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  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament November 2009, as Bloc MP for Hochelaga (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada Labour Code February 18th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the Minister of Industry will not mind if I put my question directly to the Deputy Prime Minister on a matter of great concern to Montreal.

Several times in the past Liberal critics have asked for changes in the POWA program. This income support program for workers affected by collective lay-offs discriminates against Montreal, because one of the criteria provides that 100 workers must be laid off for a company to be eligible for the program. In fact, when the hon. member for Saint-Léonard was still in the opposition, he presented a petition with 8,000 signatures condemning this rule.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that this outrageous discrimination should be stopped, and is she prepared to make lay-offs involving more than 20 employees eligible for this program?

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, you are very generous.

In his question, the hon. member suggested an answer with which I wholeheartedly agree. I think our leader and my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois made it very clear, from the very beginning, that social justice, which is a main goal of ours, flows from tax reform, but not just any tax reform, and not necessarily one which will affect ordinary Canadians and low-income taxpayers. On a corporate level, we know about the tax avoidance devices available in Canada and also all the measures used by richer taxpayers.

I agree with the hon. member, but I cannot tell him that this is the position of my party, since it is the responsibility of our finance critic, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, to do so. However, from what I understand, the hon. member is absolutely right in saying that RRSPs should be taxed according on a progressive scale. We are not talking here about a freelancer who puts $1,000 in a RRSP, but rather about rich people who use this tax instrument. I would have absolutely no hesitation in saying that progressive taxation should apply to these rich people.

Thus, I do agree with most of what my colleague had to say, Mr. Speaker.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, as René Lévesque said, facts are always more stubborn than the interpretation one gives them. I believe so, since the question was put that way; I think it would be good for the government to put more money into low-income housing. Other possibilities exist, which I did not have time to mention because I ran out of time.

In Montreal, there are four purchasing corporations. What are purchasing corporations? Perhaps the minister should come to Montreal and see. These purchasing corporations bring people together in a non-profit organization. They have some money-of course, they have help. They have been helped by the McGill Fund or by the people who probably haunted your childhood, the good Sisters of the Holy Cross. With this initial funding, they can take housing out of the speculative market, renovate it and then make it available to the community.

I believe that this is a promising approach for the future. I understand that the hon. member also wants to be this government's social conscience. Since he is a Montrealer, which pleases me, I think that we should convince the minister to come to Montreal and try out this approach and use it as a way for society to act in the market.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

And not only people of my age, but also women and heads of single-parent families. Fortunately, there are less and less senior citizens living in poverty.

Concerning social housing, it seems appropriate to remind the House of three facts that were a real trauma for parliamentarians. They were largely brought to light by a group to which I would like to pay tribute. It is a pressure group called FRAPRU that is very well known in Montreal and the metropolitan area. It put in a lot of work over the last few years to try and convince us that we should make a firm commitment to social housing.

FRAPRU, which has its head office in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, committed itself in a document in which it gives a very detailed profile of social housing in Quebec and Canada. FRAPRU, which deserves the admiration and support of parliamentarians, reminds us that there are three types of data in this document. One of them points very strongly to the fact that, in Quebec, never before have so many families had to spend so much on social housing-an alarming situation. About 40 per cent of families in Quebec are in this situation. Never have so many people in Canada, not only in Quebec, had to spend so much of their income in order to have a decent home. We are talking of about 1.2 million people.

It is with these data in mind that we thought it necessary, as the Official Opposition, to urge the government to make substantial efforts to invest in social housing. Indeed, we are worried. I admit that worry is part and parcel of politics, but we are nevertheless seriously concerned about the intentions of this government. And we are not the only ones, for that matter. May I remind you that FRAPRU and other organizations interested in housing met the minister last December and that on the basis of that meeting, they concluded that the minister had not committed himself seriously and strongly enough, to say the least, to championing this cause in Cabinet. What we have in terms of social housing is far from satisfactory and encouraging.

We have little available in terms of social housing. Since in politics the ability to remember is a very precious asset, we should recall that the member from Papineau-Saint-Michel, the present Deputy Prime Minister and other big names of the former Official Opposition had passionately called for the re-establishment, among other things-and I am giving here a very concrete example-of the national co-operative housing program that cost only $6 million to the government. It is very little compared to overall government spending.

Some members in the Official Opposition thundered and talked with deep conviction about social housing, but indeed, they have quieted down since. I suppose that the fact that they have changed sides in the House explains their silence. The only thing that we are left with in terms of social housing is a program which is, to use parliamentary language, modest but you will understand that this is not really the word I would rather use. This program which addresses a very small proportion of the housing problem deals with renovation but not any kind of renovation since it is open only to homeowners. As if the poor, as if people in our community who really need the government's assistance were homeowners!

I believe that the government must maintain the program referred to since the beginning of this debate, but that this is largely insufficient. We are entitled, a few days away from the tabling of the budget-I hope we will not be disappointed-to expect that the government is going to re-establish the budgets approved in the past in the three sectors where one could, as a less fortunate member of society, expect to get some help in the social housing area.

What are the three programs which the federal and provincial governments jointly administered in the past? First, the National Co-operative Housing Program, which was very inexpensive for the government and had tremendous advantages. I will have an opportunity to come back to that. Second, the Income Supplement Program, which was a way to intervene on the rental market and to help people. The resources there were meagre, but they proved effective. Third, a more complex and more expensive low-cost housing program. Housing authorities in each municipality operate according to very specific rules. When one talks about low-cost housing, we all know here-because our television viewers know it-that this formula allows them to spend 25 p. 100 of their income in order to get a decent housing unit in which to live and to belong to a community from whom they are entitled to expect some help. And, as a general rule, support is available.

At the same time as the low-cost housing program, the federal government, with the provinces, had been assisting non-profit organizations that were dealing with a very specific clientele, mostly handicapped people, people losing their autonomy, ex-prisoners or people with AIDS. In the past, there was a program that allowed to help a very specific clientele.

So, at this time, even if we are being enthusiastic-I am not a pessimist by nature-we do not have much indication about the will of the government to act and to play a major role in these areas, still in co-operation with the provinces. You know that, on this side of the House, we will not forget that.

Why did we feel, as the Official Opposition, that we needed to be insistent? This has to do not only with the poverty issue. Indeed, we are concerned with it because we know that more and more people are getting poorer, but also because we believe-and that is the fundamental difference between us and our friends from the Reform Party. There are other differences, and I will not mention them, but this is certainly one of them. We are convinced that when you act in the social housing area, when there are public funds, when you make a budget, when you provide money to act in that area, you are being useful and you

contribute to the revitalization of the economy, because there is a return on your investment.

I could give you some compelling examples that would convince you. They do not come from me or from some partisan groups around the Bloc Quebecois, but from people with expertise who know about the reality in the social housing area.

I will mention, first, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada which conducted studies the findings of which I could hand out to the parliamentarians who are not yet convinced of the merits of government investments in social housing. I know I am not allowed to read in this House and I acknowledge having circumvented the rules on a number of occasions today, but I just want to bring to your attention four lines which clearly reflect the spin-offs of government investments in social housing.

Building 1,000 co-operative housing units, in terms of construction or renovation, would create lots of jobs, especially in the construction and manufacturing sectors. In the construction sector, over 2,000 jobs would be generated this way. Renovation projects generate less jobs, in fact about 800 jobs for every 1,000 housing units.

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that there are very few sectors in our society where you can claim that a government action would create and generate such great economic spin-offs as those identified by the Federation.

In spite of it all, in spite of the fact that we are aware of those figures, in spite of the fact that, since last December, the FRAPRU and other pressure groups have continuously been making representations to the government, in spite of the fact that less than three months after this government came into office, stakeholders in social housing were already active, in spite of the fact that we made representations, we can see that the government, on the social housing issue, is timid, spineless and certainly not too daring.

It is sad. It is sad, because such an attitude fosters prejudices. And as you know, there is a lot of prejudice in our society. Such an attitude fosters preconceived ideas to the effect that the best government is one which governs little, while we know perfectly well that if the government was able to take its responsibilities and to allocate money, not necessarily a lot of it-some years, 35,000 co-op housing units were built in Canada-if only we could have maintained that rate, I think we could have built up a strong housing inventory. We could have succeeded in revitalizing perhaps not all but some urban areas which are deteriorating.

It is for that reason that we, in the Bloc Quebecois, are making an urgent appeal to the minister. We do not have many government members with us today; nonetheless, we are making an urgent appeal, and we will not back down; we will keep at it and work on all fronts so that this government understands how necessary it is to invest in social housing, not in the timid renovation program it is offering. It is an interesting beginning, a trial run, but we would be extremely disappointed, together with Quebecers and Canadians, if the government was to limit its action in the field of social housing to such a timid program.

There was talk about the economic spin-offs of social housing investments, but I would like to explain, from a social and human perspective, why we have to invest in social housing. I will start with a reality known to every member, I think, and that is the low-cost housing situation. If there is no change in the status quo in 1994-95-96, not one low-cost housing unit will be built.

This afternoon, we witnessed conflicting styles and genres. I heard the minister say, and he was quoted several times later, that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was going to invest $35 million; every time a government member uttered that number, there was a sense of ecstasy. We must tell people who are listening that this $35 million will not be used to build new units, if I am wrong I will take it back, but we checked and it appears that it will be used to pay the interests on the money borrowed to build the existing housing inventory. The basic truth that should not be forgotten is that not a single low-cost housing unit will be built if the Minister of Finance does not change the status quo.

Why is it that the low-cost housing units are so important? We could very well, you and I, end up in low-cost housing when we get to be 60 or 65. Why are they important? Because it is a form community life. The people who live in such dwellings are not necessarily incapacitated. In any event there is no cafeteria in low-cost housing buildings. They are really only apartment buildings, but there are community rooms where residents get together to play cards or whatever. Any member of Parliament who is close to his constituents knows that there is a real community life in this type of housing. The lack of low-cost housing is sorely felt and we hope the government will be able to put the situation to right.

As far as co-operatives are concerned we know their economic significance but we also know that those who are part of a co-operative are people who invest in society. Each of them has tasks to perform: paint the fence, take the garbage out, take charge of public relations with the neighbouring community. Those people give and receive and this is why that formula has become so popular.

In conclusion, we sincerely believe that if the present government, which in the past has associated liberalism with generosity, is serious and has a social conscience, I believe that the Minister of Public Works-we do not even call him Minister of Housing since housing is so low on the list of priorities-should march to the beat of a different drummer. He should be the social conscience of that government. He should not be afraid to stand

apart from his cabinet colleagues because that is what is expected of him.

Too often we are told that the Minister of Finance will decide. I say no. We must be able to count on the Minister of Public Works to act as an aggressive and uncompromising champion of social housing. Only when the minister, acting as the voice of the less privileged in terms of social housing, puts his foot down will the Minister of Finance act accordingly in his budget.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for leading us during this debate. You have been patient. I am sorry I broke the rules so often, and I promise I will be more disciplined next time I take part in a debate.

I feel the need to recall, for the benefit of listeners who are joining us just now, that on this allotted day the official Opposition insisted on moving:

That this House condemn the government's inability to re-establish and increase budgets for social housing construction programs.

I thank our critic, the hon. member for Laurentides. You will understand that each and every word in this motion is meaningful. We decided to address the issue of social housing because we feel there is a subtle but nevertheless unquestionable correlation between social housing and poverty.

The definition of poverty rests in part on statistics. In our society people are poor if they have to devote more than 56.2 per cent of their income to their essential needs such as clothing, housing and food.

We are having this debate at a time when large parts of Canadian as well as Quebec society have never been so poor.

For our part, we are firmly convinced, and this will be a focus of commitment for the Official Opposition, that there are ways to put an end to that poverty. I must add that the speakers on the government side have addressed social housing somewhat in isolation, as if this were not related to the issue of poverty. Poverty puts on a new face. Being poor in 1994 is not the same as being poor in the 1980s. Deep changes have occurred since then. In 1994, we do not speak of poverty like the Senate did in the 1970s when it was mandated to study poverty in Canada. Poverty strikes the young and people of my age, in their early thirties.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

A social housing unit?

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I want to make sure I understand the hon. member. I sensed some enthusiasm, which I do not quite share but which I can understand, considering that he is a government member. Are we talking about the same thing since, so far as we know on this side of the House, the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program or RRAP, is exclusively for the benefit of owner-occupants?

Something is provided for aboriginal people but, for the years to come, the program's funding is exclusively for owner-occupants. In that sense, to refer to it as an income maintenance program for the have-nots of our society implies a form of generosity which was not intended by the cabinet.

If I misunderstood the scope of the program, I will be very happy to find out that it will indeed be made available to a larger number of people. However, the press release clearly stated that the program was exclusively designed for owner-occupants.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member had the courage, and we must be grateful to him for it, of turning the debate to broader considerations. I think that we could agree with him, if he wants to engage in that exercise-I am inclined to think that he is an avid reader-I

might suggest that he refer to two documents which mobilized all of Quebec. These documents were tabled at the Bélanger-Campeau commission, of which he is aware. These documents give a very accurate picture of the investments made not since Confederation, because the comparison would not be exact, but in the last 20 years.

We referred to experts, not nationalist experts, we studied, we surveyed the kinds of investment made by the federal government, and I believe that our colleague would find out that in many fields, Quebec received less. Where it received more, and there are all sorts of variables; we talked about demographics, we talked about its strength as a region within Canada, and I am sure that if our colleague went through these documents, he would recognize their intellectual merit.

The conclusion of Bélanger-Campeau may surprise him, but it disappointed us. Where Quebec received the most is in unemployment insurance. That certainly explains why the Conseil du patronat du Québec does not want Quebec to take over unemployment insurance. Our colleague will agree that unemployment insurance is not what one can call an economically productive investment.

So if he wants to get into this, I am prepared to cooperate so that together we can look at these figures following the work of Bélanger-Campeau.

Business Of Supply February 16th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech, but I must admit to having some difficulty understanding the underlying logic. I say this in a very cordial way, because I do appreciate her input in this debate and I would like to ask her a question.

First, I noticed that she makes no difference between social programs and housing when, in my opinion, a distinction should be made. I will come back to this later in the 20 minutes allotted to me. My question is: Does she not feel that when the government intervenes in the housing sector, it becomes a job-creating sector? It is a sector where, if we invest public money, we get an interesting return on our investment.

I do not know if the hon. member contacted the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. This organization conducted a very extensive and competent review of this issue and came to the conclusion-corroborated by American studies-that every time the government invests to build a co-op unit, 2.2 jobs are created.

This example illustrates how social programs reform and social housing cannot be put on an equal footing. With all due respect, I must tell the hon. member that her speech did not reveal a great deal of social understanding, because when we discuss public finances, we cannot simply reason like an accountant trying to balance revenues and expenditures.

I come from a riding where there are many social housing developments and I can tell the hon. member that families living in co-op units do not have to spend as much on housing; consequently, they can invest more on food and health care, and are therefore more likely to exert less pressure on those social programs which she seems to be so concerned about.

The Environment February 16th, 1994

We know him.