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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

Privilege March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech. She raised a number of interesting points.

She identified a question that a number of people are asking. Is this a Conservative Party tactic? Why would the hon. member want to use such tactics for Bill C-23? What is in this bill that the Conservatives are so afraid of?

Privilege March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments made by my hon. colleague from Hochelaga, and she is right. Many Canadians are discouraged. It is important not to lose hope. They see that people on this side of the House have integrity, even though integrity is seriously lacking on the government side. The Liberal Party was just thrown out of office because of integrity problems. It seems that we are heading in the same direction.

Is there a rule that says that a government loses all integrity after 10 years in power? I have to wonder. Unfortunately, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has proven that we are heading in that direction

I hope the members on this side of the House will be able to emphasize the fact that that we will maintain our integrity. We will certainly not follow the Conservatives' example.

Privilege March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for his comments and question. I would like to congratulate him on the excellent work he is doing in his riding. I know that he works very hard for his constituents. I have met many of them who have told me as much.

Canadians must be confident that the elected members of the House are always acting in good faith and are always there to shed light on the truth and to debate bills honestly and respectfully. Canadians are increasingly cynical about whether things are happening by the book and about whether Parliament is working to deliver what Canadians want. When they elect us, they expect us to work for them. The public sometimes wonders whether members are just here to serve their own interests. That is not a member's role. Members are here to represent the people, and that is why we are referred to by our ridings and not by our own names. The idea is to represent the people here in the House.

As for the member in question, we are debating whether or not he made misleading statements. The Speaker's ruling demonstrates that, prima facie, the member met the three conditions, and therefore may have misled the House. Now it is up to the member to prove that he did not mislead the House. If he did, it will be most unfortunate.

Privilege March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent and enlightening speech. She clearly explained the issue that is before the House today.

If I relied on Conservative Party members on the other side of the House, I would have no idea what the issue is. After hearing the speech by the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, I no longer understood the point of the debate.

I would like to remind hon. members of the topic of debate. In the context of the electoral “deform” bill, Bill C-23, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville rose in the House and made misleading statements. He misled the House.

We therefore asked the Speaker to investigate what had been said in the House to determine whether, prima facie, the member made false statements and misled the House. The Speaker responded in the affirmative. We have three criteria that allow us to determine whether the House was misled, and these criteria were developed by the Speaker himself.

I am going to summarize them. First, it must be proven that the statement itself was misleading; second, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and, third, the member must have intended to mislead the House.

According to the Speaker’s ruling, the situation meets those criteria prima facie. That is why this matter is before us. Will we refer it to the parliamentary committee responsible for examining this kind of issue, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs?

After hearing the speeches of the members on the other side of the House, I believe we have lost sight of the motion. Hon. members will remember that it reads:

That the question of privilege related to the statements made in the House of Commons by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

It is nothing more or less than that. I think that is clear. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville seems to have made two completely contradictory statements. We must go further and examine this issue.

Why must we do so? It is possible that the member spoke with Elections Canada or that Elections Canada communicated with the member. We do not know what happened. All we know is what the member himself said.

Hon. members will recall what he said in his speech on February 6. To paraphrase, he said that he lived in a very urban, very densely populated riding where there are a lot of apartment buildings and blue boxes. He claimed that people had found Elections Canada cards that had been discarded by voters in those boxes, and that they had picked them up so that they could take them to the offices of other parties, claim a new identity and possibly vote illegally.

It is a serious accusation for a member of Parliament to rise in the House and say that he has personally witnessed election fraud in Canada.

Let me go back to the original quote. I would like to do so because I think it is always better quote the member himself. What he said was very specific. That is why we have to wonder what the facts really are.

I would like people to pay attention to the details of what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville told us in the House. In response to a question he was asked following one of his speeches in the House on February 6, he said precisely this:

I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally.

A question is being raised in the House. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville did not merely miscalculate. He did not merely conjugate a verb in such a way that we did not know whether it was in the future or the past tense. It was not a typographical error. It was a specific and very detailed error. It would be very difficult for me to be mistaken for about three minutes of a speech. There might be perhaps one or two incorrect words in my speech, and I would definitely rise in the House and apologize for my mistake.

Here we are talking about a complete paragraph from the speech of a member of the House, where he said that he had actually seen a fraudulent act committed against the Canadian electorate. When he was asked to apologize and he returned to the House on February 24—18 days later—he did not do so. He merely stated that some of what he had said might have been inaccurate.

What was incorrect in all that? One specific thing? Everything? We do not know, and that is why it should be looked into by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The hon. member should provide more detailed explanations to Canadian voters, because those given so far are insufficient. He gave a brief apology of a few sentences in the House, whereas he made a 15-minute speech, and what he said over three minutes or so was downright incorrect, according to what he says. That merits the attention of this House.

We must have confidence that what is said in the House is accurate, honest and true. We cannot allow members to come into the House and say things as inaccurate as that. If someone truly saw what the hon. member claimed to have seen, that constitutes fraud. That is a violation of the Canada Elections Act. We are beginning to move into the criminal field. There are serious consequences for witnessing that kind of activity and keeping silent for three years. The member claimed to have seen this in 2011. This is 2014, and for all that time, he said nothing. He witnessed a very serious fraudulent act in his constituency and did nothing.

In this case, it seems to me, a member of Parliament has a much greater responsibility to act than an ordinary Canadian citizen. He knows this very well. He is a legislator. He is very familiar with the consequences of such a serious act. He has to report it. Either he failed to report that act, and today he is trying to hedge and have people believe it was a mistake, or it truly was a mistake.

I would like Elections Canada to tell us if there were any reports and if the member came forward at that time. Do we know what happened? That is deserving of the attention of this House.

Again, in the context of Bill C-23, the electoral deform bill introduced by this government, we want Canadians to vote in elections. For years, the voter turnout rate has been in constant decline. We should bring it up.

According to opposition members, the content of Bill C-23 will unfortunately achieve the direct opposite. It will stop people from voting and decrease the turnout rate even further.

With respect to voter cards, 800,000 seniors and 70,000 members of first nations used them to vote. Under the terms of the bill now before us, they would unfortunately no longer have that right. That is precisely why the member rose in the House. He wanted to condemn a practice that, as we see it, has helped people vote, rather than prevented them from doing so.

If this case is referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we definitely want everything open to the public. That is why I am moving a motion. I do not want this to take place in camera.

I move, seconded by the hon. member for Québec:

that the motion be amended by adding, after the words “House Affairs”, the following:

“, and that all procedures in respect of this order of reference be held in public”.

Privilege March 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the comments just made by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, the Speaker's ruling was very clear: misleading statements were made in this House, and we deserve to know which were true and which were false. The member presented two completely opposite versions.

I would like to quote Speaker Milliken, who preceded our current Speaker:

Misleading a minister or a member has also been considered a form of obstruction and thus a prima facie breach of privilege.

That is serious. What the member said was more than just a factual error. It is not as though he made an error in calculation or read the calculator wrong. No, what he said was very specific. He said he clearly saw fraud committed against the Canadian electorate and against Canada itself. According to the member, fraud was committed, and now we are supposed to accept that he can simply rise here and say he made a mistake in terms of what he saw.

Frankly, I do not think that is enough. We need to take this further. We need to understand exactly where the mistake was. This House must be respected, especially by members, to demonstrate that the House represents Canadian democracy. The member's remarks call all of that into question. I hope the parliamentary secretary will demonstrate that he believes in the role of the House and that this matter deserves further debate and discussion.

Petitions March 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have in my hands one part of a petition signed by 24,000 people who are calling for improved VIA Rail service in eastern Canada. The service is in a pitiful state and is at risk of being lost within months. I hope that the government will take note.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I request that the division be deferred until tomorrow, February 25, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Election of the Speaker February 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Motion No. 489, concerning the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that the Speaker of the House of Commons is to be elected by majority vote as quickly as possible and with the utmost diligence. Therefore, electing a Speaker is the House of Commons' first order of business following a general election. It is the top priority, so much so that it supersedes any other business. No motions, adjournment or otherwise, are received until the choice is made.

Between 1867 and 1985, the Speaker of the House of Commons was appointed by a motion moved by the Prime Minister. Since 1985, the members of the House of Commons have chosen their Speaker themselves, by secret ballot. Members indicate their choice for Speaker from the candidates on the ballot. The candidate who obtains a majority of the votes is appointed Speaker. If none of the candidates wins a majority during the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, as are all other candidates who receive less than 5% of the votes. A new round of voting begins, and the process is repeated until one candidate obtains a majority.

What about the Senate? Throughout the Senate of Canada's history, the Speaker has been appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, under section 34 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Fortunately, here in the House of Commons, we have far more autonomy. However, as we have seen, that has not always been the case. The secret ballot system was instituted only very recently in the House of Commons.

The motion before us is asking us to go even further by mandating the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to consider the advisability of instituting a single, preferential ballot. In short, we are being asked to conduct a study to determine whether a single round of voting would suffice. Rather than voting a number of times, as they do now, MPs would rank all the candidates in order of preference on a single ballot.

I am therefore wondering whether the existing system is inadequate. Would a preferential voting system benefit members of the House of Commons? To answer these questions, I would like to briefly explain the Speaker's role.

According to O'Brien and Bosc:

The duties of the Speaker of the House of Commons require the balancing of the rights and interests of the majority and minority in the House to ensure that public business is transacted efficiently and that the interests of all parts of the House are advocated and protected against the use of arbitrary authority.

They go on to say:

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.

As a result, our Speaker does not uphold the will of the party in power. In theory, he upholds the will of the House of Commons as a whole. The Speaker's role as the guardian of the rights and privileges therefore requires him to be completely impartial.

Again according to O'Brien and Bosc:

[The Speaker] must at all times show, and be seen to show, the impartiality required to sustain the trust and goodwill of the House. The actions of the Speaker may not be criticized in debate or by any means except by way of a substantive motion.

Clearly, the Speaker has a great deal of authority in the House. When we make our choice, we must be very aware of the Speaker's capacity and powers, as well as the obligations imposed on him or her.

Whether we use the voting methods being proposed today or the one used thus far, we are making a very important decision with serious consequences. It is crucial that the Speaker maintain a non-partisan role. We must not avoid the change if it will allow the Speaker to be more independent from the government.

Fortunately, there is a recent example of the introduction of preferential voting in order to improve democracy. My Conservative colleague mentioned it in his speech. I am talking about the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, which adopted such a measure in 2005. It went into effect in 2006. That house went through an impressive democratic shift under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party. Electing the Speaker by preferential ballot, as we are proposing here today, was an important part of reforming the House of Lords. However, the United Kingdom's House of Commons kept the secret ballot method for electing its Speaker, which is the method currently used in the Canadian House of Commons.

Australia's Senate and House of Representatives also elect their Speakers as we do here. However, the Australian Senate does it differently than we do; it does not allow the Prime Minister, through the Governor General, to make the selection for members.

New Zealand uses a similar system, except that it does not use a secret ballot. Members vote by recorded division to elect their Speaker. Of all the methods mentioned, that is the only one that could eliminate the possibility of electing a Speaker independently.

Clearly, there is no unanimity among Commonwealth parliaments when it comes to the method for electing Speakers. However, all of those voting systems have one thing in common: the chosen candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast by the elected members, whether it is done by several rounds of voting by secret ballot or a single, preferential secret ballot. Both systems also allow members to have their say without any fear of undue pressure, since the vote is secret.

The advantage of successive balloting, or voting until a candidate has received an absolute majority of the vote, the method currently used by the House, is that it allows voters to elect a single preferred candidate. If more than one round of voting is needed, the members are able to adjust their preference, if they want, based on the remaining candidates. They have time to think about it.

Multi-round balloting has also been used by a number of other entities in Canada, such as unions and community groups, which might lead some believe that this system is the traditional way of voting for a candidate. However, the downside of this system is the time it takes to elect the speaker. The vote generally takes several hours and is longer if more than one ballot is necessary. In short, the more candidates there are, the longer it takes.

The advantage of the proposed preferential voting system is that it reduces the time needed for electing a speaker. However, in this case, it is hard for new MPs to become well acquainted with the process and the candidates. The candidates for speaker can take the floor for five minutes before the election, but that does not leave enough time for MPs to ask questions.

There is a rather impressive turnover in the House of Commons. Last time there were a lot of new Conservative and NDP MPs. New MPs should have the time and opportunity to get to know the candidates.

Both systems have their advantages and the proposed system deserves a closer look. I support the motion and I will read with interest the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Election of the Speaker February 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for his presentation. His motion is certainly interesting, and I think it merits more debate. I will support it so that it can go to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further discussion.

This House has a tradition, certainly a recent tradition, of fairly high turnover, unlike many of the Houses that he indicated have this preferential vote. I give, as an example, the House of Lords, in Britain, which is probably known for having one of the least number of turnovers of all the Houses he mentioned.

If it is a number of new members who are sitting in this House, whose first order of business would be to select a Speaker, would there not be undue influence by their party in this case, considering the rapidity with which the proposal would bring us to a choice of a Speaker? Would there not be undue influence by the party, which would bring us back to exactly the same problem he seems to be criticizing and is the reason we seem to be needing this change, as proposed in his motion?

Petitions February 14th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition that was signed by thousands of Torontonians and residents of the GTA. One part of this petition represents people who are calling for improved public transit services. Public transit is essential to improving all of Canada's regional economies, and unfortunately, Canada does not have a national strategy. The petitioners are calling for a national strategy.