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Crucial Fact

  • 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

Social Security System February 3rd, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to take part in this debate on the funding and future of social security programs.

For Canadians and Quebecers, these programs include a set of services ranging from an income security policy to the Canada Pension Plan and a host of other services.

As I prepared this speech, I reflected that one could not engage in this debate without considering a number of circumstances that make this debate a rather painful exercise. The government that tabled this motion belongs to the same party which was elected nearly 25 years ago on a promise to build a just society that, at the time, under the leadership of former

Prime Minister Trudeau, would be based on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, principles that inspired me and probably inspired you as well, Mr. Speaker.

I reflected that after 25 years, it was time to consider what has been accomplished, because if we examined our social programs, we must also consider the people who at some time in their lives may need government assistance. And it is sad to have to conclude that 25 years later, poverty has not dimished. Not only that, it has started to affect groups in our society which were normally assumed to be immune.

Of course, when I talk about poverty, I use the term as defined by Statistics Canada. In other words, being poor means having to spend 56.2 per cent of one's income on food, shelter and clothing.

As parliamentarians, we are being asked to discuss restructuring social security programs at a time when Canadian and Quebec society are in very bad shape. Granted, poverty has changed. In the seventies, when the Senate did its wide-ranging study on poverty, being poor was associated more with the elderly in our society. This was so true that the cover of the Senate report showed an ailing, toothless, elderly woman, and that was more or less the image we had of poverty.

In the 90s and as we approach the turn of the century, poverty has changed. It now has a new face. It affects young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who do not necessarily lack training. Single parents are particularly affected. It is also a fact of life for those workers who, after spending part of their lives as active members of the labour market, are suddently excluded because of technological change. There are people who worked for 15, 20 or 25 years as part of the so-called labour aristocracy and who made a good living.

I think that the government's role is to provide these people with generous, accessible and transferable services, and I was delighted when I heard the Minister of National Health and Welfare announce her position during the reply to the Speech from the Throne. That is how she defined social security programs and that is also my understanding of what they should be.

What I find rather disturbing, and this is where I disagree with the government, is that for the past ten years, in any discussion on public finances and government policy, there has always been an attempt to reduce the debate to mere dollars and cents. For the past ten years the government has been proposing spending cuts as though that were the only game in town. Of course there are ways to save money and of course there is too much fat in the government administration, but I think we are asking the wrong questions.

If we are convinced that providing social security programs is not a matter of choice but a reflection of our level of civilization, the question should be how we can access additional sources of revenue.

Even in a zero deficit situation, we will need more resources to be able to fund social programs at the levels that will be required in the years to come.

We in the Bloc Quebecois realize there are several alternatives for obtaining additional revenue, and we think that this exercise is not just a matter of making spending cuts haphazardly without being overly concerned about the repercussions. One alternative that should be considered is that of tax reform. As we have said repeatedly, we are talking about a review of the corporate tax system. We know for a fact there are people in our society who are not doing their fair share.

On the government side, there is a consensus that Canada has done everything humanly possible to tax corporations. However, when we look at what Canada raises in the way of revenue, when we look at the tax rate for corporate profits and compare it with the rate applied in other countries, including the OECD countries which we often use as a benchmark, you would be surprised to hear that the tax rate for corporate profits in 1990, for instance, was 39 per cent in France, 50 per cent in Germany, 46 per cent in Italy and 50 per cent in Japan. Meanwhile, in Canada it was 29 per cent.

To me it is clear that if we want to discuss the viability of social security programs, we also have to talk about the tax treatment of corporations.

Furthermore, and at this point I want to recall some comments one of our colleagues made with a great deal of conviction, and although I did not agree with the substance, I must say it was very well said, I believe that the ultimate test for any changes that are made in the years to come will be that they will have to help people find jobs.

Putting people back to work has to be more that a few empty words with little backing: jobs, jobs, jobs. Some countries manage to have 80, 90 even 92 per cent of their population in the work force. Can you imagine having 92 per cent of the labour force actually working! And strangely enough, these are small countries. These are countries which decided to implement a full employment policy. Such a policy is not an irrelevant concept. To make it work, it has to become an obsession. The government must make the decision, get all the partners together-unions, employers, corporations, professionals, students-and ask them to endorse the choices made for our society and to help achieve them. Naturally, you are going to tell me that Canada has a special problem, because it has two levels of government and ten regional labour markets competing with each other, and I agree. This is why I am a sovereigntist. This makes it very

difficult to set up the elements, the goals, the main guidelines of a full employment policy.

I would say that in the years to come, we will not have a choice, we will have to aim for full employment, and this will mean more involvement of government in people's lives. What we have been hearing for ten years, and what the government side is still more or less advocating, is that the best government is the one that governs the least. I do not agree with that. I think a government has responsibilities and must take action. I am going to give you the example of an area in which it would be useful that the government not only did not cut its spending, but rather increase the resources, because it is an area which creates jobs and has a high rate of return, and that is social housing. When you build a thousand units, you create 2,000 jobs. This is a good investment with a high rate of return.

Yet, we are in situation-and this will be my conclusion, because my time is almost up and I would not want to break the rules-which shows that it is not true that the best government is the one that governs the least. I believe that the best guarantee we can give to people that we will maintain strong, accessible and generous social programs is to target government spending towards areas that generate large spin-offs because one of these areas on which we can bet for the future is social housing.

Research And Development January 26th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, the minister did not answer my question, but I will nevertheless remain his friend. I would like to ask him a supplementary question. Will the minister make sure that there is an equitable distribution of these funds between all regions of Canada in order to correct past inequities, Quebec for example receiving only 18 per cent of available funds while Ontario was getting more than half?

Research And Development January 26th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Industry.

During the last election campaign, the Liberals, under the leadership of the present Prime Minister, committed themselves to investing an extra billion dollars into research and development over the next four years.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance repeated over and over again that the future prosperity of Canada depended on substantial investments in research and development. My question is for the Minister of Industry. Can the Minister give us his word that the government will effectively commit an extra billion dollars to research and development?

Multimedia Transaction Network January 26th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I would like to suggest that the House extend its congratulations the Videotron Limited Group and five of its partners who joined forces to develop and establish a multimedia transaction network that will offer consumers direct access to a wide range of services, 24 hours a day, from the comfort of their own homes.

The project is known as UBI, which stands for Universal, Bi-directional and Interactive. The consortium includes the National Bank of Canada, Hydro-Québec, Loto Québec, Canada Post Corporation and Videoway's classified ads services. The consortium will offer a variety of goods and services that are typical of the potential of an electronic information highway.

The services offered by UBI will be transmitted directly to the homes of users via existing cable systems and a multimedia terminal.

The new services, which will be carried by the Videotron cable network, will be made available for the first time in the Saguenay area.

All parliamentarians are aware of the important contribution being made through this project.

Foreign Affairs January 25th, 1994

First of all, Madam Speaker, I am pleased to offer my congratulations to my colleague, the member for Laval Centre, for her brilliant, clear presentation, full of the compassion for which she is known. I also want to congratulate you on the responsibilities entrusted to you and to participate, perhaps modestly, in the debate which has been going on since ten o'clock this morning by telling you that I represent a riding in eastern Montreal where the social and economic conditions are rather difficult.

On several occasions, I was able to discuss with my constituents what Canada's presence abroad means. This brings me to say that the debate we are having today as parliamentarians should lead us to answer two main questions. The first is what exactly does it mean in terms of resource allocation to participate in a peacekeeping or a peacemaking force abroad? The second basic question is what are the underlying values? To understand the present debate, I think that we must go back to the past. I believe that our colleague from Laval Centre has clearly shown that we have a responsibility.

I believe in something called international conscience. I believe that the reason we have to debate the conflict in the former Yugoslavia where three major communities have difficulty living together is that some decisions were made before. We as parliamentarians cannot ignore that the decisions were made, first, just after the First World War and, second, just after the Second World War.

The reason I refer to these historical facts is that I think there is a lesson to be learned from this century: every time the international community was tempted to withdraw from a problem or to minimize its extent, this had the contrary effect of prolonging the problem.

Remember the first time an attempt was made to lay the basis for real international solidarity with the League of Nations. They let Ethiopia be invaded and look at what that led to!

Remember the Munich Conference where the heads of state let Hitler invade Poland. Look at what that led to!

My way of understanding today's debate is to say: what would it mean for the international community if Canada withdrew, if Canada took out its 2,000 soldiers, who represent about 8 per cent of the international force? I think that it would send a message of resignation, of cowardice and of lack of solidarity.

Of course, I do not contend that Canada alone bears the whole responsibility for the forces to be used in those efforts, but I think that Canada must take pride in an activist tradition, a tradition of peacemaking which is very honourable. What we must ask the international community to do is to give the outlines for a political decision.

With the Leader of the Opposition, I had the pleasure to meet two generals in the field who told us about the conclusions we should draw.

We should be particularly proud of two things: first, that international action has managed to keep the conflict within limits, a conflict which could have been explosive and spread beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia. Secondly, and I think that several members have referred to it, concerning the humanitarian shipments, we do not claim that there have been no mistakes, but we say that some pretty good work is going on and that the situation would be much worse if food supplies could not be sent through.

So I think that these two reasons alone should convince us as parliamentarians that it is worthwhile for Canada to continue what it is doing.

There is a third point, and I think that is where our actions will have the greatest effect. Some people in the international community have a great deal of experience which gives them a lot of credibility. I am thinking of former President Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon and more could be named. I think that we must tell our fellow citizens that if we want Canada to keep up its effort and continue to allocate resources to it, we also want a decision made and some guidelines laid out. For this, I think that we should mandate people who know the international community well, who have credibility in trying to bring the parties together, because we must not be mistaken. Basically, ultimately, our guiding purpose must be to try to lead three communities to live together. For historical and immediate reasons, they have difficulty doing so.

In that regard, if a vote were taken today, I would say that Canada should maintain its participation. Thank you.

Speech From The Throne January 21st, 1994

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I appreciate the excellent job done by the former chairperson, Dr. Paule Leduc.

True, Quebec is particularly active in social studies. There are historical reasons for that, and I would like to remind the hon. member that, when we consider such issues, the first criterion to use is the specific amount of money invested by the government. But since the accepted proposals have to go through a peer assessment process, there is a second criterion to take into account, and that is the number of requests and research proposals received. My colleague would certainly agree with me that, historically, in the past, Quebec has submitted more proposals than a number of provinces.

When we talk about sovereignty, it is not that we do not want to recognize but first, we have to recognize a significant and historical event, which I am not afraid to refer to in this House. The people who were 20 or 30 years old during the fifties felt freedom in the air, a feeling originating from Ottawa. I can appreciate that and I know some people who can testify to that effect, namely Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. A number of them published articles in Cité libre , a publication which had a lot of influence on intellectuals. What has changed today is the fact that Quebec built itself a modern State and seems capable of handling all the levers and responsibilities granted to a modern state. That is why sovereignty is supported by more and more people in our province.

Speech From The Throne January 21st, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend for his kind words. From the outset I noted that he was an excellent parliamentarian and it is a pleasure for me to debate these issues with him.

I know the Bloc Quebecois is concerned about a number of issues, including independence, which it will have the opportunity to address.

However, I disagree with him when he says that proportionally, Quebec and Ontario receive relatively the same amount of research and development funding. Moreover, I would be happy to provide him with some material on this subject so that we can discuss the matter with full knowledge of the facts.

Which brings me to the role the Official Opposition will be called upon to play in the next few years. It will be our job to make our friends in the government party understand that sovereignty is first and foremost a form of political organization, one that is inevitable when one belongs to a minority.

As for the rest, as a number of members have said in this House, there is nothing to stop us from sharing the same interests. My hon. friend will agree with us that States share interests first, and feelings second. I think we will be able to demonstrate in this House that as parliamentarians, in areas of mutual interest, we will not hesitate to recommend associative formulas.

There have been a number of references to an economic union. In our program, we speak of sharing the same passport and of the free flow of goods. There are many areas in which Canada and Quebec can find common ground as two distinct nations. Where it hurts, however, is when one is in a minority position, and that is why the government will be unable to avoid a proper debate on the Constitution.

As Maurice Séguin, a celebrated Quebec historian and the first of his kind to advocate independence, once said, a nation must demand the right to take full charge of the development of its economy, culture and language. And in order to accomplish this, it needs to have all the political levers required.

What we are demanding, with magnanimity and an open mind, is the economic leverage we lack to initiate this development. I know I can convince my hon. friend that this is certainly a debate worth getting into.

Speech From The Throne January 21st, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you great success in carrying out the responsibilities vested in you, at the beginning of the week, by the parliamentarians of this House.

I am confident that you will discharge these new responsibilities of yours with a firm yet courteous hand, and above all with a keen sense of fairness, a sense a fairness which the veterans of this House did not fail to mention.

Mr. Speaker, tradition has it that on the occasion of our maiden speech in the House, we are allowed to tell our fellow members what inspires and motivates us. As the member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I will be guided by three principles.

The first one is never to forget that all of us are parliamentarians, elected by the people, and as such our behaviour must constantly reflect and be based on the right to express our diversity.

The second principle deals with the fact that we live in a representative democracy .

Mr. Speaker, if I can address you today, it is because people put their trust in me. These people, you will have understood, are my constituents in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve to whom I would like to express my deepest appreciation; they can rest assured that I will defend their interests with all my energy and enthusiasm.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is an urban riding, 92 per cent French speaking, located in east Montreal. It is a typical working class riding.

I am the son of a labourer and proud of it, and I think this is the best guarantee for my constituents that I will never let the government cut social programs, drop its plans for tax reform or downgrade the extent of our economic problems.

Finally, my third principle arises from what we must conclude from the last election on October 25, and my conclusion is that Quebecers rejected the constitutional status quo once and for all.

By electing 54 Bloc Quebecois members, the people of Quebec rejected a government that attacked the most vulnerable members of our society. For instance, we had the notorious measures to reform the unemployment insurance system, when Canadians saw their benefits reduced from 60 to 57 per cent. Canada also made dubious history when it became the only OECD member that does not contribute to a public unemployment insurance fund.

On October 25, Quebecers chose to support a national liberation movement. This movement, as you know, is rooted in the recent and not so recent history of the only French-speaking people in the Americas.

Quebec, as lawyer André Brassard reminded us, is the only example in the world of a people living within a federation where 82 per cent of the same population has a territory, democratic institutions and common aspirations.

The election on October 25 made it clear to the political elites that the concept of national unity, so dear to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his followers, died with the demise of Meech Lake and the clear rejection of the Charlottetown Accord.

The arrival of a strong contingent of Bloc and Reform members is eloquent testimony that Canada has entered the era of regional identities. As these identities mature, Canada will have to make a thorough review of its institutions. I am firmly convinced that as a result, Quebec will be able to propose new forms of political co-operation with English Canada. These new forms of co-operation will reflect a generous, modern and effective approach and together they represent sovereignty. Sovereignty as defined by international public law, that is to say the power for the State to collect all taxes on its territory, to see to its own external relations and to enact all the laws that apply to its citizens.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the Speech from the Throne read by His Excellency the Governor General on behalf of the government.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Prime Minister and his cabinet, and wish them the best of luck in their responsibilities.

Among the positive aspects of the Speech from the Throne, I would like to mention the commitment of the government to enhance the credibility of Parliament and insist on integrity and honesty. This is to the credit of the government.

I cannot but concur with the intention of the Prime Minister to change the rules of the House of Commons to give Members of Parliament a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy and legislation.

However, on the financial side, the Speech from the Throne is rather disappointing. This is because it is so vague, so nebulous, because as the philosopher Pascal would have said: "It is a speech where the centre is everywhere and the periphery nowhere." It is so conservative that it looks like a commitment to the status quo.

We would be hard pressed to find any project of significance, capable of giving some hope to out-of-work Canadians and Quebecers.

There is no indication that the government is determined to get out of the rut we are in, to innovate and create the conditions that should lead us to what is really needed, and that is full employment.

We cannot limit our economic development policy to the national infrastructure program. Even if that program does address some of the issues raised by the municipalities, we must admit that the tripartite financing could create problems since municipal administrations are tragically short on resources and provincial governments are not much better off.

What is disturbing is that the national infrastructure program is likely to create temporary jobs that will only bring disappointment to workers.

Finally, the Speech from the Throne was totally silent on the question of tax reform.

For now, let me examine the Speech from the Throne from the point of view of research and development since my leader has chosen me as our party's critic in that area.

It is easy enough for me to deal with that issue since there is a consensus on research and development. I think I can safely say that all parties in this House recognize that research and development is a necessity for the future, a pathway to the next century.

We all know that industries who want to be competitive in the near future have to invest considerably right now in research and development.

Why is research and development so important? Simply because the strength of any economy no longer resides in the possession, the processing or the transformation of raw material, as the Minister of Industry indicated this morning.

Competitiveness lies mainly in a worker's ability to master new production technologies and deliver new goods and services. This translates into a demand for a more educated and better trained labour force willing to continuously upgrade their skills. It is in such a context that the relationship between competitiveness, training and research takes its full meaning.

Several advisory bodies, in Quebec as well as in Canada, warned that in the next 10 years, half of all new jobs will require up to five years of postsecondary education.

The increased significance of research and development will shape a society in which economic growth will rest first and foremost on skilled labour.

In the eyes of the Bloc Quebecois members, research and development is particularly important. If there is an area in which Quebec has been the poor relation of the federation, in which Quebec has been systematically discriminated against, it is in that one.

It is important to remind Quebecers that the federal government is a main player in that area. For example, in 1990, the federal government invested around $6 billion in research and development.

No matter how you look at this issue, disparities are painfully obvious when it comes to Quebec. One fact is clear, the

distribution of research and development expenditures has constantly been unfair to Quebec and, consequently, has hampered its future economic development.

This fact is so clear that even Robert Bourassa's former government had to recognize it on the strength of the now famous study carried out by the ministry of industry and commerce, which can hardly be suspected of being a sovereignist sympathizer.

The great merit of this study performed under Étienne Grégoire in 1991 is that it assessed the distribution of federal funds allocated to research and development over the past decade, using four seldom considered criteria: the size of the population in each province; federal spending in relation to the size of the provincial economy; as well as regional support for research and, last, development and the federal support in that area as compared to that of each province.

The study shows that over the last decade a mere 18.5 per cent of research and development funds went to Quebec, while Ontario got the lion's share, receiving 50 per cent of the funds. These findings are both disturbing and unacceptable, especially knowing how pivotal R and D is in societies intent on expanding their share of the market on the international market.

It is imperative that the Minister of Industry and the Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development develop corrective action to put an end to this underfunding affecting Quebec.

I can assure you that my colleagues and myself will fight relentlessly to put a stop to such discrimination.

Quebecers have invested too much in their development over the last 20 years to put up with this situation. We will act and be vigilant to ensure that Quebecers do not tolerate any unfairness in research and development.

While federal investment in research and development in Quebec is far from satisfactory, R and D in Canada is also cause for concern on several fronts as well. First, Canada is one of the industrialized countries which spends the least on R and D, on average, a mere 1.44 per cent of its gross domestic product, while the other OECD countries spend 3 per cent on it. Second, most Canadian and Quebec companies do little or no research. Third, Canadian industrial research is concentrated in a few very limited sectors.

What does the Speech from the Throne offer us in terms of research and development? Very little, actually, except for a centre of excellence for women's health, with which we agree. Nevertheless, in the last election campaign, the Liberal team and its leader, the present Prime Minister, swore to heaven that R and D would be a priority in a Liberal government.

These promises did not make it as far as the Speech from the Throne.

The greatest disappointment of the scientific community is the government's silence on the Liberal team's commitment to spend $1 billion in support of research and development. I want to say it loud and clear: the Official Opposition will not accept the government shirking its responsibilities in such an important area as research and development.

The scientific community is concerned, for two reasons: first, no one in the inner cabinet is responsible for science, research and development as such. Mr. Speaker, you will tell me that there is a secretary of state responsible for these issues, but you will agree that he does not sit in the council of ministers. Will he be able to influence the government on policy development? Will he be able to convince the government to invest the billion dollars promised in the last election? That is very uncertain!

Secondly, will the government allow the main granting agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Medical Research Council to play their proper role by stabilizing their resources and giving them a five-year funding plan? In this regard, I heard about the concern of some social science researchers following the departure of the former president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Dr. Paule Leduc. I take the opportunity to thank her for her services to the scientific community and urge the government to fill the void left by her departure, in consultation with the interested agencies.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has a key role to play in reaching Canada's and Quebec's R and D objectives. Therefore it wants its funding to continue to come from the same envelope as the other two granting agencies, thus showing the public that social science research is also scientific research.

Rumours have been going around that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council could be transferred to the Department of Canadian Heritage. Such a move would disturb the scientific community in that it would suggest that the social sciences are closer to culture and the arts than to science.

One sector that must receive particular attention from the government is biomedical and biological research, especially since Canada and Quebec have solid experience in this area.

A coalition, the coalition for biomedical and health research, was created a few weeks ago. This coalition brings together 16 medical schools and 6,000 biomedical and biological researchers.

I submit that a novel approach to curbing the growth of health costs and the deficit would be to invest significant amounts in biomedical research.

Disease and its accompanying harmful effects create not only personal hardship but also a financial burden that we must strive to alleviate.

Did you know that, each year, loss of productivity due to short-term or permanent disability costs $21 billion to the Canadian economy?

In order for biomedical and health research to constitute a viable solution and to help curb health costs significantly, the Minister of Industry and the Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development must be urged to take three steps. First, to restore funding to federal research councils to their 1992 levels. Second, to develop a mechanism to protect R and D activities carried out in federal laboratories from government-wide budget cuts. Third, to call a summit conference bringing together representatives of the stakeholders in the area of biomedical research and health as well as the Prime Minister and his ministers responsible for finance, science, health, human resources and labour to develop an integrated research and development strategy with a long-term view to improving Canada's international competitiveness.

These suggestions, which take into account the present state of government finances, would enable the government to honour a number of election promises and above all send a strong signal about this government's commitment to biomedical research.

In closing, I want to reiterate that federal investment in research and development in Quebec is a great tool afforded this government to correct the injustices Quebec has been suffering for much too long already. This is an area where economic development and constitutional reform are not incompatible. I hope to have persuaded the hon. members that the horizons of the Bloc extend way beyond sovereignty, even though this is indeed our ultimate goal.