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Liberal MP for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 43.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Democratic Reform May 9th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the democratic reform file is a mess. It took the Conservatives five years to seek the Supreme Court's opinion on Senate reform. The political loans accountability act is so bad that the Conservative-dominated committee refused to consider it for six months. They tried to table an electoral reform bill without consulting the Chief Electoral Officer.
With so many failures, will the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) give his assurance that they will properly consult the Chief Electoral Officer before tabling their next bill?
Situation in Syria May 7th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. Her statistics on the growing number of refugees are quite disturbing.
Three neighbouring countries are dealing with the situation: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Canada must do everything it can to help these countries. There would be nothing worse than having instability spread beyond Syria's borders.
The most fragile of these countries is definitely Lebanon. The government has resigned, the prime minister has not yet been replaced and we do not know when that will happen. Hezbollah is very difficult to control for obvious reasons. The president is a serious individual.
I would have liked to ask the government some questions, but I will ask my colleague because she is very familiar with the file.
What contacts does Canada have in Lebanon? Who is Canada talking to? How are we ensuring that we are helping this country deal with the storm that is blowing in from Syria?
Employment Insurance April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, did the parliamentary secretary listen to the 50,000 protesters in Montreal on Saturday? Did she hear their cries? Did she hear the concerns of employers who may well lose their skilled workers? Is she insensitive to all that? Is she so bent on following her Prime Minister's orders that she is covering her ears?
The government has made changes that have diminished the protection provided under employment insurance to middle- and low-income families. The government did so with no consultation and no studies. Can the parliamentary secretary cite a single study to support the completely crazy proposals her government is making to Canadian workers?
Parliamentary Budget Officer Act April 29th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition has introduced a bill that the Liberal caucus will have no trouble supporting, because it is something we have been calling for for a long time.
Indeed, the first motion calling for the PBO to be made an independent officer of Parliament, tabled in the House of Commons on February 3, 2009, was sponsored by our Liberal colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. His motion also called on the government to “co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Budget Officer on all matters with respect to which he is called upon to report”.
If that motion from February 3, 2009, had been implemented, we would all be better off. The Parliamentary Budget Officer would have been better able to do his job independently.
Better late than never, which is why the Liberal Party supports Bill C-476 and why it is urging the government to support it as well, so that it can be examined in committee. We want this bill to be examined in committee because we think it is in the best interests of the public.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer needs to have more independence and a more meaningful role. The Parliamentary Budget Officer must report directly to Parliament, without having to go through the Library of Parliament.
That said, I doubt that these changes—although they are welcome and necessary—will eliminate the hostility the Conservative government has shown for anyone who refuses to blindly sing their praises or cover up their mistakes.
What is the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer? This person's role is to provide objective and independent analysis that may, on occasion, call into question the validity of the government's views and initiatives.
The Prime Minister cannot stand that. It has become clear that this government reacts very poorly and very aggressively to criticism and to independent thinking, whether from officers of Parliament, government scientists, foreign observers, the media or even government backbenchers.
The government would be better off keeping an open mind to these independent analyses. It might learn something that would help it fix past mistakes and avoid making new ones.
No one can deny that the Parliamentary Budget Officer produced some excellent analyses. Instead of shooting the messenger, the government should have listened to and respected what he had to say.
Here are some valuable PBO contributions: he analyzed the long-term cost of the Afghanistan mission; he showed how much the provincial penitentiary systems will have to pay in order to comply with the Conservatives' flawed crime agenda legislation; he produced a thorough report on the true cost of the F-35, generally considered accurate; and he proved that the old age security program was fiscally sustainable with the 65-year qualifying age, which was an assessment also echoed by the OECD.
The government responded to these obviously credible analyses with contempt, denial and attacks, dismissing them out of hand. Of course, the government was not obliged to accept the Parliamentary Budget Officer's analyses and conclusions. The government had every right to contest them.
However, the government should then have provided its own costed, detailed analyses before taking a stand on such important issues. Before imposing its decisions on the people, a competent government would have agreed, even demanded, to have these issues studied in detail.
Does the age of eligibility for old age security need to increase from 65 to 67? That is a fundamental question. Canada is the only modern, democratic country where the government has made that type of decision without providing any serious research to back it up and without having Parliament debate it thoroughly.
Instead of profiting from such a great Parliamentary Budget Officer—whose term just ended—and instead of engaging in productive dialogue with him, the government did nothing but viciously attack him as an individual.
In 2009, the government tried to cut the PBO funding by $1.3 million, one-third of the total budget. Public pressure eventually forced the government to find that money through the estimates.
In March of 2010, the PBO published a report showing the government would not balance the budget in 2014-15. The finance minister dismissed the PBO as wrong, but was unable or unwilling to provide any analysis to substantiate this rejection of the PBO's projections. Today, we all know that it is the finance minister who proved himself wrong.
When the PBO published a document showing the old age security program was sustainable in February of 2012, the Minister of Finance called Kevin Page unbelievable, unreliable and incredible.
Conservative senators moved to find Kevin Page in contempt for using the courts to access government spending data. The government refused to give Kevin Page information to which he is legally entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act. The government changed the PBO job vacancy notice in order to find someone ready to make compromises. Compromises?
Should someone compromise the truth? Should someone compromise in an effort to please the government and help cover up its mistakes? Should someone compromise on what should be disclosed to or hidden from the public, from taxpayers? It is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer's job to fiddle with the numbers or mask reality. His role is to produce precise, rigorous, uncompromising analyses.
What can we expect from a government that will not stop undermining the Parliamentary Budget Officer along with every other aspect of parliamentary democracy?
The government and the Prime Minister have never ceased to abuse the Parliament of Canadians. In 2008, they broke their own law on fixed election dates. They prorogued Parliament twice in order to circumvent the Commons, and they refused to hand over the F-35 documents despite a House order. They used time allocation or closure 32 times since the 2011 election. They forced committees to meet in camera, hidden from the public, for important debates and witness selection. They made improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that had little to do with the budget. They attacked the Veterans Ombudsman. Then we had Bev Oda misleading Parliament on the serious question of who altered a federal document.
Faced with a government that openly displays such contempt for parliamentary democracy, that refuses to hear any criticism, that is so suspicious of independent thought and is so afraid of the truth, any measures to help strengthen our Canadian parliamentary institutions deserve our attention.
That is why Bill C-476 should be examined, supported in principle and thoroughly scrutinized in committee. In addition to being very useful for the future of the parliamentary budget office, which is a new institution, the debate on this bill and all the questions it raises could—or so we hope—incite the government to really think about the true meaning of parliamentary democracy.
Employment April 26th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, we cannot support the budget because it offers less, not more, than in 2006 to support youth summer jobs.
The minister did not answer the question. The problem now is that TD Economics estimates that high youth unemployment and low salaries will cost this generation of young Canadians, now at the beginning of their careers, some $23 billion. You heard correctly, $23 billion.
With our aging population and the challenges that will bring, why are the Conservatives abandoning the Canada of tomorrow?
National Volunteer Week April 26th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, this being National Volunteer Week, I rise today in the House to salute the tremendous contribution that volunteers make in Canada. I cannot imagine the loss to society if we were deprived of the very generous gift of time. Volunteers devote a tremendous amount of time, in small increments of hard work worth its weight in gold, bringing comfort and hope to others.
I would like to acknowledge Centre d'action bénévole Bordeaux-Cartierville. This centre has been operating for 20 years and has just won the 2013 Hommage Bénévolat-Québec award, which is the highest distinction for volunteerism bestowed by the Government of Quebec.
Year after year, the 500 plus members of this team welcome people of all ages, especially newcomers from all over the world. They help these people's children in school, provide respite to mothers, offer courses in reading and knitting, and in short help each and every one of them to find their place in Canada.
Congratulations to the executive director, Marilena Huluban, and the past, present and future members of her team.
Election of Committee Chairs April 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, our colleague, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, moved the following motion:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to: (a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees;...
This procedure would replace the current procedure, in force for the past 10 years, whereby committee chairs are selected by secret ballot within each committee. Of course, the goal of this reform would be to give all members greater powers relative to the pressure they may receive from their party leadership, and especially from the Prime Minister's Office, since we are operating under a majority government.
Indeed, it would be harder to control these secret ballots if there were hundreds of people voting, rather than just a dozen or so. It would be easier to conceal one's vote and therefore possible to vote more freely, without any pressure from party leadership or the Prime Minister.
I completely understand where this proposal is coming from. It is part of the democratic surge that has recently come from the government backbenches in response to the Prime Minister's authoritarianism and the PMO's heavy-handedness. This is a very compelling notion, and I wish to congratulate our colleague on this. However, as the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth said, there are other, more important reforms that need to be made in order to restore and rehabilitate our parliamentary democracy.
I would also like to emphasize the need to limit the right of the government majority to force committees to meet in camera. This right has been abused, which undermines the transparency of parliamentary activities.
I will also mention time allocation, which has been abused. It is not good for our parliamentary democracy. As well, the right of the government to avoid the House and prorogue when the government wants to should be limited, and there have been huge abuses of that recently. Also, there are the mammoth bills that prevent members of Parliament from debating and voting on specific issues, as we should do in a healthy parliamentary democracy. These areas are much more important to reform than what is being proposed. However, that being said, I want to congratulate my colleague on his motion and I think it would be helpful to consider it carefully.
The Liberal opposition will support this motion, but our support is motivated by the fact that the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt had the wisdom to recommend that his idea be studied closely before the House considers implementing it. Actually, as attractive as it may be, the idea of having committee chairs elected by the House raises some questions that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will have to examine thoroughly prior to submitting its report to the House in six months.
Therefore, I am glad that this motion is only asking for the matter to be referred to committee for study since it does raise some questions in my mind, and I will list some of these questions.
First, is this a secret ballot or a recorded vote? Fortunately, our colleague made it clear in his speech that it was a secret ballot. If it were a recorded vote, the reform would be meaningless. However, the motion does not specify the type of vote. I am asking the question just to make sure. I am assuming that the hon. member really does have a secret ballot in mind, as he said in his speech. A recorded vote could very well end up being whipped.
In addition, a secret ballot is an easier way to hold a preferential vote, which is what the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt is advocating. At first glance, I think he is right to advocate a preferential ballot, but that is something that the committee will need to look at.
Second, are there any precedents? Our colleague has just mentioned the precedent of Great Britain, which is relatively recent. In addition, my understanding is that it has not been put in place yet, because the chairs were elected unanimously in that case. I am not aware of any other parliaments, with the exception of the British Parliament, that use this practice.
The motion asks us to study the practices of other Westminster-style parliaments. That is a good idea, but why stop there? Why limit ourselves? Why do we think that Great Britain, Australia or New Zealand are the only countries that can teach us something?
The parliaments of France, Spain and Germany have committees. I do not understand this reluctance. This is the tendency not just of my colleague, but of our entire system. As a minister, I would ask for international comparisons, and all I would hear about was New Zealand. I really like that country, but I do not understand why we are so reluctant to venture outside our small circle to learn from the rest of the world.
I hope that we will consider more than just Westminster-style parliaments. I understand the fact that we have a long-standing relationship with those countries, but we can learn from other countries as well.
Third, does the committee not run the risk of losing some of its authority over its chair? That was studied.
Indeed, currently, should the committee lose confidence in its chair, it has the ability to pass a motion and remove the chair. The committee then elects a new chair from among its members.
If, however, the chair is elected by the full House of Commons, would the committee have any right to vote non-confidence in its chair? Would the committee have to send a motion to the House indicating it had lost that confidence and request that the House elect a new chair? This may be a solution, but it is something at which we will need to look.
Fourth, we have to consider the arrangement with the upper house.
Indeed, joint committees often have co-chairs, one from the House and one from the Senate. It would certainly not be a problem if MPs elect the Senate co-chair, but would the Senate co-chair selection be limited to a vote by senators on the committee, or by the whole Senate?
Would a co-chair of a joint committee elected by one of the two chambers have more authority than one elected only by committee members?
Fifth, we must protect the prerogatives of the opposition. I am pleased that our colleague mentioned that in his speech.
Indeed, some committees are required to have opposition MPs sit as their chair. This is especially important for committees that hold government to account for its spending, such as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the government operations committee.
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics are also chaired by opposition members.
Currently Standing Order 106(1) requires committee members to elect an opposition MP as chair of their committee.
However, the House is not bound by the decisions of previous Houses, and we will have to move very carefully to ensure this tradition is maintained.
Sixth, there is the opposite concern of protecting the government. It will need this protection when it is a minority in the House, and there is the risk that all chairs elected will be from the opposition. That is a concern my party has about the coming years.
Finally, there is the thoroughly Canadian concern for striking a balance when appointing committee chairs: we have to strike a balance between males and females, francophones and anglophones and also the regions. Not all chairs should be from Ontario, for example.
Would a preferential ballot of all members protect these balances?
In closing, these are questions that could help guide further study of this matter. Should committee chairs be elected by all members?
The Liberal opposition is willing to provide assistance in order for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to report back in six months.
Election of Committee Chairs April 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague for his initiative. I will have the pleasure of giving my own views about his motion in a couple of minutes.
Could my colleague expand a bit more on international examples of other parliaments that would be relevant to this matter?
Business of Supply April 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I just want to say to my colleague that he is right in his interpretation of the alphabetical order. It would be the family name. It would not deprive the Speaker of his power to decide. The House would have to indicate to the Speaker the way we would like to proceed. It would put the power back into the hands of the MPs. The 60 seconds would belong to them. They would not have to compete with the whip's list, because there would not be any whip's list.
It is the only thing that would change. Otherwise, the parties would keep the same spots. Nothing else would change. I think it would be a great improvement.
Business of Supply April 24th, 2013
Mr. Speaker, I did not hear any comment on the substance of the motion. The hon. minister did not tell us if he thinks it would be an improvement not to have whips' lists and to allow MPs to have the guarantee that they will have their 60 seconds, one after the other, in alphabetical order.
He addressed three items, and I will comment very quickly.
The first one is that we should not affect the power of the Speaker. Obviously we should not and we will not.
He said that the whips' lists do not bind the Speaker. Alphabetical order, by this motion, would not bind the Speaker. We cannot bind the Speaker. We cannot remove the power of the Speaker. We may indicate to the Speaker how the members of the House would like the Speaker to proceed. If my colleague thinks it is not clear enough, he would just have to propose amendments, and we would consider them with openness. We should not be partisan; the cheap partisan jabs in this case are very imprecise and ineffective.
Second, he asked why we should not do it for question period as well. The motion is about statements by members; we will deal with question period another time. It is a step-by-step issue that we need to focus on, and just because we are not able to do everything at the same time does not mean that we should do nothing.
Third, the member asked why the Liberals are not doing it alone. It is because we want to have the same strategy as our friends. If they have a strategy to attack us, we need to be prepared to react. If we have our strategy to offer more leeway to MPs from all parties, we are ready to do it.