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2008, with 37.53% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Petitions November 24th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I would like to present to the House two petitions on behalf of the citizens of Saint-Vianney in the Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia riding and the citizens of Sainte-Flavie, who want the government to maintain the moratorium on rural post office closures.
I would remind the House that, despite the moratorium, some post offices in our ridings are closing down. Unfortunately, this is happening quite regularly. The citizens want rural post offices to remain open, because they are an important part of their communities.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act November 17th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I have a question on poverty for my colleague. I enjoyed her speech, but she did not really have enough time to speak to poverty or respond to the member opposite who spoke of reducing poverty in Colombia.
When we only meet with representatives of the Colombian government and those who can cook the books—it is as simple as that—can we truly talk about reducing poverty in Colombia? The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has the real figures: 68% of the population in rural Colombia live below the poverty line. Of that number, at least 11% were poorer still and were even struggling to feed themselves.
Can we sign a free trade agreement with a country that has absolutely no respect for its population or its workers and certainly has no real concern for reducing poverty?
Petitions November 4th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of some of my constituents in Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici, who want the Canada Post Corporation to continue observing the moratorium proposed in 1994. Of course, they want public post offices in rural municipalities to remain open.
Petitions October 6th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table two petitions, one signed by the people of Sainte-Félicité, in the riding of Haute-Gaspésie —La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, and one from the people of Saint-Léon-le-Grand, also in the riding of Haute-Gaspésie —La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
These citizens want Canada Post to keep post offices open in all rural communities, including in their own communities.
Business of Supply June 15th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, my colleague was describing all the analysis done by the International Monetary Fund. I would like him to continue because it was very informative, especially in regard to a securities commission. If the system works, why change it? If it works very well and is an excellent system, why take the risk of creating a new system that will have its problems? When a car works really well, we do not trade it in, unless it is purely for appearances. I think it is very important, therefore, for my colleague to continue describing the analysis done by the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which was introduced by my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming. It is not that we support federal government interference in regional development, but if the people of northern Ontario and the Government of Ontario want to create an agency, the Bloc Québécois would obviously be ill advised to oppose it.
The purpose of Bill C-309 is to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which, like the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, would be responsible for promoting the development of northern Ontario in accordance with an integrated federal strategy.
The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's interests, and that is why in the past we voted against Bill C-9, which created the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Members will say that we are being inconsistent. We voted against creating an agency in Quebec, yet we support creating an agency in Ontario. I have no problem with that, because if the people in northern Ontario want to create such an agency, then naturally we will support them.
The Bloc Québécois believes, as all the governments of Quebec have believed for more than 45 years, that in order to be able to develop an integrated policy on regional development, Quebec must have control over regional development programs. I will explain this further during my speech.
As my colleague has just said, the regions are the ones with the solutions. Quebec in particular has organizations that focus on the socio-economic development of their regions. These organizations are in a position to properly advise the minister on regional needs and to help with program implementation. The local development centres were created specifically to develop the regional economy and to advise ministers in order to ensure that the investments made would be as cost effective as possible for regional development. Over the years, we have also created another kind of organization, the regional conferences of elected officials, which bring together all mayors and other elected officials in each of the regions. Obviously, they examine every file relating to regional development and they, too, are well placed to provide the minister responsible with proper advice.
The Bloc Québécois is aware that not all governments have the same priorities. Despite the fact that the agency is joyfully trampling on Quebec's toes in its jurisdiction, if the Government of Ontario has decided to welcome this structure into its regional economy, we cannot do otherwise than agree, as I said. It must be pointed out as well that Ontario has been hit very hard by the economic crisis, northern Ontario even more so because of the forestry crisis and the decline of the auto industry.
I would like to make the point that a true regional development strategy needs to include a broad range of components: natural resources, education, training, municipal affairs, land use, infrastructure and so on, none of which are in any way federal responsibilities. In fact, the Canadian Constitution entrusts most things that concern regional development to Quebec and the provinces.
In order to be in a position to create an integrated regional development policy, all of the governments of Quebec in the past 45-plus years have been demanding control of the regional development program.
Between 1973 and 1994, an agreement was in place between the Government of Quebec and the government in Ottawa. According to it, Ottawa could not invest in regional development without the agreement of the Government of Quebec. In 1994, that agreement was broken. Since that time, there have been two parallel structures in Quebec, those of the Government of Quebec and those of the federal government, which both invest in regional development.
Very often the two are in conflict with each other, because the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec sets priorities for itself that are not shared by Quebec or the regions of Quebec. This clash of regional development systems is a very common occurrence.
Another phenomenon has also cropped up since the Conservatives have been in power.
As my colleague mentioned, the government made deep cuts to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec's budget. Those cuts were significant.
Since 1994, the agency has been investing in research and development organizations responsible for supporting businesses. I could list all kinds of organizations in every region of Quebec that were responsible for helping small and medium-sized businesses conduct research and development and bring their ideas to market.
Small and medium-sized businesses do not necessarily have the financial means to do research and create and launch new products. That is why the agency invested in those kinds of organizations. Then, suddenly, two years ago in 2007, the agency withdrew its support. That is the problem with having two parallel regional development systems. The Canadian agency withdrew, and now a lot of those organizations are in trouble. Basically, the entire structure that the Government of Quebec and the regions of Quebec built over the years has been demolished.
I can provide actual examples of that in my region. Among other things, the forest research centre, which was supported by the Canadian agency, was unexpectedly told that it would have to begin turning a profit within about two years. That was utterly impossible. That kind of development will no longer be happening. The federal government must understand that regional development cannot happen without taking into account each region's priorities and those of the Government of Quebec.
Earlier, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was talking about the Minister of Industry. I should point out that the Minister of Industry was responsible for the agency, and he is the one who cut funding to several organizations in Quebec. The new minister tried to restore funding, but I do not think that he tried hard enough, because instead of restoring the funding, organizations were simply given an extra year within which to become profitable. It is no secret that most research and development organizations will never be profitable because they do research and development to bring products to market. It takes years and years to turn a profit, and that is not what these organizations are meant to do. Their role is to support businesses, not replace them. That is where the government made its mistake.
Earlier, my colleague said that the Minister of Industry was very busy because there are files piled up on his desk. I would say to him that is probably the same tactic he used at the Economic Development Agency of Canada because everything ended up on his desk. Files would languish and he was accused—I believe rightly—of engaging in petty politics, cheap politics, by using the funds of the Economic Development Agency of Canada. In my opinion, the same thing is currently happening at Industry Canada. It is the same minister.
Let us be serious. He probably used the same tactics and is probably continuing to use the same approach. That means files were not dealt with, files are languishing and will continue to do so because he has to look at all of them, one by one, and he does not trust anyone, especially not the directors of agencies in Quebec and probably not Industry department officials.
I am being told that I have one minute left. Therefore I will repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support the creation of a development agency for northern Ontario because that is the decision of the people who live there and of the Ontario government, and that is important to us. Therefore, if those people want it, as a political party that respects all regions, I believe that we must vote for Bill C-309.
Infrastructure April 27th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, as we have known for some time, communities in northern Quebec, like those in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, are in desperate need of infrastructure.
When it comes to poorly adapted, inadequate transportation infrastructure, to the housing shortage that is at the root of serious social problems, or to any kind of infrastructure that is essential to the well-being and development of any community, but is typically minimal or even non-existent, it is clear that one federal government after another has neglected the north.
There is a high cost to such neglect, not only in terms of dollars, but also, and more importantly, in terms of heavy social costs. This problem cannot be solved overnight. Updating and developing northern infrastructure will require the kind of significant, stable and predictable financial support that is seriously lacking right now.
These vital investments must be tailored to meet the needs of people living in the north. They must also be integrated with money promised by the provinces and the Government of Quebec.
The motion before us today calls on the government to develop “a strategy to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure” in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces, as well as with “local governments”.
While it is a good idea to consult with the target populations despite having ignored them for so long, such consultations have to follow the rules.
And the rules are simple: in Quebec, the Government of Quebec is the interlocutor for local Nunavik governments.
The Government of Quebec is in the best position to assess the needs of its people and to connect them to the right funding programs. The Government of Quebec is also in the best position to consult target aboriginal communities and economic, institutional and social stakeholders, and to get them involved in the decision-making process.
In far too many cases, the federal government has interfered with the cooperative relationship between Quebec and the communities involved, a relationship that is critical to harmonious and stable development.
Every federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has always adopted a brand of federalism that some have called predatory. Moreover, they have ignored Quebec's jurisdiction and have interfered in areas that are none of their business, such as education, health and municipal affairs. That interference does not help anyone, because all it does is make a mess of programs.
The last federal budget clearly shows the unscrupulous character of the federal government when it come to intervening directly with the municipalities. It is allocating $2 billion to provide loans directly to the municipalities, going over the heads of the governments of Quebec and the provinces, even though they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for whatever is built.
In the past, as we have seen, certain federal infrastructure programs have allowed some of the larger municipalities to build themselves two or three new arenas, for example. Unfortunately, those three arenas are no longer profitable at this time, and we have a good example of that in Quebec.
In short, if the federal government goes ahead with the development of an infrastructure strategy for the north, it must cooperate with Quebec and the provinces, and not deal with the municipalities directly, since they do not fall under federal jurisdiction.
Yet nowhere in the motion before us do we find any indication that the federal government has understood that there are limitations on its actions. On the contrary, the text of the motion implies and even suggests that the federal government could develop this infrastructure strategy in cooperation with local governments, that is, with the municipalities, even though neither the municipalities nor the infrastructure fall under federal jurisdiction.
I would remind the House that municipal and strategic infrastructure in Quebec is in urgent need of major investments—and this is also true of Nunavik, in the north—given their ageing and deteriorating state. In addition to that, I would even say that there is a lack of infrastructure in the north.
The money allocated to repairing and developing infrastructure by the Quebec government and the municipalities is insufficient. On its own, the Quebec government is not in a position to increase its contribution enough to make up for the deficit. There is such a deficit in terms of infrastructure, and the deterioration of infrastructure is so serious, that even greater investments are needed at this time in order to be able to solve the problem.
After years of modest contributions, the federal government has finally decided to invest gradually in infrastructure renewal through various programs and funds, including the gas tax transfer and the building Canada program.
Even though substantial funding is now available, needs are still great.
In addition to the amount of money allocated for infrastructure, there is another aspect of infrastructure funding that is problematic: the great number of programs now in place is threatening Quebec's ability to keep full control over choosing projects and how they are carried out. These new programs, which are all more or less targeted, are making previous agreements that recognized Quebec's authority obsolete and are requiring new one-off agreements where Quebec is having to work hard to assert its rights.
The same is true of funding for public-private partnerships, which receive federal funding based on merit. It is not up to the federal government to decide what infrastructure will be built in a public-private partnership; it is up to Quebec, which has the expertise to make such decisions.
The Bloc Québécois position on this is clear and firm: Quebec has full jurisdiction over municipal affairs under the Constitution, as well as over regional economic development. It has the authority to determine which priority projects will be most beneficial to Quebeckers, including the residents of the north, through organizations such as the Société de financement des infrastructures locales du Québec.
Currently, every federal infrastructure program targets a different clientele and has its own schedule and criteria. This is creating confusion and allowing Ottawa to set its own priorities even though the Government of Quebec and local governments have exclusive authority to do so.
It is interesting to note that in its 2007-08 budget plan, the Government of Quebec was very clear on this issue. The document states:
Moreover, to accelerate investment and make the administrative process less cumbersome, money for infrastructure should be paid to the provinces through block funding rather than through a number of administrative agreements covering specific projects.
The Bloc Québécois has consistently called on the federal government to change funding conditions so that infrastructure investments reflect ability to pay. Our proposal would have the federal government paying 50% of costs, the Government of Quebec and the provinces, 35%, and the municipalities, 15%, which would accurately reflect the ability to pay of each level of government.
The federal government collects more tax than it needs for its own responsibilities.
With the money it received from such overtaxation, it started spending in a large number of areas outside its jurisdiction: health, education, social programs, family policies, natural resources, culture and university research. Over the years, the federal government has created certain needs. At one time, it withdrew from these areas and the provincial governments were forced to look after needs that were no longer met by the federal government.
Ottawa acknowledges that the Constitution prevents it from legislating in these areas, but it claims that it can spend money in any area it wants to, without regard for the distribution of powers. That is its so-called spending power.
In the areas that Ottawa is wading into without being invited, Quebec is supposed to have complete sovereignty in the choice of programs and autonomy in funding.
In particular, this is the case for infrastructure, which—with a few exceptions such as interprovincial railways, bridges spanning the seaway and border infrastructure—are within the jurisdiction of the governments of Quebec and the provinces.
Unfortunately, and as I was just mentioning, the federal government has a longstanding tradition, which it is continuing, of interfering in provincial jurisdictions by providing funding. The motion should have been clearer. The motion should have been very clear in this regard and stated that the federal government should work cooperatively with the governments of the provinces and the Government of Quebec, but not with local communities, to resolve the infrastructure problem in the North.
Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec April 21st, 2009
Mr. Speaker, the debate is quite animated, thanks to my colleague. Together with my colleague from Laval, I would like to thank him for his support. As my colleague from Sherbrooke says, I will continue along the same lines.
Earlier, the parliamentary secretary said something that made my hair stand on end. He said in his speech that the Conservative government had cut funding for non-profit organizations in the interests of sound management of public funds. Does that mean that helping non-profit economic organizations that develop the regions is not sound management of public funds? Does that mean that the organizations in question were mismanaging and wasting the funding they received from the government? It is completely ridiculous to say that the government wants to exercise sound management by cutting funding for regional development and organizations involved in regional development.
The other thing I do not get about the Conservative government's attitude is the fact that it completely fails to understand the development model that Quebec has put in place over the past 40 years. It is important to understand that institutions in Quebec have changed a great deal. If we look at a map, we can see that Quebec created regional county municipalities, development plans and a set of tools to allow it to manage public funds more effectively and serve communities better.
The same is true of health care services. Quebec created local community service centres where people can access health care services. It established regional boards because it knew that centralizing services did not give good results. These services were therefore decentralized in the regions, and Quebec created institutions that manage each region. It created similar models of economic development.
Development committees were created for each regional county municipality and regions formed conferences of elected officers. Each regional county municipality in Quebec has a development plan that corresponds to its needs, abilities and the community as a whole, as well as its unique environment. For instance, we would not see an area in the middle of Montreal setting a goal to develop agriculture. I refer to agriculture because my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska is here. He is our agriculture critic and is doing an excellent job.
Each regional county municipality has its own model, a development objective. That is included in all administrative regions of Quebec, and each one has its own objectives. These are the objectives defended by not-for-profit organizations. We have heard the example of Technopole maritime du Québec based in Rimouski. All the stakeholders involved tried to identify a niche that could have worked for Rimouski, one that could have been the focus and could have been developed more than other sectors. That was the decision made by the stakeholders, the city of Rimouski, the Université du Québec à Rimouski and the Quebec government, which for years has been supporting marine development at the Université du Québec.
The Conservatives just crushed that decision by eliminating the programs offered to not-for-profit economic organizations. Consider, for example, my riding of Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
In the Matapédia valley, at this time, we have set up a forestry research centre. This was a tool we created with the support of Canada Economic Development. There is now no chance at all that it will get that support again, with the criteria that have been established, and with the budget cuts. We focused as our niche market on the forest, at the primary level, but also at the secondary and even tertiary stages of processing. We have been trying to develop that sector for years. With the crisis in the softwood lumber sector, it is even more important to invest in research and development so that we can manage to revive the economy of the Matapédia valley. What happened in 2007 was that the Conservative government said that this would not work out, to forget the non-profit organizations. According to it, these were people who did not manage public funds properly. That is what we have been told. It makes no sense. It is a snub to the entire Quebec model, which was starting to fall in line with the best international models of regional development. Think of Finland, Norway, the Nordic countries with more or less similar models that allow each region to have niche markets and to be able to develop them without competition from other regions. What this does for the government of Quebec and what it ought to do for the federal government is to support development of this type. It avoids any foul ups, muddles and duplication, which is really important.
What the Bloc Québécois wants is for the federal government, if it refuses to pull out of regional development completely—and incidentally, this is a prerogative of the provincial governments, and particularly the Government of Quebec under the Constitution—to try to coordinate its programs with those of the Government of Quebec, and reach agreements with the provincial governments. We speak of the Government of Quebec because that is where we are from, but the same thing could be done in New Brunswick. The federal government can reach an agreement with it on regional development. Or with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, or the other provinces, particularly Ontario. This is a very fine example at present. The federal government, if it refuses to pull out of this area completely, and it is a provincial jurisdiction, must reach agreement first with the Government of Quebec and agree to accept the models of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick, and to go in the same direction.
What the Conservative government has done is to go right back to the quagmire that existed previously. It is setting priorities that are not really the priorities of each region and even less so those of Quebec. It says that it wants to make investments but the problem when it does so is that the investments do not correspond to the needs or wishes of the area. So what will they develop? A great number of businesses that are not a good fit for the community and that will lead to regions competing against one another for the fun of it? That does not make sense.
If we develop a marine niche market in Rimouski, we will not develop another in Trois-Rivières. That needs to be understood and yet the Conservative government has not understood. Furthermore, this government cut almost 50% of funding for regional development. When the former minister told us that he had to cut something, that he had to make cuts to non-profits, what he did not tell us is that he had completely failed to defend the budget for regional development that we had before.
In closing, I would like to move an amendment to the motion presented by my colleague from Sherbrooke. The amendment reads as follows:
That the motion be amended by replacing the words “and reinstate their funding” with the words “reinstate full funding and eligibility criteria, and continue such funding beyond March 31, 2011”.
Karine Blais April 20th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, all of Quebec, and especially the Gaspé, was in mourning last Monday, when one of our own was killed on mission in Afghanistan.
Trooper Karine Blais, just 21 years old and from Les Méchins in my riding, was tragically killed when the vehicle she was travelling in hit an improvised explosive device. Karine is the first female soldier from Quebec to be killed since the soldiers of the Royal 22nd Regiment from Valcartier began their second six-month rotation in Afghanistan.
I would like to pay tribute to her and express my deepest sympathies to her grieving family and to all her fellow soldiers.
This tragic situation once again reminds us of the tremendous danger faced by our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. We hope that Karine's sacrifice and that of all the soldiers who have fallen before her in the effort to restore peace, social justice and democracy in that country are not in vain.
Income Tax Act March 30th, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Toronto for speaking in favour of the bill. I would like to comment on the parliamentary secretary's statements. Earlier, he said that the bill did not make sense and had some major shortcomings, such as the fact that it includes Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I have news for the parliamentary secretary: maybe he should check his facts, because rural regions in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the ones that are really suffering. Their population is dropping faster than anywhere else in Canada.
Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said, things are not as bad in Quebec as they are elsewhere in Canada. Take Newfoundland and Labrador, for example: right now, working people are fleeing the province, headed for Toronto and the western provinces.
Unfortunately, the same is true of New Brunswick: people are moving to the western provinces. The Government of New Brunswick has made an effort to bring workers back home and stem the flow of people toward large urban centres at the expense of the province's population, towns and regions.
First, as my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle said earlier, we introduced it before. And the bill was supported by the House and by all parties, except the party in government, which does not seem to understand the meaning of regional development. The whole model of regional development has to be re-examined. In a time of crisis, especially, it is vital to ask questions and to realize that the established economic model undergoes cycles of major crisis every 10, 20 or 30 years.
Perhaps the entire model must be re-examined. Bill C-288 gives us a fine opportunity to examine where we live in this country and the governments' desire to have us live throughout the country, including in the regions.
I have heard the government talking, for example, about wanting to ensure Canada's sovereignty in the far north and especially further north than at the moment, because we must defend our territory. In the meantime, the government is allowing the regions and areas communities to be drained of their inhabitants. Rural communities are almost being left on their own.
What is the effect of the exodus of young people to major centres or more populated regions?
First, this is an entirely unique phenomenon. The regions deemed to be losing inhabitants are significantly short of skilled labour. By skilled labour, I mean doctors, nurses, teachers and other skilled people. There is a desperate need for skilled labour in very specialized areas. Unfortunately, the regions do not manage to meet these needs. In Quebec, thanks to a program of tax credits for young graduates returning to the regions, we have managed, despite problems, not to stop the exodus, but to slow it.
I have seen another phenomenon. The parliamentary secretary was speaking earlier about unfairness to major centres in that it was totally unfair for a graduate to get a tax credit for going to live in a region when a graduate from the same university not moving to a region did not. I have news for him. In order to attract doctors, among others, to the regions there are programs all across the country to encourage doctors to settle in the regions. Some provinces have even gone so far as to lower the salaries of doctors who remain in the city compared to salaries for those who move to outlying regions.
I think this is an excellent example of an initiative that has allowed the regions to seek out the minimum level of services they needed. I said the minimum level, because the problem is still not completely solved, and it will take some time before that can be done. Perhaps more rigorous, draconian measures will be needed in order to fill the positions available in the regions.
We must bear in mind that the regions also pay for training people and, like the rest of the population, people there are entitled to the same services under Quebec's health and social services legislation. That legislation clearly establishes that everyone is entitled to the same level of services to the extent possible and based on the ability of governments.
Over the past 30 or 40 years, the regions have seen an exodus to big cities. This exodus has devitalized rural communities and all the regions. Unfortunately, governments have not done enough to respond to this exodus. I would like to talk about the regional development model. We should think about what Scotland and the Nordic countries like Norway are doing to populate the land and encourage people to return to the regions. I am referring to deconcentration, but not decentralization. Decentralization has been used in the past to allow governments to offload the services they no longer wanted to provide. Although they offloaded services, they did not necessarily transfer any money to all the provinces. People are therefore a little skeptical when it comes to decentralization. Additional powers have been dumped on the regions, although they were not necessarily given the financial resources or money they needed to fulfill their new responsibilities.
The model used in the past was a model of concentration. Governments concentrated their administration in the capitals. Unfortunately, this model is still prevalent. Our review of cuts to the federal public service since 2004 indicates that 80% were made in the regions. While the number of public servants was increasing significantly in Ottawa, federal jobs in the regions were being eliminated. I am not saying that it is any different at the provincial level. I do not have any statistics, but I am convinced that, in the provinces, there is a strong tendency to concentrate power in each capital. Today, with the communication techniques at our disposal, it would be very easy to deconcentrate responsibilities to the regions. It is not just a question of decentralizing but also of deconcentrating the government administration so that public servants have as much contact as possible with the population of Canada and Quebec.
If we continue with our current approach to regional development, it is obvious that we will not be able to stem the regional exodus and to have people settle in the regions as they should. In some countries, the deconcentration of power has lead to the economic revitalization of the regions. If a funding department is moved from the capital to a region, there is a strong possibility that companies will establish themselves near the department in question because it gives money to businesses.
To conclude, in my opinion, it is very important for this bill to pass. This could be a first step for the federal government. It does not run counter to what is happening in Quebec and could even be complementary. It is up to the each of the provinces to identify the regions it wants to benefit from the bill when it is adopted.