House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for LaSalle—Émard (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 48.41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act June 2nd, 2006

moved that Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, on too many reserves and in too many cities there is an unacceptable gap between what ought to be the hopeful promise of youth and the experience of aboriginal adulthood, a gap made even more unacceptable by the fact that aboriginal Canadians represent the largest segment of our youth and the fastest growing segment of our population.

We face a moral imperative. In a country as wealthy as ours, a country that is the envy of the world, good health and good education should be givens. They are the pillars underpinning equality of opportunity, which in turn is the foundation on which our society is built.

I rise today because the descendants of the people who first occupied this land deserve to have an equal opportunity to work for and to enjoy the benefits of our collective prosperity. Today the majority do not because of gaps in education and skills, in health care and housing, and because of limited opportunities for employment. Put simply, these gaps between aboriginal Canadians and other Canadians are not acceptable in the 21st century. They never were acceptable.

Last fall the Government of Canada came to an extraordinary agreement with an extraordinary group of people. These included the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the first ministers of Canada's provinces and territories.

Together we developed a plan to narrow and eventually eliminate the gaps that afflict aboriginal Canadians. It became known as the Kelowna accord.

The history of aboriginal communities is heart-rending. For a year and a half, we worked to establish objectives in order to make progress in five crucial areas: education, health, housing, drinking water and economic development. Our goal was to make a real difference, to do everything in our power to change what is a harsh reality for many of our fellow citizens through investments that would bring about real change in the daily lives of aboriginal peoples.

We began by studying the gap in education. Giving young people the chance to reach their potential is essential to all of the other initiatives we set out. This means building schools and training teachers. This means ensuring that students complete their studies. This means making all types of post-secondary education available to young people. This means encouraging them to get professional training so they can get better jobs. We must ensure they have the means to succeed at all of these pursuits.

This is why the government committed to establishing a network of first nations school systems run by aboriginals in cooperation with the provinces, which are responsible for education. Our plan also included making aboriginal, Inuit or Métis culture an integral part of the curriculum in certain urban public schools.

The number of major economic projects underway in the north is staggering. Employment opportunities are abundant, and the number of well-paid jobs is remarkable. Aboriginal people will really be able to benefit from this, but only if training starts now.

This is why we committed to working with our public and private sector partners to create the apprenticeship training programs Canadian aboriginals need to get good jobs. The goal of the Kelowna accord is to close the gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals within 10 years. The accord will ensure that the aboriginal population has the same proportion of high school graduates as the non-aboriginal population, and it will halve the post-secondary studies gap. That is just the beginning.

In terms of health care, the gaps that persist between aboriginal health and the health of most Canadians are simply unconscionable. The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20% higher for first nations than for the rest of Canada. Suicide can be anywhere from three times to eleven times more common. Teen pregnancies are nine times the national average. It is evident that these heartbreaking statistics and facts speak not just to health care. They speak to the psychic and emotional turmoil in communities, which we must find ways urgently to address.

We started this effort two years ago when aboriginal leaders participated in the first ministers meeting on health care. There we recognized the need for a new health framework and we began work on an unprecedented document, the aboriginal health blueprint, a comprehensive plan for the delivery of reliable health care in every province and territory on and off reserve.

We aimed to double the number of aboriginal health professionals in 10 years from 150 physicians and 1,200 nurses today. We aimed to focus on core measures of health, which we can monitor and improve upon in each community. We set goals to reduce the gaps in key areas, such as infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes.

This is only a start. No one will be satisfied until these gaps are closed completely.

We addressed the issue of clean water and housing. Housing is about more than having a roof over one's head. It is about dignity. It is about pride of place. It is about having a stake in the community and an investment in the future. We recognize the need to reduce these gaps significantly with a comprehensive effort to expand the skills of first nations, Inuit and Métis to manage their land, infrastructure and financing. It is estimated, by implementing the Kelowna accord, that we could realistically close the housing gap on reserve by 40% within 5 years and by 80% within 10 years.

The Kelowna accord is a comprehensive 10 year plan to achieve a clear set of goals and targets. We provided $5.1 billion for the first five years. Let me be very clear. The funds were fully provided for in the fiscal framework. The government has the money. It is a fiscal framework, incidentally, which has, since that time, produced a surplus substantially larger than was originally projected. We made it clear that for the second five years of the program, enhanced resources based on the success obtained would be provided.

It is a measurable plan, with targets to be attained and evaluated every two to three years, giving Canadians the ability to hold everyone who is involved accountable. It was developed through a non-partisan, collaborative approach in concert with the aboriginal leadership. All political parties and government across the country, Liberal, Conservative and NDP, were at the table. The Government of Canada, on behalf of the people of Canada, gave its solemn word that we would work to achieve these goals.

Aboriginal Canadians, provinces and territories have made it clear that they want to see a commitment from the new government to honour the Kelowna accord. Despite this, five months later, after inheriting a very healthy balance sheet, one much better than it had anticipated, the new government refuses to say whether it will support the nation's commitment to these goals and objectives. Its budget did not confirm the funds necessary to attain those goals.

Wherein lies the problem? Is it that the government disagrees with the goals that are set out in the accord? Is it that it does not want to work with the provinces, territories and the aboriginal leadership, all of whom share these goals?

On the other hand, the government agrees with the objectives that are laid out in the accord. Why will it not take advantage of a plan that was developed over 18 months by experts in 14 governments across Canada and in our aboriginal communities?

Let us be honest, we have consulted long enough. We have studied enough. The time has come for the government to act. Why will the government not recognize that, because of its lack of commitment, it has already wasted precious months, precious months in which critical progress could have been made toward the attaining of our interim targets?

The goals and objectives of the Kelowna agreement will not go away. This was never a partisan issue. The premier of British Columbia, speaking recently in his legislature, said the following:

I characterized that agreement as Canada's 'moment of truth.' It was our time to do something that has eluded our nation for 138 years. It was our chance to end the disparities in health, education, housing and economic opportunity. All first ministers rose to that moment of truth alongside Canada's aboriginal leaders to undertake that challenge....

Similarly, this week during their meeting in Gimli, western premiers said the following:

Having previously made an extraordinary national commitment, failure to follow through on that commitment will only make us poorer as a nation.

That is the premiers talking about a commitment.

The premier of Manitoba, who chaired that meeting, added that it would be morally wrong to walk away from the accord.

It is because of this that I have taken the unfortunate necessary step of introducing the bill entitled an act to implement the Kelowna accord. I do so with only one goal in mind, and that is to provide the government and the House with the opportunity to reaffirm what was, by all accounts, a historic agreement for Canada, for Canadians.

The bill is about confirming national commitment lest it be lost. It is also about another potential loss, the loss of the goodwill and the optimism that characterized the Kelowna meeting, the positive spirit, which played a huge role in helping us reach an agreement. All of us at that meeting left imbued with a new sense of hope for the future. That hope was underpinned by an expectation that all the parties to the agreement would live up to their commitment.

Unfortunately, for aboriginal Canadians, new hope has been replaced by doubt. Goodwill has been displaced by worry as the government engages in red herring after red herring. Too many aboriginal Canadians today endured crushing poverty in one of the world's most prosperous countries. That is why I chose, as a new prime minister, to make it a central issue for my government.

The new government is responsible for making a clear commitment to aboriginal peoples. It must respect the promises made and honour the Kelowna accord.

We need a clear commitment, not just in words but in action. We need a clear commitment to meet the challenges facing our aboriginal people by living up to the Kelowna accord.

I ask the government and the ministers here present to rise above partisanship. I ask them and all members of the House, for the sake of our aboriginal people and the future of our great country, to support the bill.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act May 17th, 2006

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada has signed a historic agreement with the provinces, territories and leaders of the aboriginal peoples of Canada to close the gap between the quality of life of aboriginals and that of non-aboriginals.

The Government of Canada entered into a historic agreement with the provinces, the territories and the leadership of Canada's aboriginal people to close and ultimately eliminate the gaps between our aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians in the areas of health care, education, housing, access to clean water and economic opportunity.

I believe and we believe it is vital that the Government of Canada honour its commitment. That is the purpose of this bill.

The government must keep its promises. That is the purpose of this initiative.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

You are right, Mr. Speaker. I am a little rusty.

The fact is that when we took office we had a $42 billion deficit, unlike the current Minister of Finance, who when he took office had an ever rising surplus. As a result of that, we had to deal with it.

We did deal with it. As a result of that, we were able to bring in the child tax benefit of $10 billion today. We brought in the child care expense deduction. We brought in the improvement in the child disability tax credit. We brought in a comprehensive plan for parental leave, and now for child care. We did it as we can afford it.

The issue before the House is this. What is the ideological reason that the minister opposes early learning? Why does he oppose child care? That is the fundamental issue before the House.

Rather than go back into the position of opposition critic, that is the government. Why does it not act on behalf of Canadian children and support--

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

That is a very good question. Where is the minister in what is an incredibly important debate?

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise to speak to the new minister in charge of child care--

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, in my remarks I did not blame the NDP. I really thought what might happen is the NDP would rise, understanding the responsibility we all have to deliver a national child care program for Canadians, and would be positive on this. However, what I see is exactly the same kind of speeches that we heard in the last House when the NDP did everything within its power to cooperate with the then opposition to ensure that child care and aboriginal health would not go further in the process. That is unfortunate.

This is an incredibly important national program. NDP provinces signed along with it. I do not understand why the NDP now seeks to work together as an accomplice with the current government whose ideological bent is totally contrary to what everyone expected were its principles. What would Tommy Douglas say if he heard the speech that the hon. member just gave? He would not be very proud.

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, it is totally incredible to hear the hon. member’s speech. We are here to discuss the issue of child care and the protection of our children. We see the Bloc is not really interested in protecting our children. It is not interested in early education. It is always the same speech.

As a Quebecker, I am very pleased to say that the model used for this program is one that is based on a Quebec success. As I see it, the hon. member should be more proud to be a Quebecker and to say to Canadians: “That is our vision”. He is afraid to do so. What is he ashamed of?

For my part, I am happy and very proud to be a resident of the province that put all this in place.

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, if I may correct the hon. member, in fact, the Prime Minister did not campaign on a child care plan. He campaigned on a family allowance plan. This is not a child care plan and no expert in Canada will characterize it as such.

The second point I would make is that there is no doubt that the government in place has the right to bring in its legislation. Two-thirds of Canadians voted against the government. Two-thirds of Canadians, those represented by the rest of the members in the House, support early learning and child care.

As was said, when we were the government and the current government was in opposition, it believed that the government should listen to the House. Two-thirds of the members in this House support early learning and child care.

As far as the other question is concerned, I would simply ask the hon. member, would she take a look at what the Liberal Party did? We inherited a huge deficit from the Conservative government of $42 billion. We had to deal with that.

Then, after we had dealt with it, look at what we brought in: the child tax benefit worth $10 billion, $3,000 for every child; we brought in the child care expense deduction; and we expanded it to $7,000 and then we expanded it to $10,000 for children with disabilities. It is like the old days. I could go on and on.

Business of Supply May 4th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this is my first speech in the House since the last election

First of all, I would like to thank the voters of LaSalle—Émard for placing their trust in me for the sixth consecutive time.

I rise today to discuss the importance of the Government of Canada honouring and building on the early learning and child care agreements signed with all 10 provinces over the course of the last year. Today the government is moving to implement a different plan, one that has at its core a theoretical payment of $1,200. There is a tactical elegance to this proposal. It is easy to understand. It is easy to remember. Furthermore, families need support, and I for one will not argue when it is provided.

However, the government claims that these cheques will provide tangible and fair assistance to families who need it. Furthermore, simply by distributing these cheques, the government says it will be giving Canadians a choice in child care. Again, the tactical elegance is who could possibly be against choice.

Therefore, in my remarks let me address not the government's political tactics, but on the basis of substance, the two important questions that we need to deal with. Is the government's plan truly fair? Does it provide real choice?

As the Caledon Institute of Social Policy predicted, and unfortunately it predicted correctly, “The new child care allowance will be a flawed scheme creating deep inequities”. For example, the Conservatives are going to cancel a young child supplement which goes to the most needy families. Why? They are going to do it to partially pay for the new benefits for better off families. They are doing this in the same budget that has actually increased income taxes for low income Canadians.

It is difficult to understand the perverse thinking that would take money out of the pockets of the working poor so that their better off brethren might benefit.

When we take a closer look at the proposed annual benefit, it boils down to a few dollars per day after taxes. That is fine if we wish to leave our child at the day care for 40 minutes per day and no longer.

For some families, especially low-income families, this benefit heralded by the government will be even smaller after taxes and clawbacks of other government benefits.

It amounts to a few dollars per day to help parents raise their children, whether they go to day care or remain at home. What choices do individuals have with these few dollars per day?

Giving parents a few dollars a day does not provide choice. It is not a child care strategy. It is not a child care solution. It does little to help those with children in care and it does nothing to help those who have trouble finding affordable quality care for their children.

Over the course of the last number of years, the federal government has pursued and implemented initiatives that were designed to make a real and positive difference in the lives of Canadian families.

We created the child tax benefit, over $10 billion a year in crucial income support to some three million families. We created the national child benefit. We created the young child supplement, so that families who need help most get it. We expanded maternity and parental leave benefits, so that mothers or fathers can spend up to a year at home with their babies. During the past two years, as the member for St. Paul's has said, we reached an agreement with every province to put in place a nationwide system of early learning and child care based on the principles of quality, accessibility, universality and development.

The member for York Centre and I travelled to provincial capitals to sign these agreements. Child care workers, families, volunteers, provincial premiers of all political parties, and ministers of all political stripes were there to welcome the birth of this program. Yet, the new federal Conservative government has attempted to characterize it as the state interfering in the parenting decisions of Canadian families.

This is not about and has never been about government telling Canadian parents how to raise their children. The government demonstrates an abysmal lack of understanding of how Canadians live today and the challenges that many families face when they make that allegation. Parents make their own decisions and what they have decided, out of necessity or out of choice, we ignore at the expense of the next generation.

At the present time, well over half of all Canadian children age five and under are in child care of some sort. Too often this occurs against virtually insurmountable odds, arising out of the difficulty in finding or affording quality care. When parents cannot find quality care, their children suffer and the family suffers.

A national child care program, in which all governments cooperate, is the nation standing behind the choice that more and more families have already made. Handing over a couple of dollars a day to Canadian families is not going to give them the ability to afford quality care, nor is a grant to build new spaces without recognizing the ongoing costs of operating those spaces anything more than a political patch for a deeply human need.

In short, the government speaks of providing choice, but it is a false choice that it is offering Canadians. It is a false choice it is offering families in need. Whereas, the national program that was signed last year by the federal government and all of the provinces provides the foundation for that choice.

So far in the national debate that is underway, concern has been focused primarily on the need to create new spaces, but as the member for St. Paul's said earlier, there is another aspect to the debate that is every bit as important. It is an aspect that in my belief has been insufficiently touched upon since the election. It is the need for early learning, the recognition of the importance to be paid to a child's development in the crucial years of zero to six.

As Dr. Fraser Mustard and the Hon. Margaret McCain said in their study entitled “The Early Years”:

We consider, in view of this evidence, that the period of early child development is equal to or, in some cases, greater in importance for the quality of the next generation than the periods children and youth spend in education or postsecondary education.

I would hope that the recognition of the importance of early learning in terms of its unique benefit to the child as a person would be enough to carry the debate, but in case it is not, let us look at a harder equation, one which might appeal to the government.

The Governor of the Bank of Canada has said that early learning is the single most important investment a society can make in its own future. James Heckman, the Nobel laureate economist, put it as follows:

We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age–a time when it may be too late to intervene.

He went on to say:

Since learning is a dynamic process, it is most effective when it begins at a young age and continues through adulthood.

Finally, a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in the United States, hardly the hotbed of left-wing social engineering, concluded that early childhood development should be at the top of a government's priorities, that such investments in children yield high public and private returns in terms of better schools, better workers and reduced crime. In short, learning begets learning; and skill begets skill. What greater gift can we give to our children?

The agreements that the Liberal government put in place with the provinces are not just about child care. They are about better care, with a real emphasis on development. The focus is not only on creating spaces, but on creating opportunity to providing a real head start for Canadian children.

We live in a country that, like many in the industrial world, is facing the challenges of an aging population. We have fewer young people supporting more older people. It is therefore more crucial than ever that the children of today and tomorrow are afforded the best opportunities, are given every advantage, and every possible chance to succeed.

This is true for the children of all Canadians. It is one of the most powerful economic arguments for the higher social principle of equality of opportunity. An argument that is made all the more powerful when one considers the needs of aboriginal Canadians who represent the youngest segment of our population and the needs of new Canadians who represent the fastest growing segment of our workforce.

The simple fact is that if we want to ensure that the children of all Canadians are given a head start in a world of ever increasing global competition, then we had better understand that what the current debate is really all about is how we provide all our children with the opportunity for early learning, not just a select few. Unfortunately, the government is walking away from a system that would do just that.

The presidents of a number of school boards and teachers federations said after the budget that “By failing to uphold the federal-provincial child care agreements, the Prime Minister and his government have chosen to forego a once in a generation opportunity to give our children the kind of start that assures their readiness to succeed in school and in life”.

The research is overwhelming, consistent and irrefutable, that children's readiness to learn at the start of grade one is the single greatest predictor of how they will do in school in every grade, whether they will graduate successfully, what their earning potential will be, how positive their contribution to society will be, and how healthy they will be. Every child deserves the best possible start in life.

Our social policy depicts our country as we would like it to be. This policy bears witness to a profound conviction: we feel that Canada's success depends on our common belief that we must not leave anyone behind.

Together we are stronger than any one individual on our side, and over the years it is this belief that has been the basis for so many Canadian success stories.

Today, we must act on this belief once again so that the requisite resources are made available to continue building a national day care system, a system adapted to the individual needs of the provinces and one that respects their areas of jurisdiction.

Over the last decade, we have accomplished remarkable things in Canada. We have eliminated the deficit. We have reduced our debt by over $60 billion. We have surpassed all other G-7 countries in terms of economic growth, employment and standard of living.

In the last decade, Canada's achievements have put us at the forefront of the world's evolution. We must not become complacent. Every day we are confronted by new challenges. We will meet these challenges only if we support Canadian families by building this generation's legacy to the next, a national program of early learning and child care so that Canadian children, regardless of income, can enter school ready to learn and succeed.

For years, we as a nation struggled to live within our means. We fought to curb the chronic deficits that ran up the national debt and hampered us from investing in the things that mattered most. But we did the hard work of eliminating the deficit. We did the hard work of putting in place the foundation for a nationwide system of early learning and child care, the first new social program in a generation and one that we must continue to build on.

What we have gained must not be lost. I ask indeed, by what intellectual rigidity does the government now tell us that child care is not a priority and that early learning is not a worthwhile goal? Today, we have the means to prepare Canada to succeed and our children to succeed. We have the opportunity to invest in our shared future. To achieve these goals we have to come together. We must recognize where lies the common good and that is the role of the federal government.

For sure, let the new government build on, let the new government improve on, that which has been achieved, but let it not seek to destroy that which has already been set in place with the provinces.

The role of government is not simply to govern for today. It must govern as well for tomorrow. That is what our first action on taking office was, to eliminate the deficit. That is why when we eliminated the deficit, our first budget was to bring in the education budget, and it is why the national child care and early learning program is so important. This is an approach that has produced the best country and one of the strongest economies in the world. We must not abandon that now.

The early learning and child care debate is not a debate only about the families of today. It is about the Canada of tomorrow. The choice that we make on child care and early learning will speak to the kind of society we want to have. The federal government has a duty to contribute to a culture of learning that goes to the heart of when learning begins, and to ensure that each child will get a better start, a better chance of thriving in the later years of school and in life. It is the right thing to do for children. It is the right thing to do for Canada.

Softwood Lumber November 22nd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the government already has indicated that an announcement will be made. In terms of that announcement, we will stand behind the communities, we will stand behind the workers, and we will stand behind the industries.

If the Americans give us continued intentions not to honour the free trade agreement, they will find that the Canadian government will stand behind Canadian workers and Canadian industry until such time as this matter is settled in our favour.