House of Commons photo


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

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 March 3rd, 2009

Madam Speaker, I listened with considerable interest to my colleague's very progressive and heartfelt remarks. I understood her bias in favour of the fight against poverty, which is all to her credit. I think she is right to remind us that, in terms of employment insurance, it is the government that dragged its feet. The Bloc has tabled a number of bills to improve things for those who are, unfortunately, unemployed.

I would like to put three questions to my colleague. I would ask her to remind us of the importance of social housing in the fight against poverty and of the vital nature of the amendments needed to employment insurance and, finally, I would like her opinion on the fate reserved in this budget for women.

Canada Revenue Agency March 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a fraudster who is under investigation, both here and in the United States. That individual's behaviour definitely does not reflect what he said in his statements.

Will the minister revoke his permit? That is shameful.

Canada Revenue Agency March 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the Canada Revenue Agency issued a cigarette manufacturing permit to a man who is now under investigation for drug trafficking in Canada, and who is also charged in the United States with running a marijuana ring. What is even more astonishing and disturbing is that this permit was issued despite the strong opposition of the band council where the accused's business is located.

In light of the seriousness of the suspicions surrounding this individual, would the Canada Revenue Agency not be fully justified in suspending his permit until the RCMP concludes its investigation?

Justice February 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, in general, the time an inmate spends in jail while waiting for sentencing is deducted twofold from the sentence to be served.The difficult situation in his province, with street gangs and organized crime, has brought the British Columbia Minister of Justice here today to ask the federal government to put a stop to this practice that undermines the credibility of the justice system.

Will the Minister of Justice respond to this request, as called for by the Bloc since 2006?

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act February 23rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

I have also been alerted several times, especially when I sat on the Standing Committee on Health, to the fact that scientists who challenge some of Health Canada’s regulatory policies can be fired. The hon. member is quite right, therefore, to remind the House that when a regulatory system is being established, it should be left up to scientists to determine how appropriate it is and what the best way to implement it is.

The advice I would give my colleague—and I am sure that my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Health will adopt this as well—is that a bill like this is going to involve a lot of regulations. It would be best if, three years after taking effect, they could be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health, as will be done for assisted reproduction and the tobacco regulations.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act February 23rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes for anything more he can possibly do to lift the veil on the kissing disease, also known as mononucleosis. I get the feeling he is very interested in this. I would be eternally grateful to him for anything he can do to refine my knowledge of the consequences.

My colleague is quite right. When it comes to the legal realm, two factors must be borne in mind. In order for charges to be laid, there must first be mens rea—a legal term denoting the intent to commit a criminal act—and then there must also be an actus reus, or the deed itself.

Take the example of a professor at McGill University who is putting his third-year medical students through their paces. Say they are handling pathogens because they want to study smallpox, a very serious disease. There is nothing small about smallpox. If we were to determine, through an inspection system yet to be established, that McGill University did not have its licence, could the students who engaged in these studies be found guilty? That is what the Bloc Québécois wants to know. Everyone knows, of course, that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code covering criminal negligence and certainly terrorism.

Human Pathogens and Toxins Act February 23rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is not difficult to imagine how pleased I am to speak to Bill C-11. I thank my party whip's office for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.

This bill may seem technical on the surface. But when we examine it a little more closely, we see that it is a technical bill through and through.

Nevertheless, in spite of its technical nature, this bill is important because it deals with pathogens, those micro-organisms that can carry infection and disease, that can cause devastation and that can transmit viruses and sources of infection. This bill is about pathogens, toxins, laboratories and research. It is also about our desire to ensure that research facilities are safe and secure without adversely affecting research activities carried out throughout Canada.

When it comes to health—my colleagues know this—we can always question if this is a federal jurisdiction. I would like to remind members that when the 33 Fathers of Confederation met, in what was called a constituent assembly, they divided the powers.

Naturally when we examine the facts, we know very well that when we ask which authority has the constitutional power—known as a head of jurisdiction in constitutional law—to intervene in a particular area, we must read sections 91 and 92. We note that health may well be an area of greater concern to the provinces because it deals with providing care to the population and it concerns the operation of health establishments.

In all modern societies, many resources are allocated to the operating budget of the various departments because health is a concern of all citizens. I am pleased to remind members that, from 1995 to 1997, the government refused to make investments in health. There were campaigns throughout Canada and a federal-provincial conference including all health ministers of all political stripes. The Bloc Québécois took out ads in the papers calling on the federal government to assume its responsibilities and to make significant investments through its health transfers. The Bloc was obviously speaking on behalf of the National Assembly of Quebec.

I am not trying to suggest that the federal government has no responsibility for health. For example, we know that the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for aboriginal people. In addition, if I am not mistaken, more than half the federal health department's programming has to do with aboriginal people. The federal government obviously has a role to play in patents, and that responsibility is shared by the Department of Health and the Department of Industry.

I have wondered about the whole issue of patents. Are they in consumers' interests? How do we strike a balance? There needs to be a public policy of investment to promote research. Ten years can easily go by from the time a molecule is isolated to the time a drug is available to consumers. That is an investment cycle involving several million dollars. There needs to be a balance between consumers' interests and policies that promote research, because there are major investments involved.

The federal government has a role to play with regard to aboriginal people, patents and epidemics. Perhaps we need to look at this bill in that light.

This bill says that guidelines exist for pathogens that may be viruses or major sources of infection. The idea is to create a stricter system of regulations for pathogens and toxins.

I read in the bill we received and the research notes prepared by my party that there are thousands of labs in Canada that may not fully comply with policies that are not as strict as what is proposed in the bill.

From now on, we will need a licence or permit to conduct what are being called controlled activities. People in labs will need a licence to possess, handle, use, produce, store, authorize access to, transfer, import, export, release, abandon or dispose of human pathogens or toxins.

We could ask if such a system is necessary. I believe that my colleague, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, mentioned that the Bloc Québécois is not opposed to the bill, but we would like to know a bit more about the repercussions. For example, what will this mean for the research institutions? What will this mean for the laboratories?

One of the great advances for humanity in recent years is that we do not simply talk about old age anymore, we now talk about very old age. As a human society, if we are prudent, if we do not drink too much, if we do not smoke, if we do a bit of physical activity, if we go to the gym regularly and if we pay attention to what we call health determinants, chances are good that we will live to be 100 or more. That is what we mean by very old age. We have met centenarians in our ridings. I could ask my colleagues how many of them have, in their activities as a member, met people older than 95 or 100. There are more and more of them. In Canada, it is said that there are more than 100,000 centenarians. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, when I look at you and see how healthy you are, that you will be a centenarian yourself, and I wish that for you.

We live in a society in which there are more and more centenarians, in which people are living much longer and in better health, and this is thanks to research. It means we are able to control certain diseases that used to be crippling, and not all that long ago. Remember, just a few years or a few decades ago, mononucleosis was a fatal disease. Today, there are some differences, depending on the strain in question, but people do not die from mononucleosis. It has been called the kissing disease. Of course, I do not wish to get too autobiographical about it.

That said, I think my point is clear. More and more of our fellow citizens are living longer and longer thanks to research, and this research may require the use of pathogens that must obviously be isolated in conditions where this is no contamination, understandably. As an aside—and I am sure you know this, Mr. Speaker—I have 16 years of service in this House and I have had various responsibilities within the Bloc Québécois caucus. My first role was as our research and development critic.

I recall Lucien Bouchard, a great leader whom I respect and regard very highly, inviting me to a meeting in his office. I had been elected in October 1993. At the time, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had recalled the House for January. We did not sit in November and December because Prime Minister Chrétien had to attend various international meetings with NATO.

When Mr. Bouchard appointed his shadow cabinet, he gave me a very important responsibility: research and development. I told Mr. Bouchard that I was flattered. During the 1993 campaign, we were very concerned, as a political party, about the fact that there had been a lot of public investment in the national capital region, where several public laboratories were—and still are—located, and very little investment on the Outaouais side. There was a lot of investment in the national capital region, but even though research was being done, compared to the numbers for the Outaouais, there was a huge disparity.

The Bloc Québécois wants to make sure that this bill's worthy objectives result in all laboratories complying with human pathogen handling standards. We have been told that several thousand labs in Canada do not follow Health Canada's biosafety guidelines. The government wants to make the guidelines more coercive by introducing a licensing system. It wants to ensure that organizations conducting research will not be penalized. The bill's schedule differentiates between pathogens that can be very harmful to public safety and those that are less dangerous. We see that different classes of licences will be issued.

The Bloc Québécois would like to know what this means for research. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Health when we studied the bill to create the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In the 1990s, John Manley was the minister responsible for that file: as minister of industry, he was responsible for research and development. The OECD had released a report that lambasted Canada for investing so little in research and development. The bill was introduced.

The Bloc Québécois had a number of concerns. We wanted to ensure that various funding organizations, such as the Medical Research Council of Canada, would continue to support us. In good years, Quebec received nearly 30% of the funding. We wanted to be sure that, under the new Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we would hold on to our share of research contracts.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is a network of virtual institutes across Canada. Some of these institutes are concerned with population health, while others focus on cancer, aboriginal people, mental health and so on. The institutes are connected to each other in a structure that can produce interesting outcomes. Certainly, within these publicly funded research labs, research involving pathogens is being conducted. If the bill is passed, what will that mean? That is one question the Bloc Québécois has.

We also have questions about fines. As I said, we are told that biosafety guidelines already exist. In Canada—and I feel it is my duty to share these figures in the interest of full disclosure—there are 7,500 labs, nearly 4,000 of which allegedly do not comply with the guidelines. In addition, 5,500 labs, including 1,100 in Quebec, reportedly import pathogens. This comes as no surprise, considering how vibrant the research sector is in Quebec. There are apparently 24 labs in Quebec and 150 in Canada that are working with group 3 and 4 pathogens and are subject to these guidelines.

This bill tries to impose a system of offences that opens the door to criminal proceedings. We must always be extremely careful when it comes to imposing fines.

I used to sit on the Standing Committee on Health. That was a great time in my life. I was the health critic for at least five years. I focused on research and development. I was a bit surprised when Mr. Bouchard told me he was giving me the research and development file, because I was someone who had trouble plugging in a VCR. But I learned about it, I took an interest in it, and I understood its importance. I then became the immigration critic. Immigration is an extremely important issue, and as I am a member from Montreal, it was an issue in my own community. After that, I was the health critic for five years. Today, I am the justice critic. I have led an interesting life, when you sum it all up.

I would remind the House that when I was the health critic we examined the issue of new reproductive technologies. I was very disappointed to learn something about the regulations for new reproductive technologies. We know that one in five couples in Canada is infertile. Therefore, it is important that the issues of surrogate mothers, gamete conservation and donations be covered by regulations. I am very surprised to see that the regulations we have been expecting for at least two years have not yet been submitted to the Standing Committee on Health. I hope that the Minister of Health will remedy this situation because we worked very hard in committee.

The Government of Quebec went to court to challenge certain legislative provisions with respect to new reproductive technologies, known as assisted reproduction, because some of the legislation's provisions meddled in provincial jurisdiction. Quebec already has its own support system for infertile couples.

Why am I mentioning this? To make a link with the offences established by the bill. Failure to obtain a permit would result in a hefty fine of $250,000 for a first offence and increasing fines for subsequent offences.

It is not clear to me—nor does the bill provide clarification—how this system of fines will be administered. Will there be an inspection system? How will licences be issued? How will laboratories be monitored? And how will inspectors carry out annual inspections of the 5,000 or so laboratories that are deemed not to be compliant with the guidelines? And what will that mean?

It is a complex bill that may have a noble goal, taking precautions against possible transmission, but certain aspects of it are troubling. I know that the members of the Standing Committee on Health would like to ensure that this bill, before obtaining royal assent, has been the subject of proper consultation. Have universities and hospitals been consulted? Have large research and development associations been consulted? And the pharmaceutical industry, in terms of both generic and brand name drugs, has it been consulted? If we looked a little more closely, we would find that the consultations have been rather superficial.

I am being told that my time is running out, which is too bad because I have many more things to say about a bill as gripping as this one, but I will finish with three things. First, the Bloc Québécois will work very hard in the Standing Committee on Health to make sure that we have a thorough understanding of this bill.

Second, we hope that the principal stakeholders will appear before the Standing Committee on Health. Finally, we will judge the bill according to its merit.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and his friendship. He will obviously have to be patient when it comes to hearing me sing. But who knows what the future holds?

In any event, during the election campaign, I met many of our citizens who talked to us about the impact of the cuts to culture, not only on those who wish to do exhibits or shows abroad but also on those working in studios who need help to market their creations and purchase equipment. We are obviously disappointed.

Once again, the bottom line is this. If a self-respecting government wants to cut several millions of dollars from a sector as vital as the arts, we are entitled, as parliamentarians to know the reasons for its decisions.

Why does the government refuse to release the studies on which its decision is based? That was the intent of the motion put forward at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her very pertinent question. I would also like to reassure her that there is not a single parliamentarian here who would not know who she is, given how well-known her contribution to this House is.

She is right to remind us that the employment insurance system, as we know it, does not offer the protection that it was constitutionally created to offer. We know that employment insurance was constitutionally amended. She is right to say that the problem is not so much in the five extra weeks. Obviously, those who can benefit from it are free to enjoy it. However, when close to 50% of people cannot qualify for benefits because the number of hours required by the system is too high, the provision to add weeks is astonishingly unsatisfactory.

I hope, as she does, that the economy will improve and that our constituents will find work. However, economists think that the recession could last throughout all of 2009 and that our economy will not get back on track until the American housing sector rebounds. In this context, we have to hope that the amendments repeatedly proposed by the Bloc will be adopted.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on behalf of my party, the Bloc Québécois, and remind the House just how opposed we are to Bill C-10 and how disappointed we are with this budget, which is so lacking in breadth and vision. In addition, it simply turns its back on working people, on people looking for a job, and on women, in many regards on the equity question.

We are also concerned about the possible intrusion of the federal government into jurisdictions that are not its responsibility. For example, there is the announcement of $500 million to help municipalities build new leisure facilities such as arenas and swimming pools. These are important to communities, of course, because they are health determinants. We know that at the time of the centennial of Confederation in 1967, the government helped to build a lot of these facilities, but now many of them are reaching the end of their useful lives.

We were very surprised to see that the federal government might be preparing—we hope so, in response to the representations made by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel—to change its approach and go through the official channel which is the National Assembly of Quebec, rather than taking it upon itself to deal directly with municipalities.

The national securities commission has the same potential for intrusion. This idea has been around for quite a while and the previous government mentioned it in some of its documents. The government justifies the notion that we need a national securities commission, even though securities are regulated by the various provincial legislatures, by saying it is a question of mobility, of a single market, and the need for a national commission, despite the opposition of the Quebec finance minister.

Ms. Monique Jérôme-Forget addressed this issue at the last federal-provincial conference of finance ministers. The parties in the National Assembly of Quebec even passed a unanimous motion. Despite all that, the government is preparing to override the will of the Quebec National Assembly.

We are also disappointed that there are basically no positive steps in this budget for people looking for a job. For the first time in many years, the months of January and February saw mounting unemployment rates. More and more of our fellow citizens are looking for work and the unemployment rate is rising.

When Mr. Lloyd Axworthy, the hon. member for Winnipeg, was the minister responsible for reforming employment insurance, he introduced a reform to change unemployment insurance to employment insurance. I was in the House at the time and we predicted that large numbers of people would end up being disqualified by the measures we were voting on. Our view proved correct because only about one working person in two now qualifies for employment insurance.

In some regions it is clearly more difficult to qualify. We do not think it makes any sense to increase the amount of time for which benefits are received by five weeks if the requirements for entering the system are not amended.

The Bloc Québécois said there should be a single rule to qualify, that is, a minimum qualification rule. Everyone who worked 360 hours in the previous year should qualify for employment insurance, regardless of regional employment rates.

We also repeatedly suggested that the benefits our fellow citizens receive should be increased. At the present time, the insurance system covers 55% of a person’s earnings. We suggested increasing this to 60%. We also wanted to eliminate the distinctions between new entrants and re-entrants to the labour force. In addition, we wanted to make sure that related persons were not presumed not to deal with each other at arm's length. We fought as well to make it possible for self-employed workers to qualify for the employment insurance system. We hope too that the amount our fellow citizens receive from the system could be determined on the basis of the 12 best insurable weeks.

The budget is therefore disappointing. It turns its back on whole groups of people who were hoping for some help. So we are obviously tremendously disappointed. We are disappointed too by the fact that the tax cuts in it are very poorly targeted. There are not many tax cuts for the middle class. There are some for the upper middle class, but not for people with incomes under $25,000 a year, or even $40,000 or as much as $50,000, if the first eligible tax rates are considered. This is therefore not a budget for the middle class as we know it and experience it in our various ridings.

It is a budget—as the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert said several times—that lets down our artists. We know that artists are the soul of our societies. We know that if we want creativity, we have to make funds available. I am not an artist personally. I do not have much talent in that regard. I am sometimes asked to sing in seniors’ clubs and my voice is not all that bad, actually, but I would not presume to say I am an artist.

As the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert said, the government has abandoned artists. We have repeatedly asked for the studies of the various programs that were cut just before the election campaign to be made public. I must say that I find absolutely spineless, cowardly and inconsistent this idea to carry out cuts without allowing parliamentarians to evaluate their relevance. It would have been advisable for the minister to present those studies. I am very pleased with the initiative by my colleague for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who is our heritage critic. With the backing of some hon. members on the committee, she will be presenting a motion to invite artists, people from the artistic community, to come and speak of the difficulties they are encountering as a result of the policies adopted by the Conservative government.

We are also disappointed that there is nothing in this budget to bolster, to add a bit of substance, to this recognition, to date an extremely hollow recognition, of the Quebec nation. That is why the members of the Bloc Québécois have introduced, or in some cases will be introducing, bills that will allow the creation of the Conseil québécois de la radio et de la télédiffusion. If there is any real desire to recognize the Quebec nation with all its distinctive features it is also important to allow Quebec to opt out of the Multiculturalism Act. As hon. members are well aware, there is consensus in the National Assembly. When they were in power, both the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois rejected the multiculturalism model in favour of interculturalism. This policy was adopted in the National Assembly by Robert Bourassa.

Why are we rejecting this concept of multiculturalism? We know very well who the French speakers in North America are.

My time has expired? If that is the case, I will be pleased to answer questions and I hope there will be many.