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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was finance.

Last in Parliament September 2007, as Bloc MP for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 56% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Taxation May 3rd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has acknowledged the fiscal imbalance and pledged to correct it. Fine. Correcting the fiscal imbalance for the long term will require the redistribution of tax fields and fundamental reforms to equalization.

Does the Minister of Finance agree that we must immediately dismiss the idea of solving the fiscal imbalance by a one-time increase in federal cash transfers? Unlike tax fields and equalization, a federal cash transfer will do nothing to ensure the autonomy and financial stability of Quebec and the provinces.

Federal Accountability Act April 27th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, as an economist I have made projections. We cannot predict that the Earth will stop turning no more than we can predict natural disasters. However, with the information available to us at any given time, we can make projections within a margin of error of roughly 3% or 4%. When consulting firms hire economic forecasters who make projections with a margin of error of 300%—like the former finance minister did—they let them go. Yet, since 1997-98, that is what the Liberals did.

Talking about the deficit, I want to remind my colleague that the first major deficit created here in this Parliament was the fruit of the former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, who was finance minister at the time. Therefore he does not have any lessons to give to anyone on the matter, least of all to his party, the Liberal Party of Canada.

There is a way to streamline operations and clean up public finances. The Liberals chose to go after the poorest members of society, to attack the sick, to attack students, to cut essential transfers to the provinces and to the Government of Quebec. Accordingly, after 13 years of Liberal government, the situation seriously deteriorated.

Because the fiscal imbalance was not acknowledged and we were given the run around on the issue--the term fiscal imbalance was not even uttered--some situations became disastrous, like the situation in post-secondary education. Colleges and universities in Quebec and the rest of Canada are being crushed under the weight of these budget cutbacks. We have to make up for lost time.

I hope this government will not make the same mistake and that in its upcoming budget the priority will be on post-secondary education. We cannot go on like this and say that education is the future, without providing money for it.

Federal Accountability Act April 27th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks. I can tell him right off that I am very happy that the Liberals are in opposition. That is a great source of pleasure for me.

But I am sad to see my colleague's attitude, even after all these years, even though he was part of the Standing Committee on Finance. He saw the forecasting the Bloc Québécois did. The forecasts were all made public, a year before the end of the fiscal year. With one exception—because the Liberals were so secretive that it was impossible to find any information—our estimates always came within 3% of the actual surplus. We used a calculator that I presented to the former finance minister. He rejected the gift out of hand, even though I was just trying to help him count properly so that he could come up with an accurate estimate of the surplus.

So if the hon. member wants to check, he should look at media reports since 1997-98. He will see that our forecasts were accurate. They brought clarity where his government did not. His government confused people and duped them for years, making them think that the government could not help the unemployed, the sick and students. His government cut federal transfers at their expense because it said it did not have the money.

We made a positive contribution. We fought a battle that landed the Liberals in opposition, and we are very proud of that.

Federal Accountability Act April 27th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the subject of this bill.

I would like to congratulate my colleague from Papineau, who seeks to correct the French title of the bill because the use of the word “imputabilité” is not correct in this context according to the Office québécois de la langue française. We should use the word "responsabilité" instead.

That said, my party and I expected a lot from this accountability bill, particularly with respect to the independent budget forecaster, referred to in the bill as the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and to the transparency of foundations. I will address these two points over the next few minutes. I find the bill very disappointing in many ways, including its wording, and especially in its treatment of these two issues.

With respect to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we expected that once the Conservatives came into power, they would have something substantial to offer. After all, they have been preaching for years in support of the Bloc Québécois' demands for transparent figures—real numbers—in, for example, budget and surplus forecasts. One need only study the mandate and powers of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to see that the position has no real power. So we are back to square one.

Allow me to offer a historical profile, since 1997-98, at least, of parliamentary activity regarding budget forecasts.

When the Liberals were in power, the Prime Minister, a former finance minister and an hon. member of this House, would present us every year with data that had no relation to reality. Every year he forecast zero surpluses, even though the surpluses accumulating from month to month indicated that we were heading for figures well above zero. So we were told nonsense for years and years, to the point that, starting in 1997-98, when we saw the Liberals presenting us with figures totally devoid of sense and contrary to reality, we in the Bloc Québécois decided to form a small team and do our own surplus projections.

Mr. Speaker, you have been in this House for years, and you were a witness to this: we managed to come up with surplus forecasts that were within 3% or 4% of the actual numbers. With a small team and a pocket calculator bought on sale for $2.98, we managed to make accurate forecasts which reflected the real situation. But year after year, this charade continued.

I was listening to my Liberal colleague earlier. I was totally flabbergasted to hear him speak of transparency, when the Liberals were in power for 13 years and showed no transparency at all.

We know what happened with the sponsorship scandal, but even with these forecasts, when the Liberals were making these meaningless forecasts, they were trampling on basic democratic principles. For the people to be able to form an opinion on the intelligence of a government, or its ability to meet their needs, they need to be presented with the real picture of public finances. Otherwise they will say, it may be true that the government does not have the resources to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged persons in society; to invest in social housing; or to reform the employment insurance program so that it does not exclude 60% of workers, as it now does thanks to the Liberals. But the figures were completely opposite to reality. There were forecast errors in the neighbourhood of 300%. And year after year, surpluses of $12 billion to $14 billion were accumulating. At fiscal year-end, there was no provision for the redistribution of this money, to help the most disadvantaged of society and to lighten the tax burden. What is more, these unexpected surpluses, these surpluses juggled and fiddled by the Liberals, were, in large part, allocated to paying down the debt.

The Bloc Québécois led a battle with the Conservatives at its side, and even with the cooperation, in the Standing Committee on Finance, of Mr. Penson, a veteran member who has left this House, and the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who was a worthy representative of his party on that committee. That battle was to get an independent forecast office, one that would give us figures that looked right, that were meaningful, and that reflected the real situation.

They even supported two Bloc Québécois motions to create an independent office of budgetary estimates. They went so far as to introduce another motion spelling out the mandate of this office. They supported a second Bloc motion. This one proposed that, while we waited for this office to be set up, four independent forecasters should be hired, one per party, who would provide figures that made sense, rather than the far-fetched figures of the Liberal government.

In this bill, the position of parliamentary budget officer is an empty shell. This person reports to the Library of Parliament. He is not given the power to access essential information. We are not speaking here about the information on individual citizens held by the Canada Revenue Agency but about aggregate data. He does not have access, either, to information from the Department of Finance. This was exactly the problem that we faced. I thought that the Conservatives were going to improve the situation, but no, this bill does not make it any better.

The greatest obstacle we faced in getting accurate forecasts, even when we hired forecasters who were independent of the government, was access to information. Senior officials in the finance department told us that they did not have time to deal with this because they were tied up with other tasks, such as the budget. Or else they just cavalierly told us that we could not have this information because the minister did not permit them to provide it to forecasters. So that was the situation we faced.

Even when the new position of parliamentary budget officer is created, we will still have the same problem. How can the parliamentary budget officer arrive at accurate, sensible figures when he does not have access to this information?

In addition, the budget officer should report to Parliament. He should basically have the same powers—although perhaps not the same budget—as the Auditor General, that is to say, the ability to get all the information he needs to provide real figures to the people of Canada. The budget officer is not vested with this mandate. He will not have the tools he needs to provide us with forecasts. We will be obliged to continue making these forecasts ourselves every year and making them as accurate as possible, as the Bloc Québécois has always done.

At times I see a dichotomy between what the Conservative government says and the facts. We can see it in this bill, where transparency and compliance with the fundamental principles of democracy are not part of the game plan. We also noted it during oral question period yesterday and the day before, when we simply asked the Minister of Finance if it were true they had created five foundations before March 31 in which to deposit $1.3 billion in order to meet social housing, transportation and other needs. The minister did not deign to reply. Is that transparency? He told us to wait for the budget. But it has nothing to do with the upcoming budget. It concerns the previous budget, money allocated in the previous fiscal year. So there is a gap between what the government says and the facts of the matter.

I will cite a second example of the lack of transparency in the bill. It concerns the foundations. Why did the government resort to dirty tricks in its efforts to explain why it had decided to make only three foundations of nine subject to the Access to Information Act? The three foundations in question are the Canadian Millennium Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology. Why permit public scrutiny through the Access to Information Act of these three only and not the other six as well?

There is $2 billion in the coffers of the other six. Under this bill, they will continue to be outside public scrutiny and debate in the House. Parliamentarians will not be able to follow what is happening in these foundations because the government has decided to continue to hide them from public scrutiny.

I would like someone to explain why this bill does not apply to all of the foundations. Why keep $2 billion of taxpayers' money from vital public scrutiny? I am waiting for an answer from the government.

As I wait, I can assure this House that we will introduce amendments in order to improve this bill, which is disappointing in some respects.

Trusts April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, we have information that the government created trusts in which to deposit, prior to last March 31, some of the funds allocated under the Act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments. We know that the budget will be tabled on May 2. There are some legitimate questions about the creation of these trusts.

Given the large sums in question, can the Minister of Finance confirm or deny the creation of these trusts?

Holocaust Remembrance Day April 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, today we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah. On November 7, 2003, thanks to the remarkable efforts of my friend Richard Marceau, a former Bloc Québécois colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Bill C-459 received royal assent.

The Shoah represents the degrading height of a policy that sought to annihilate clearly identified groups.

The Shoah is also an episode in history that could have been prevented if people at the time had not been silent and complicit and democratic regimes had not remained indifferent but had put a stop to Hitler and his officers earlier.

Unfortunately, the world has not taken the lessons of the Shoah completely to heart. Over a 12-week period in 1994, 800,000 people were massacred in the Rwandan genocide while the international community stood by.

Let us hope that Holocaust Remembrance Day will be an opportunity to reflect and remember and a reason to act now to avoid another tragedy.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply April 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his question. He is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.

We have indeed taken a position with regard to children, young, older and in between. First, we have to talk about child care centres. The agreement signed on that subject between the previous government and the government of Quebec must be honoured. We insist on this. We will continue to fight, together with the government of Quebec and all parties in the National Assembly, to have the present government honour the signature of the previous government.

Second, my colleague from Trois-Rivières will have an opportunity a little later this week or next week to introduce the proposal that, if there is a direct transfer to parents for children under the age of six, that transfer must be done properly, that is, in the form of a refundable tax credit, and not in the form of a lump sum payment of $1,200 to families, which would be taxable. Under the latter option, families with low or moderate incomes would be heavily penalized by the tax on their cash transfers.

Third, I would mention education. Post-secondary education, colleges and universities, that too is for young people. For a number of years, they have been underfunded. We support the demands by the federations of students in Quebec and Canada for restoration of the transfer that was eliminated in 1994-1995. At that time, it was worth $2.2 billion, but since then there has been inflation. As a result of the emergency correction of the federal transfers in college and university education, that transfer is now worth $4.9 billion.

Fourth, when we talk about child poverty, we have to think of the parents. Because if the parents are poor, their children are poor too. At present, because of the emerging nations, including China, India, Brazil, in the agri-food industry, and Chile, we find ourselves in a situation in which workers are experiencing mass layoffs. We have seen this in the Huntingdon region, the Drummond region, and in my region as well, in the case of Olymel, AirBoss, and so on. We have to help the workers. That can be done by reforming employment insurance and especially by introducing the assistance program for older workers.

After 30 or 35 years of service, workers are finding themselves in a situation in which, after a few months, they are no longer entitled to employment insurance and have to become social assistance recipients. To do that, they must sell all the property they have accumulated since they began working, for 35 years, all the time they have held jobs that demand unbelievable vigour and huge outlays of energy. At the end of the day, after 30 or 35 years, people can no longer reposition themselves on the labour market.

In 1997, POWA targeted workers aged 55 and over. That program enabled them to live decently and with dignity until their pensions started. The program was not expensive. When it was abolished, the cost was $17 million for the whole of Canada. Today, that must be about $60 million or $70 million dollars. On the other hand, we have to think about the number of tragedies that a program like this can avert.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply April 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished and respected colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île. I would also like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and thank the electors in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for their vote of confidence for a fifth consecutive time. I will continue to work with my usual passion and conviction to improve the welfare of my fellow citizens.

Expectations for the new government are high. They parallel the commitments made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. He has the arduous task of repairing the breakage from 13 years of waste by the Liberal regime, a cynical, arrogant and corrupt regime that slashed transfers to the provinces to fund the obligations set for them under the Constitution.

I was happy, but not surprised. Throughout the election campaign, the Prime Minister made firm commitments regarding the fiscal imbalance. He convinced some voters in Quebec that he would settle the matter and rectify the fiscal imbalance. I was not surprised to hear that. I was happy, because it was beneath the previous government to even acknowledge the existence of a fiscal imbalance in Canada.

The government must now rectify two aspects of the fiscal imbalance. First, there is the vertical fiscal imbalance, the government's ability to tax our fellow citizens beyond its financial requirements for carrying out its mandate. The governments of Quebec and the provinces, on the other hand, are unable to obtain the financial resources they need to meet the obligations set out for them in the Constitution. In other words, there is too much money in Ottawa for the federal government's requirements and not enough in Quebec and the provinces to enable them to carry out their mandates as effectively as possible. These are fundamental mandates to provide direct services to the public such as education and health care and other provincial obligations.

We are not asking the government to resolve this issue tomorrow. However, we are asking that it start making corrective changes as early as the next budget, which will be brought down in a few weeks. In particular, we are asking it to promise to sit down with Quebec and the provinces to negotiate, much the same as in 1964 at the Quebec conference between Mr. Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Jean Lesage, the Premier of Quebec. In 1964, it was agreed that the federal government had a fiscal overcapacity and that major reforms were needed in the provinces, in matters of education and student assistance in particular. At the time, Mr. Pearson agreed to hand over some of the federal government's tax fields to the provinces that wanted to benefit from this. In 1964, only Quebec benefited. Today, when we talk about tax points and their value of several billion dollars, it comes mainly from that conference.

Our expectations when it comes to the vertical fiscal imbalance are that the government will initiate discussions with the provinces and with Quebec and end up transferring these tax fields or taxes like the GST, transferring revenue, and taking jurisdictions that are exclusive to Quebec and the provinces away from the federal government. With this new revenue, Quebec and the provinces could fulfil their basic missions.

The second type of fiscal imbalance the federal government must correct is the horizontal fiscal imbalance. The government has a fundamental instrument at its disposal, an instrument that has even been in the constitution since 1982 and that is equalization. The horizontal fiscal imbalance is the inequality between the provinces in their ability to obtain tax resources to provide comparable services from east to west in Canada. This equalization system can offset the horizontal fiscal imbalance, in other words, the disparity in provincial wealth obtained from taxes and used to fund basic programs.

The current situation makes the imbalance much more apparent than ever. Alberta, for example, is swimming is unbelievable wealth. Soon the Maritimes will have their turn thanks to offshore oil. Meanwhile, the other provinces are getting poorer in relative and absolute terms.

We must not forget that the oil boom and Alberta's massive oil exports are artificially raising the value of the Canadian dollar. In Quebec and Ontario in particular, but in the Maritimes as well, businesses are becoming less competitive, especially against emerging countries. When the Canadian dollar is pumped up by oil exports, the whole manufacturing sector suffers, in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Today, with the rise of economic powers such as China and India, a number of regions are faced with massive job losses. I will come back to this later. Business owners do not know where to turn, with increased competition and the rise in value of the Canadian dollar, which makes businesses less competitive.

Equalization is the perfect way to try to alleviate the disparity between provinces, but there needs to be a way to accurately measure each province's revenue-raising ability before the have-not provinces can be adequately compensated with equalization payments. Equalization reform is needed.

First of all, the equalization formula has to be based on the 10-province standard. Each province's fiscal capacity must be calculated against a Canada-wide average, not just a five-province average, as is the case now. All 10 provinces have to be taken into account. As well, some tax bases, such as property tax, need to be reviewed. For some provinces, estimates of the government's ability to raise property tax revenue are used. These provinces' property tax capacity can be overestimated, with the result that they receive lower equalization transfers than they actually need.

Second, when we say that each province's total fiscal capacity has to be considered, this means that we must not remove a tax base from the equalization formula, as the Conservatives are proposing to do. They want to take out non-renewable natural resources. This would skew the system and add to the horizontal fiscal imbalance between the provinces. One province's relative wealth would increase, while the other provinces' relative wealth would decrease. We have to be consistent.

Equalization is the only program with constitutional status. In the past it was felt that there would be growing inequalities among the provinces in terms of their capacity to collect wealth in the form of taxes, and this program served to correct that. Equalization has to be reformed, but not in the way the Conservatives have proposed to us.

We are on the government’s side if it intends to rectify the fiscal imbalance in the medium term. The situation at the moment is urgent. Post-secondary education—i.e. colleges and universities—has been underfunded for many years. That began when the former finance minister, who later became Prime Minister, made savage cuts to transfers to the provinces for the funding of post-secondary education.

The situation in which we now find ourselves is dangerous. I have met with the president of the Association des collèges du Québec and the principal of François-Xavier-Garneau college, in the Quebec City region. They informed me that, since the mid-1990s, education programs have been reformed and modernized to take account of labour market realities and technological development. However they do not have the funds to set up these new programs. It is becoming a disaster. We know that education is fundamental, that it is the future of our economy and our societies. We do not even have the money to modernize our programs, much less set them up.

When the Conservatives were in opposition, I chaired a sub-committee on the fiscal imbalance. I told them that we needed to increase the federal contribution to 25%. They agreed. This represents an increase in transfers for post-secondary education of $4.9 billion per year for all of Canada. This has to be done. The government must take action on this.

I would also like to mention three other issues of close concern to me. One is POWA, the program for older worker adjustment. With the fierce competition from emerging countries, it is important to help workers aged 55 and over to get through this period until the time comes to retire. This program used to exist in 1997. In my riding, the people from Peerless in Acton were the last to benefit from it, in 1997.

Since then we have been fighting to bring it back. This is urgently necessary. The program is not expensive, and it helps the families of workers aged 55 and over to pull through.

Of course, the government must act on agriculture and the RCMP posts. The Conservatives have agreed to reopen the eight RCMP posts that had been closed.

In Saint-Hyacinthe, we expect to be waging total war against crime, thanks to the Info-Crime committee established by the warden of the RCM, Ms. Beaulac, and myself. We also believe we can do this with appropriate policing tools. That requires the reopening of the RCMP post in Saint-Hyacinthe and assignment of a significant number of investigators to it, i.e. eight. That is the functional mass that is necessary.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply April 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am angry, not to say enraged, to hear the speech by my Liberal colleague.

It was the Liberals of the previous government who precipitated the agricultural sector into one of the worst crises, which has now become even more brutal. For nearly three and a half years now there has been trouble in the agricultural sector. Everything started when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called “mad cow”, was discovered in Alberta.

Since then there has been a snowball effect on the dairy producers, who were its first victims. Next came the cattle farmers. Now it is the grain growers, who for two years have been getting next to nothing in international prices, for those prices are set by Americans vying with each other to subsidize their agricultural sector. We have seen the rise of the Canadian dollar, the doping of the Canadian dollar with western oil exports. There has been no compensation for hog producers, for example, who are also experiencing what is almost the worst crisis of their lives.

For three and a half years, those people did absolutely nothing to help farm producers. We knew from the outset that the stabilization program set up by the Liberals would not work, because the compensation mechanism was totally warped.

Now here we are with one of the worst crises. Those people are responsible. This gentleman, a past president of the National Farmers Union in the Maritimes, did nothing in the 13 years he was in that office, and nothing again over the last three and a half years.

I am also counting on the Conservatives to respond quickly. Yesterday I was not satisfied with the minister’s reaction. We must take action before all the agricultural producers of Quebec and Canada are wiped out. We must do so quickly, with significant amounts of money. In recent years the government has been more catholic than the Pope. It has slashed subsidies, starting with the dairy subsidy which at that time was paid to all the dairy producers in Canada.

We have beaten our competitors to the punch. With the result that, today, it is not the quality or supply of our products that is lacking, but the subsidies. We are competing with the American and European subsidies. That government did nothing over all those years to help out the producers. And here we are facing the worst of crises.

What does the past president of the National Farmers Union for the Maritimes say to that?

Privilege April 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the first question of privilege my colleague raised.

The most recent election marked my fifth campaign. It was the first time I too had heard of this alleged directive. During the campaign, I had the feeling that my privileges as a member were being breached, even though we remain members until election day.

Since 1993, I had never come up against a bureaucratic brick wall when trying to solve problems for constituents. And I am not alone. My colleagues had the same experience as my Liberal friend. This is not normal.

In the end, not only are our privileges breached, but we are unable to obtain immigration, revenue and other services for our constituents. Even during an election campaign, we have to be able to serve the public. For 50 years, the public has suffered because of an inappropriate directive. Like my colleague, I am wondering whether it actually exists.

Yet calls my office made to departments in Ottawa to deal with issues on behalf of constituents systematically went unanswered because of this directive.

Old government or new, this sort of barrier to public service must be eliminated. When the next election is called, members should not be faced with a bureaucratic brick wall.