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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
Offshore Health and Safety Act November 19th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I can see that he too is an ardent defender of his riding, and I acknowledge the fine work he is doing. His region has had some very difficult times lately, particularly in terms of rail safety. We must never forget that people risk their lives every day, nor should we forget how costly disasters are on an economic level and especially on a personal level.
Why has it taken so long to improve the health and safety of Canada's workers? That is a good question. We have had several governments. We change governments, moving from Liberal to Conservative and back again. We do not seem to be gaining ground. The tools are there; we have them. They are right in front of us. It is not rocket science. We have been talking about this for years. We have colleagues who know about the dangers in the workplace. People have testified. They even come to testify before parliamentarians in Ottawa. We thank them and put the report in a drawer. It is time we took them seriously.
The bill before us today is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. We need to go much further. The tools are there, and we need to take advantage of them.
Offshore Health and Safety Act November 19th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here to debate Bill C-5. It is an unexpected surprise for me to be able to support this bill, at least at second reading. The opposition rarely agrees with the government's proposals, particularly in matters of workplace health and safety.
In its ideological way, the government generally believes that occupational health and safety is not a priority, but something that gets in the way of companies trying to make a profit. The opposite is true. Companies that have healthy, well-trained employees who work safely improve their productivity and their contribution to the Canadian economy.
In eastern Canada, Atlantic Canada, eastern Quebec and my riding, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, people are very familiar with occupational health and safety issues. People in mining, forestry and fishing, even people who work on pleasure boats, risk their lives every day to build Canada's wealth. We have to help them.
There have been many tragedies. One of them led to the Wells inquiry, an inquiry into safety that focused on the transportation of offshore oil and gas development workers.
People in my region are talking about this issue. Oil and gas development is on the rise in the Atlantic Ocean and is likely to begin in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as in the Arctic.
We absolutely have to have tools that make workers feel completely safe at work. That is the part of the bill before us that I find most interesting. Offshore workers will have the same rights as those who work on land, at least when it comes to workplace health and safety. Many people are surprised to discover that not all workers in Canada have the same rights. Their rights change from province to province and in regions under shared jurisdiction, such as oceans. Workers also have different rights depending on whether they are under federal or provincial jurisdiction.
Today we see that Bill C-5 is trying to harmonize the legislation at the federal and provincial levels. We have waited a long time for this progress to be made. As I said a few moments ago, we have waited 14 years for this bill to be introduced in the House of Commons. We have waited long enough
In Nova Scotia, the NDP government brought forward a bill that would be the equivalent of Bill C-5. The Progressive Conservative government of Newfoundland and Labrador also did its part. The only party we were waiting for was the Conservative government, which seems to infringe upon the rights of workers all too extensively and frequently. The Conservatives were dragging their feet. Now they have finally introduced this bill, which unfortunately does not go far enough. However, it is still a step in the right direction.
The government is moving in the right direction in terms of harmonizing legislation at the federal and the provincial levels. This is important because when people are injured, or risk their lives for work-related reasons, they need to know that they are adequately protected by their governments. Again, the current federal government often seems to forget that it is there to protect Canadians and not to allow for mere exploitation.
Unfortunately the government did not go far enough. The Wells commission really started a major debate on the health and safety of workers in marine areas, especially in the oil and gas development industry.
In recommendation 29, Commissioner Wells proposed establishing independent and stand-alone organizations to regulate health and safety issues. Bill C-5 does not address that recommendation, and one has to wonder why that is. What could have prevented the government from enshrining in law the most important recommendation, as Commissioner Wells described it when he presented his report? He did not say that it was frivolous or incidental; he said that it was likely the most important factor. Unfortunately, we do not see any sign of it in the bill. We will support the bill at second reading, but it will be interesting to see what the witnesses say before the parliamentary committees. It will be particularly interesting to hear workers from the maritime regions talk about the tools they need. I would also like to hear what they think about Commissioner Wells' 29th recommendation. These workers are much more familiar with the reality than we members of Parliament are. I hope that they will have a chance to speak to this issue and that they will be called to testify before the parliamentary committee. In the meantime, we are debating this bill at second reading so that it can then be studied in committee.
The legislation is designed to improve laws governing oil development organizations in the maritime regions, including the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and its equivalent in Nova Scotia, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. Both of those organizations have the authority to manage oil development. We know that workers in Newfoundland and Labrador have criticized the fact that the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is in a position of conflict of interest. It passes legislation on oil development, but it is also meant to monitor the work to ensure that it is being done safely. That is why Commissioner Wells included recommendation 29, which proposes dividing that authority and creating an independent safety regulator.
I think many will understand this reality. An individual or organization that is developing a resource may have priorities that do not include the health and safety of workers. We have seen this many times: when it comes to workers' safety in the mining, forestry and fishing industries, it is not until workers join forces and create an independent body that their rights are respected by those who would take advantage of the situation and exploit them. This rather basic notion has been debated here in Canada since Confederation. Considerable gains were made in this area in the 1930s, and yet here we are almost 100 years later debating the basic issue of workplace health and safety.
I do not understand why we are still facing this shortcoming today, although it is perhaps the most important aspect that Bill C-5 fails to take into consideration. This organization will be dedicated to the health and safety of workers, especially those at sea and in the oil and gas industry, which is a fast-growing industry.
In my riding, we are on the brink of seeing oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We know there is a possible deposit between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, one that straddles the border of both provinces, so it is hard to know where the boundaries are. However, that is another debate. We know we have to face the reality of oil and gas development, so we have to debate it and be prepared for it.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we at least have the luxury of taking the time to do things properly. We have before us the tools we need to make sure that the health and safety of our workers will be a priority. We also have the tools we need to make sure that the health and safety of our ecology are a priority. We can do it, but we also see the shortcomings.
The shortcomings of the bill are not just about recommendation 29 in the Wells report. We also know that, if there is ever a spill at sea, it will not just be the workers who are at risk; the environment will be at risk too.
In a report published in February this year, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development focused on the fact that we do not have the equipment we need if ever a spill occurs at sea. Not only do we not have the tools to guarantee the health and safety of the workers, but we also do not have the equipment to guarantee the health and safety of our environment. A great many improvements need to be made in oil and gas development in eastern Canada. Unfortunately, it seems that we are dragging our feet when the deficiencies are already known.
Today, we should have been able to debate a number of factors with a view to regulating, standardizing and improving the health and safety of workers. Unfortunately, we are doing it piecemeal, little by little. Do we think that, if we do this today, we can do the rest another time?
It makes sense to do it today. We have the opportunity to do it and we have the time to do it. The government always insists on gagging debate so that it can rush bills through quickly. It does no consultation, but collaboration is one of a government's most precious tools.
Bills are always improved if we take the time to speak to interested organizations. We do not do it enough and that is largely due to the fact that the government does not give us the time to do so. We are always rushing bills through. The government has broken all kinds of records for passing bills. The result is clear: the bills are poorly drafted and they often create more problems than they solve.
Amending the Employment Insurance Act so drastically has created an economic catastrophe that is felt every day in my riding, and that is largely due to a lack of consultation.
I am very pleased to see that in this case, the government took the time to consult the provinces so we can all be on the same page and so we can pass a bill that will work for everyone.
I would like our government to take a similar approach to all the other bills it introduces in the House of Commons. The bills would be better for it.
The Conservative government seems to think that Canadians are proud of this government. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case, especially in my riding. I can guarantee that there are few people in my riding who think that their views are reflected by the Conservative government.
The bill before us today is an improvement. The government seems to be listening more. I think this is encouraging and is a step in the right direction.
However, I want to point out that the government could have done better. We already have various independent organizations to protect health and safety in maritime regions. This is not uncharted territory. This topic is well known.
Many other countries already have this type of regulations. Take for example, Norway, the United Kingdom and Australia. Even the United States is thinking about creating an independent organization in the Gulf of Mexico area. The accident in the Gulf of Mexico was disastrous. That spill created an ecological problem that will last many years. The workers were in a considerable amount of danger when that accident happened.
Canada has the luxury of looking to the United States' example to determine whether we might be on the wrong track.
We can learn from bad experiences in other countries and also learn from good experiences in countries that passed social democratic bills.
These countries have adopted legislation that emphatically prioritize the health and safety of workers.
In eastern Canada, Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec, including my riding, workers take risks every day. They are proud of their work and proud to contribute to the Canadian economy. This benefits the entire country and allows us to share our wealth in a way that is truly unparalleled anywhere in the world. We have the privilege of living in a rich country, which is quite capable of taking care of all its people, without exception.
The fact that it took 14 years to put forward such a simple and fundamental improvement as the bill we are discussing today says much about the Conservatives, and also about the Liberals before them. They seem incapable of supporting a basic value such as respect for our workers. Our workers respect us and create the wealth that allows us to enjoy the free, democratic and rich society we live in. We owe them a great deal of respect. The bill before us today is a step forward. It is just one step, but it is important. I hope the government will go much further.
As far as the Wells commission is concerned, I would again like to stress its proposal for an independent regulator whose primary obligation would be the health and safety of workers. This would not just be an important element. In his own report, Wells said that the recommendation following this explanatory note would be the most important in the entire report.
This is not just one of many elements: this is the most important one. The Conservative government has forgotten it. Has it intentionally forgotten? I cannot answer that because I do not know. However, I know that for our side, human rights, health and worker safety are issues on which we do not accept compromises. This should have been included in the bill before us today, but that did not happen.
Our side is still pleased that the government has taken steps to foster co-operation between the provinces. We have the enabling legislation for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and we also have it for its counterpart in Nova Scotia. We also have similar legislation that will probably be enacted in Quebec. This involves the same issue, namely oil and gas development.
Harmonization is absolutely necessary. There is only one Gulf of St. Lawrence and we cannot have multiple rules and laws to manage a single resource. We will have the same situation in the Arctic. We cannot have multiple jurisdictions trying to manage, each in their own way, the natural resources that are so important to Canada's wealth and the preservation of its values.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence spans five provinces. Half of Canada's provinces are represented in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Promotion is not the only goal of co-operation. We must work together in order to ensure the sound and consistent use of resources leading to sustainable development.
Failure to do this led to the collapse of one resource: the fishery. Cod is still endangered and cod fishing has not returned to 1990 levels. Cod was overfished. We forgot that co-operation is invaluable.
We can see the beginnings of co-operation in this bill. I hope that the Conservative government will go even further and improve not just this bill but all their bills through better co-operation with the provinces and workers.
Offshore Health and Safety Act November 19th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on the hon. member's speech, which I found very interesting. I know that this matter is important to her.
In maritime regions, the health and safety of workers is not just an issue at sea, it is a major issue all the time and no party takes it more seriously than the NDP. Absolutely, we want to see improvement.
We are very pleased today to see the government introducing this bill to improve workers' health and safety. We have been waiting for 14 years for a bill to be tabled and debated in the House so that we can enshrine the rights of workers in complete harmony with provincial legislation.
The fact is that we have taken an enormous amount of time before working with the provinces. Is collaboration, or the lack of collaboration, a major issue? It seems to me that all is not well here. Can we use examples other than this bill to point out times when the Conservative government seems to be forgetting the fact that collaborating with workers and with the provinces is important in promoting the rights, the health and the safety of workers all across Canada?
Fisheries and Oceans November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his efforts. We work together on the fisheries committee and I know that he is a very diligent and effective speaker in the House.
When it comes to the modifications to the Fisheries Act that were introduced in Bill C-38, I would posit that the government went way too far. We saw it when we did our study for invasive species in the Great Lakes, as he mentioned.
We do not know what the consequences are of changing environmental conditions. We do not know which species are going to be best placed to survive in the future. We know that there is change. We know that we lose species all the time and we know that nature tries its best to compensate. It needs all the tools that can be had, and that includes protection of fisheries habitat.
I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know what the commercial fishery is going to be in 20, 50, or 100 years. However, I know that if we destroy the fisheries habitat today without any form of compensation, those fish that might be replacing today's commercial fish might not exist in the future. We are putting our future at risk.
Fisheries and Oceans November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Conservatives why they refuse to take protecting marine life seriously.
The changes to the Fisheries Act show that they do not understand and have no interest in how a marine ecosystem works. By restricting the act to protect only fish consumed by humans, the Conservative government is ignoring the vast majority of marine species. More than 80% of fresh water fish will no longer be protected.
This lack of habitat protection will have a disastrous effect on the quality of water in Canada and, as a result, its fisheries. Does the minister understand that the fish we consume depend on their entire ecosystem to survive?
Once again, the Conservatives are ignoring the recommendations made by experts and scientists. Their decisions are based only on ideological considerations. The Fisheries Act has been completely gutted. The big oil companies can now proceed with drilling for oil without any regard for the environmental effects. Once again, the Conservatives are letting the interests of their friends override environmental considerations and the interests of Canadians.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will no longer even participate in the review of development applications. From now on, we must rely on scientific data provided by the big oil companies to determine whether a proposed development would have adverse effects on the ecosystem. Does the minister really believe that these data can be objective and unbiased?
The new legislation significantly limits the ability of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to fulfill its mandate to protect marine life. The Conservatives are effectively abandoning the coastal communities that depend on marine life. How can the minister justify this abdication of her responsibilities?
The fishing industry does not just depend on fish that are caught and consumed. The fishing industry depends on a healthy marine ecosystem. It is the duty of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to protect this ecosystem. However, the new legislation is tying the department's hands behind its back.
The changes to the act limit the powers of the department and open the door to oil and gas development by the big companies, without any regard for the environmental consequences. Our oceans are precious and fragile. Why does the minister want to limit her own powers to ensure the continued survival of the industries, jobs and communities that depend on these oceans?
The economy of the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands depends on fishing and tourism. These two industries cannot survive without the security of a healthy marine ecosystem. Why are the Conservatives again abandoning our region?
The reform of the employment insurance program showed how much the Conservative government disregards seasonal industries in resource regions, such as the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands. The Conservatives accused decent Canadians who work tirelessly for their families of being dishonest and lazy. Now, with these amendments to the Fisheries Act, the government is washing its hands of the marine habitat protection upon which our fishing and tourism industries depend.
Will the Conservatives cancel these amendments so that all fish species can again be given the protection they need? Will they stop their assault on coastal communities that depend on fishing?
Respect for Communities Act November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his encouragement that I should support the bill. Unfortunately, I will not.
The problem with the bill is not that we are lacking in consultation. In fact, we could use InSite as a prime example of the public being consulted. Whether it be the local community, the business community, or the municipal councils, all those people were consulted. I never said in my discourse, and I do not know where he got that from, that I do not want the community to be consulted.
What I am saying is that after all 26 conditions are met, and many are new conditions that were never done in the past, they still do not have any guarantee that they are going to get their injection sites.
I would like the member to press his minister and ask the minister to actually make it binding. If we could actually get through those 26 conditions, I would like to see the member push for the idea that it be binding on the minister to supply the licence to open an injection site.
Respect for Communities Act November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and I congratulate him for all the work he is doing in his riding. I very much appreciate his great support for InSite, which is located in Vancouver, in the Surrey region, not far from his community.
It is obvious that this approach is rooted in ideology. The government is not looking at the facts and making a decision based on science. In fact, the Prime Minister's government seems to be incapable of examining the facts and moving forward on the basis of the studies done.
More than 300 studies have been published in journals such as The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and in other very respected publications. They all report that supervised injection sites are very beneficial.
We have to get past the ideology and look at the facts. Decisions made in Canada must be based on the facts and public health, and not on Conservative ideology.
Respect for Communities Act November 18th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to present my views on Bill C-2. I believe this bill should be rejected.
This bill is bad for human rights. It will put the lives of many Canadians at risk. Furthermore, it flies in the face of the Supreme Court ruling that stipulates, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that people have a right to medical services and to the security of the person. This bill seems to take us in the complete opposite direction.
Many members will recall when InSite first opened in Vancouver over 10 years ago. It was granted an exemption from the law in order to be able to offer addicts access to a service that they could not have otherwise received. This service means that people do not have to put their lives at risk, as it allows them to inject their drugs in a clean, safe place where medical services are available. It also provides the possibility of more involved medical services. Basically, it can open the door to detox services for some addicts.
The spirit of this bill does not seem to promote injection sites in Canada. On the contrary, it creates 26 conditions that must be met or they will be rejected. Canada currently has one site, InSite in Vancouver. There is talk of opening a site in Montreal, perhaps one in Toronto and one in Victoria. Other municipalities would like to do the same. I can say that in my riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, officials are seriously considering the possibility of having open sites available to addicts. In my riding, people could benefit from having a site that is closer to home, in Montreal for example, instead of having to go all the way to Vancouver to obtain the services that are available to the people of that region.
InSite helps addicts not to risk their lives. I want to mention some facts that the government may have forgotten when it drafted the bill. In one year, 2,171 InSite users were referred to substance abuse counselling. That is a significant number. All these people will have access to a service they otherwise would probably not benefit from. This is about eliminating or reducing the number of people shooting up on the streets. The Conservatives would have us believe that initiatives such as InSite and other supervised injection sites could make our communities less safe, but we are saying just the opposite. These sites make communities even safer. In Vancouver, the benefits of InSite are clear: fewer people are on the streets and more are benefiting from medical services to treat their addictions. This is really the best and most effective way to make our communities safer.
In Bill C-2, the government proposes 26 conditions. The process is very cumbersome and onerous. Those interested in opening a supervised injection site are asked to meet 26 conditions in a relatively short time. However, even if these 26 conditions are met, the minister is still under no obligation to issue a licence for a supervised injection site. He or she may do so, but there is no obligation.
So, people must meet 26 conditions in a relatively short time. It is very difficult for them to meet all these requirements. However, even if they manage to fulfill these 26 conditions, the minister is under no obligation to issue a licence.
Moreover, the minister has no deadline to meet. She can take all the time in the world to issue a licence if she decides to extend the deadline.
These are very onerous conditions. If I were cynical, I would say that this is to avoid having to deliver a licence and authorize the opening of a supervised injection site. The police chief must also agree, as well as city council and the provincial minister of health. These authorities will not simply give their approval because they are asked to do so. They have responsibilities and requirements. They must respect their own process and they only have 90 days to do so.
If someone manages to meet the 26 conditions, the minister may deliver a licence. This is no way to respect those who work in this area. Moreover, it certainly does not promote the establishment of a new injection site in Canada. I think it ignores the will of the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that InSite in Vancouver should remain open. It cannot be closed.
Let us take a look back and remember that in Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. PHS Community Services Society, et al. the Supreme Court did not rule that public safety was the priority, but that the right to health and life was the basis for its decision.
Bill C-2 seems to express the opposite. The bill is immensely concerned with public safety, but makes no mention of the right to life. That is the aspect of the bill I find most surprising. It totally ignores the fact that the root of the debates on the bill is that the Supreme Court ruled that a person has the right to life and must have access to medical services. The bill would have Canadians believe that detoxification centres, such as the InSite supervised injection site, are a public safety issue.
According to the government, if the bill passes at second reading, it will be referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and not to the Standing Committee on Health. I do not understand what motivates a government that does not believe in a basic principle like the right to life that everyone has.
Public safety is important, but the facts have shown that a supervised injection site ensures public safety, since people are not in the streets and public parks, where our children play, are needle free. We want safety for everyone. The InSite location in Vancouver is proof that we can do it, that we have the capacity for it and that we must do it. It is a way of respecting people and respect is a Canadian value that is important to all of us. What is more, this is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling and does not ignore it or instill fear in the public. Some might think that a place like InSite increases risk, but the opposite is true.
I want to point out that we have seen the benefits of InSite time and again. For example, injection drug users who use InSite are 78% less likely to share needles. That is a public health issue. A centre such as InSite has tremendous benefits. It helps prevent emergency room visits, which are very expensive. We want to avoid situations in which people have to use costly emergency medical services. We want these people to have the use of a very inexpensive service that also benefits public safety and public health.
Employment Insurance November 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, if the parliamentary secretary had taken the time to do a proper study on the impact of this EI reform, she would know that everything she said is completely false.
A recent survey showed that four out of five people in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands personally know someone who had to leave their area because there are no jobs and, contrary to what the Conservatives keep saying, it is just not true that people continue to have access to employment insurance if they lose their jobs for reasons beyond their control.
Does the minister realize that this EI reform will empty out my region? When will he discard this reform?
Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act November 4th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
I know he also works very hard in his constituency, and he has no doubt heard the same comments as I, that the coastal communities are very troubled and concerned about marine safety, the environment and protection for marine habitat. This bill provides us with no reassurances in those fields.
The tourism industry is definitely very important in my constituency. It relies to a very large degree on the shared wealth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The beauty of the gulf and the Appalachian Mountains in the Gaspésie region are assets that we risk compromising every time we talk about increasing the amount of oil transport and traffic.
Oil tankers do exist, and we cannot prevent them from doing so, but they must absolutely be better regulated and our coastal communities better protected. The coastal communities that have already contacted my office have clearly told me they want improved protection.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government is still moving in the other direction, withdrawing from environmental protection for marine areas. We must absolutely head in another direction. I think people expect that.