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  • His favourite word is rights.

NDP MP for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 33.80% of the vote.

Statements in the House

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member, and I do appreciate the work the member has put into this as well.

Let us be clear that there are communities in the country that would benefit directly through more investment in VIA Rail, Thunder Bay being one and La Pocatière, Quebec, being the other. Those are places where the capacity is already in place to build all of the rolling stock that we need to get this train moving again.

The Bombardier corporation has the technology, but what does it do with that technology? It sells the rolling stock to the United States. It knows to invest in the passenger rail system. Unfortunately, the government seems to have missed the track completely.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, first, VIA is a crown corporation. We do not need to renationalize something that already belongs to the Crown.

Second, regarding the subsidy that is paid through the U.S. for passenger rail, it has 10 times more passengers on its network than we do. Therefore, the actual amount paid per passenger is significantly less in the United States than it is here.

If our country were to start investing in passenger rail, we would have the domino effect of creating wealth across the country in so many communities that need it. We need to start investing, and we need to start investing now.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

moved that Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to begin the debate today on Bill C-640, the VIA Rail Canada Act. This bill, which is long overdue, directly addresses the cause of many of the problems that have been facing our public passenger rail service ever since it was created in 1977. The bill provides the main, most crucial measure needed to resolve those problems.

When VIA Rail was created with the goal of taking charge of the declining passenger rail service, which was then provided by CN and CP, it was given very few of the tools needed to carry out that enormous task. One of the fundamental tools was legislation that clearly and fully explained the rights, powers, obligations and mandate of the new crown corporation. VIA Rail was never given that. Instead, it was created in a rather ad hoc, ill-considered manner. In the end, it was basically like a rudderless ship, without any navigational aids or even an engine.

We saw the sad result. The management of VIA Rail has been unstable for nearly four decades. Its funding varies considerably. The company has barely been modernized. The fees for accessing the freight network are excessive. Passengers are made to wait for hours to give priority to freight trains. The worst part is that the public interest has been set aside countless times when, instead of providing support, governments have said that the only solution to VIA Rail's problems is radical cuts rather than rational changes.

This contrasts sharply with the U.S., where Amtrak, under similar circumstances, was founded to perform the same role as VIA. Before it ever turned its first wheel, in 1971, Amtrak was given the strong legislative foundation required to restore passenger rail. Its enabling act set the course for its growth into the useful, efficient, and cost-effective public transit service it is today. While it has not always been smooth sailing, Amtrak has weathered many financial and legislative storms because of its comprehensive legislation.

My member's bill is intended to do the same for Canadians. Like the act that launched Amtrak, it spells out what VIA must do to deliver nationwide rail passenger service that will play a strategic role in the economic, social, and environmental life of Canada. It would delineate a basic national network. It would set realistic and attainable performance standards. It would establish a mechanism to adjust VIA services, when necessary, here in the House of Commons. It would specifically end the backroom decision-making that has on several occasions wiped Canadian communities off the rail passenger map.

Many communities across this great nation depend on the services offered by VIA Rail to attract trade and commerce. In my riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, passenger rail service was suspended beginning in 2011.

Many people come to my riding to experience its natural beauty and especially to reach destinations such as Percé Rock and Forillon National Park. I have known many an individual who has come to visit these landmarks, with the train trip being an integral part of the excursion. However, declining train frequency has led to a gradual decline in the number of passengers. Reduced track speed due to deferred track maintenance has further led to declines in use. More recently, VIA has closed or sold a number of train stations. There is no joy in waiting for a train in the dead of night in a rural region without the shelter of a train station. Fighting winter storms often leads to scheduling delays, while passengers wait on unsheltered platforms. This is no way to increase ridership.

Passenger rail is important to keep local economies moving. It also performs a basic public service.

Seniors and people with mobility challenges depend on passenger rail to reach destinations, such as clinics and hospitals. For many, such as in my riding, with public services such as hospitals so very far apart, the bus is simply not an option, and a flight is prohibitively expensive. The train is their best and sometimes only possible solution.

I have heard from people across this country about the need to improve passenger service. I have gone to train stops to ask people what they would like to see in passenger rail. I mainly hear that they seek a reliable, on-time, frequent service.

Rural regions with less than daily service typically see a gradual decline in the number of passengers. A recent example would be the Ocean, the Montreal to Halifax train. This route, the longest-running continuous train service in this country, having recently celebrated 110 years of continuous service, was cut from six trains a week to three. The effect was almost instantaneous. The passenger load dropped by nearly 40%. The route was even further threatened by the closure of its very rails in New Brunswick. After significant public pressure, the government did come up with a funding solution to keep the track open for the next 15 years.

As a member of the official opposition, I do not have a lot of opportunities to congratulate the government, but in this case, I will make an exception. The track, for now, is safe, but were it not for the public pressure that so many people in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick performed, the government surely would have let that track go.

Bill C-640 would also give VIA the fair and logistical rights it requires to operate effectively in the real world of competitive, multi-modal transportation. It proposes a cost-sharing basis by which VIA could partner with provincial or regional governments to add service to the basic national network. It would reaffirm the need for passenger trains to have reasonable priority over freight. It would also provide for the development of a fee schedule that would grant VIA access to the freight railway lines on terms that would be fair to all parties.

Around the globe, modern passenger trains are vital elements of the mobility strategies of nations with which we compete. If Canada is to be a part of this worldwide rail passenger renaissance, we must finally put VIA on a proper footing. That it has survived this long without a legislative mandate is a tribute to the inherent strength of the very concept of passenger railroads.

I have the opportunity to right a historic transportation wrong with this legislation, and I encourage others to support this bill. I certainly encourage the government to look at it again and consider sending this to committee for more debate.

I want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of many people who have helped me draft this bill and who have also accompanied me in our passionate resistance to the decline of passenger rail in this country.

I would like to start with Greg Gormick, an expert in passenger rail, an expert who has worked tirelessly all his life to bring the issue of passenger rail to the forefront. He has been speaking in many communities bringing the issue of passenger rail forward. Without his clear and honest work, we never would have made it as far as we have.

The people who live in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick are especially to be applauded for the amount of energy they have expended trying to save not only their passenger rail but the very rail system on which they depend.

The passenger rail service in our part of the world has decayed substantially, and we need to see the government show that it is willing to support our remote communities with one of the vital links we have to the outside world.

We do not have an exemplary bus transportation system. We do not have an affordable airline system. What we do have is the potential for daily rail service. We have had it in the past. If a train were to run as often as it should, we would be able to get that ridership back up again.

The interest is there, the capacity is there, and the freight that is the very backbone of the sustenance to keep that rail system going in eastern Canada is also present. We have all of the tools required. The only element that is missing is the government's unconditional support.

Some may wring their hands over the so-called subsidy required by our passenger rail system while, ironically, they regard much more massive spending on highways and air traffic as investments. Every modern country with passenger rail has operating costs. Imagine if Canada decided to eliminate everything from our lives that requires public investment. We would scrap schools and libraries. The parks would be gone, as well as hospitals and firefighters and anything we could name. We need to invest in public infrastructure if we want this country to work.

Trains are solid public investments. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that every dollar spent on passenger rail service generates three to four times that amount back into the economy. That logic has simply not taken hold here. While VIA languishes and we debate its legislative future, Canadian-built passenger trains are thundering over steel rails of America, some of them at 250 kilometres an hour. American politicians of all stripes realize the issue is not whether America can afford to have passenger trains but whether it can afford not to have them.

The contrasts and contradictions between VIA and its expanding publicly owned American cousin Amtrak are shocking. The most fundamental difference between the two railways is legislation. Amtrak has it; VIA does not.

Bill C-640 would address this glaring legislative gap by providing a sort of bill of rights for passenger trains. It would give VIA the mandate it requires to deliver a large portion of the sustainable intercity mobility needed in 21st century Canada.

Visionary legislation set Amtrak rolling in 1971, and Bill C-640 could establish the mechanism to restore service to all communities that lost their trains through political expediencies here in Ottawa. Northwestern Ontario has had good news. After 104 years of continuous service, Thunder Bay lost its passenger service, the Canadian, back in January 1990 ,as a result of the Mulroney government's slashing of VIA's financing by 50%. In 2012, the current government cut $41 million from VIA's annual subsidy, which had been previously cut and frozen at $166 million by the Liberal government in 1988, with no provision for inflation.

I would like to make it clear that this legislation is the next step in VIA's evolution. VIA needs to know that there is a legislative framework that is going to keep this company rolling and that passenger rail has a future in this country. We have capacity in Thunder Bay and La Pocatière, Quebec, to build the rolling stock that we need. This bill would create jobs in areas that really need that support, and passenger rail has been proven to be a shot in the arm for the economies of the communities where trains pass through.

We need VIA Rail in our communities. It is a fundamental choice that Canadians must make. This bill is the first step. The government needs to take the next.

Petitions February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition today signed by hundreds of people from my area in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick who are calling for better VIA Rail service in our region.

The railway is in terrible condition. Service is declining and the frequency is diminishing. A lot of improvements are needed. We hope the federal government will listen.

Rail Transportation February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, VIA Rail is caught in a vicious cycle. It has fewer customers as a result of bad service. The fewer customers it has, the less service it provides. The equipment and service in the east are pathetic.

Parliament must regain control of this fundamental service and impose a governance and funding structure on VIA Rail, as has been done in the United States with Amtrak.

Will the Conservatives support a legislative framework for VIA Rail? Why are they treating passengers like second-class citizens?

Marine Mammal Regulations February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, once again, I would like to thank my colleague for presenting this very important bill. It brings clarity to a problem we are all aware of, namely that there are obstacles, problems and even safety issues in the marine environment, on the ice, for the fishers who hunt seals. This can be a very dangerous undertaking. If we wish to improve conditions for fishers, it is an admirable idea to propose a measure such as we have here today, which will probably help them. Once again, I would like to thank the member who introduced this bill.

On the other hand, let us be clear that what the bill is changing is that people with a seal fishery observation licence will not be able to approach a seal-fishing site closer than one mile, rather than a half-mile. In itself, it does not change much, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

The real issue is to determine how well we can ensure the safety of our fishers involved in the seal hunt, whether in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the north Atlantic or the far north. Communities that depend on the income from seal hunting deserve even more support than they will get through this bill. It is a step in the right direction but we really must take it further.

Not all the fishers asked for this bill as the first step. There were really a lot of discussions. The Senate did a study on grey seals and on the fact that their numbers are increasing dramatically. There are 30 times more grey seals now than there were 30 years ago. Their population is growing rapidly, probably because their predators have been eliminated. The region's ecosystem is out of balance, and all the governments involved and the members of this House must do something to restore this balance.

There is still a moratorium on cod fishing; it was once the major source of income for most fishers in the region. However, they still cannot fish for cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. That is very worrisome and many fishers wonder why. Even 20 years after the moratorium was imposed, is the population explosion among grey and harp seals the reason the cod population is not increasing? This question really needs to be asked.

Once again, I will refer to the Senate report. Unfortunately the senators were not able to determine exactly what measures should be taken. They proposed several measures on a trial basis, to see whether the species imbalance problem in the region could be solved. Even after its study, the Senate was unable to make any practical suggestions that everyone could agree on. I hope that we will continue to have a much sounder, more intensive debate on this issue.

However, let us not forget that first nations have been hunting seal for hundreds of years. Depending on the community, European settlers in Canada have been hunting seal for decades or hundreds of years. In my riding, in the Magdalen Islands, the seal hunt adds to people's winter income. There are not very many ways to earn money during this period. In winter, very few industries operate in my region. The tourism industry is in full swing in the summer, but almost non-existent in winter. People cannot fish for groundfish in the dead of winter. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is mostly frozen over and is not accessible. The seal hunt is an alternative. It is a way to earn extra money. That has always been the case in the Magdalen Islands.

That is the case in Newfoundland and the far north, where people try to find revenue where they can. This government should work with the people in my region, who are now being denied employment insurance, which was a source of income for the winter. They are having significant financial difficulty and need a lot more assistance.

If the government really wants to help the people of eastern Canada, it should think about the seasonal industries in that region, particularly seal hunting, which is paired with the groundfish fishery. It would have been worthwhile to commercialize the seal hunt, but nothing was done.

As for European free trade, we should have forced a debate with the Europeans. They wanted to open their market for other commodities to Canada, which would have been a golden opportunity to remedy the fact that the European market closed its doors to seal products. There are even barriers between provinces in Canada. People cannot transport seal products, including oil containing omega-3s, because there are a lot of interprovincial barriers. We should have this debate and help people in eastern Canada earn money in the winter.

This bill helps us keep our fishers safe, but it has to be profitable for fishers to go out on the ice. We can safeguard our fishers all we want, but if there is no market for their products, they will not fish. Fisheries and Oceans Canada allows the hunting of thousands of seals each year, but since it is not profitable, only hundreds are hunted. Licences are useless because the product cannot be marketed.

We must remember that sales of this product grew quickly because of European seal hunts. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Europeans hunted thousands of seals and were more numerous than sealers from eastern Canada. With the resurgence of the issue of cruelty to animals, a hotly debated topic, people hesitate to hunt seals.

I believe that people have good reason to be concerned about this, but it is the reason the Europeans abandoned us and stopped hunting large numbers of seals. Once again, they were the ones who took large numbers of seals, not us. Animal rights activists should be criticizing the Europeans, not us, for seal hunting. We have always believed in sustainable hunting. Unfortunately, the Europeans abandoned us by closing their market. The seal hunt has a bleak economic future because there are no markets for this product. We need to find ways to help the sealers in eastern Canada and the far north market the product, but the bill is silent on that.

Keeping sealers safe is very commendable. Let us work on that. We have to find ways to help them. However, the government closed the marine rescue sub-centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, it wants to close the maritime search and rescue centre in Quebec City, it wants to cut positions at the vessel traffic management centres throughout eastern Canada, and it cut the Canadian Coast Guard's budget. How can we say we are going to improve the safety of our sealers when they do not have the tools they need?

Even if their safety during the seal hunt were guaranteed, we still need to find a market for the product. Unfortunately, the bill before us today does not address these issues. Let us go ahead and improve the safety of our sealers, but let us find the economic tools to help them. That should be the next step.

Marine Mammal Regulations February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask my hon. colleague some questions.

The bill is certainly worthy of our support. I think it is important that we support hunters, fishers and people who are getting by in eastern Canada and the far north.

The negotiation of the European free trade agreement was a golden opportunity to increase the economic opportunities for seal hunt products in the European market. Why did the Conservatives not take this golden opportunity to give an economic boost to this industry that is struggling, as we all know?

Parliamentary Precinct Security February 16th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his question.

He is absolutely correct. Rights and obligations, what we sometimes call parliamentary privilege, exist for one clear reason: to prevent the executive from abusing its powers. The judiciary controls the executive, but it acts after the fact.

Basically, in Parliament, when we want to solve problems before they appear, we have to propose amendments and keep an eye on what the executive is doing. That is why I believe the motion before us presents a fundamental problem. First of all, it was moved by the government and this is an excellent example of an abuse of power on the part of the executive, which is imposing its solution on the legislative branch.

Parliamentarians have an obligation to defend their rights, but not because they like the power. Rather, it is because Parliament's reason for being is to control the executive. Otherwise, the executive would behave as it did long ago. It would do as it pleases and members would not speak out and would not be willing to take their obligations seriously.

Ultimately, we would end up with an executive over which we had almost no control. More and more we are trying to control the executive in Canada using the judicial system. However, it would be much more effective and less expensive if that were done here in the House.

Parliamentary Precinct Security February 16th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member. I would certainly then encourage him to vote against the motion if that is how he feels because I do not see how the main motion is going to reflect what he said at all. He needs to look at this carefully and decide whether he can in all good honesty support a motion that will not fulfill the concerns he has raised at this point.

Parliamentary Precinct Security February 16th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Northwest Territories.

I am very proud to rise today to speak to this motion and to share my constituents' views.

I would first like to say that there is a real problem with the fact that this is a government motion. The NDP is seriously concerned that a motion, which would have a direct impact on the security of parliamentarians and on the institution of Parliament itself, is coming from the Prime Minister's Office, even though it is a so-called government motion.

Our role here in this place is not necessarily to accept the government's bills, but to check them and study them. This is what we call oversight. It is our role as parliamentarians to oversee government bills. In this case, we are not even dealing with a bill; we are dealing with a motion. This motion did not come from a member. It did not come from the Speaker's office or the Board of Internal Economy, which was mandated to examine the issue of parliamentary security. In fact, the Board of Internal Economy is still examining the issue and, as far as I know, did not draft this motion. I think that the motion came straight from the Prime Minister's Office.

Conservative members themselves have said so. For example, I heard them say:

the government must move forward on this.

The government must move forward on this? I am sorry, but the government does not have a say in this. The government should be listening to parliamentarians. It is the complete polar opposite of what needs to be happening in this place.

We have seen time and again that a number of MPs in this place consider their role to be that of cheerleader for the government. That is not the role of Parliament. The role of Parliament is for MPs to represent their constituents and to bring forward their concerns about issues posed by the government.

We have a democracy in Canada that is different from the American democracy and from many other democracies. Parliamentary democracy is essentially one where we have a government that sits in this House at the same time as parliamentarians. I want to make it clear that if someone is not a minister, that person is not in government. Their role is to defend this place, defend its obligations, and to defend the interests of their constituents. In this case, I do not think this motion would respect that.

In the case of all the people who brought forward motions or amendments to the motion, they all agree on one thing, that we need a fully integrated security system in this Parliament. No one has said anything different. I keep hearing from members on the government side that we live in a number of silos and that this motion would fix that. Everyone in this House, as far as I can see, agrees that we should have an integrated security system. The Board of Internal Economy is actually investigating this matter at the moment. The Speaker has been investigating this matter. We keep referring back to the Auditor General, and the government's motion actually mentions that the Auditor General agrees that there should be a more integrated security service.

No one, except the Prime Minister's Office and those who want to represent that office in this place, is proposing that integration means that it should be under the control of the RCMP, albeit with some deference toward the Speaker's office.

We need a system where the Speaker actually is the defender of this place, and not a situation where we have a security service that, in theory, would have shared responsibilities as far as having to respect authority structures is concerned. An RCMP officer is not going to be trained to respect the Speaker's office; an RCMP officer is trained to respect his or her hierarchy. When it comes to this place, it has to be clear that the Speaker's office has complete control.

If the RCMP were to be in control of this place, we might end up in a situation like we saw in Ontario, under what I believe was the Harris government at the time, when there were many demonstrations held at Queen's Park. Parliamentarians in Ontario decided that it was a mistake for provincial police to be responsible for security in their parliament and decided to go the opposite way of this motion, which was that the security measures would be the responsibility of the assembly itself. That was a wise decision, and that example is being forgotten with the motion that was brought forward today.

For some reason, the example in Ontario, which I think a number of people who sit on the other side actually experienced first-hand, has been forgotten. Now they talk about integration as if it is something they have some unique and limited understanding of. I do not think members in this place want to abdicate their responsibilities. The Prime Minister's Office has put forward a motion, and some people refer to the Auditor General's report as if it supports this motion. I have read that report and I do not see that support anywhere. What I saw on October 22 was that a number of security agents employed by this place did their jobs admirably, to the point of heroism.

Most Canadians saw the videotapes of what happened that day, and the evidence is clear. The best security was found inside this place and not outside this place. Outside this place, the RCMP were responsible for the grounds. I did not see any acts that would have protected individuals, be it the public or parliamentarians, outside of this place. The only acts I saw that were done in a heroic and incredibly responsible fashion were those done in this place.

To say that RCMP security is better trained and better prepared to take care of a crisis situation neglects the recent history we have experienced. We need to clearly see that there are many other options that are currently being debated. This motion short-circuits that debate and brings it in line with what the Prime Minister's Office wants. If that debate is to happen, all parliamentarians should have an opportunity to speak to it with greater information than they have today.

A motion short-circuits the process that legislation would normally have brought forward. We do not have time to debate this fully. We do not have the facts we need to look at this properly, and it is being rammed down our throats with limited debate. All of these things are an affront to the parliamentary institution.

Again, the role of this place is to have oversight on government bills. It is not simply to look at the text and say, “The government makes perfect sense every time and let's vote in favour of it”. The opposition parties have proposed amendments that I think make sense. The amendment that the NDP put forward respects the nature of this place much more than the main motion ever will. The main motion is an affront. The office of the Speaker is responsible for ensuring the safety of this place. This motion would take some of that power away.

We need to understand that the RCMP is not directly answerable to this place. The RCMP is answerable to the government. The RCMP is a government institution and exists to defend the interests of government. Were there to be protests, for instance, on Parliament Hill, I would much rather that Parliament's security take care of them than an agency under the control of the Prime Minister's Office.

We have seen it time and again. I will remind people of the demonstrations that occurred in Vancouver under the previous Chrétien administration, in which some security agents used very extreme measures to control protesters. This place should not be showing that kind of example to those who want to express themselves. They should be showing an example where their right to express themselves might be curtailed by government order. They need to know that parliamentarians have their backs. They need to know that parliamentarians are doing their jobs, and in doing their jobs they should be voting against this motion.