Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was forces.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Compton—Stanstead (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2006, with 22% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Defence November 3rd, 1997

Mr. Speaker, in France, in Great Britain and in the United States, there is an inspector general for the armed forces.

An inspector general was required in the case of the Somalia inquiry. Our party's electoral platform includes the appointment of an inspector general. There have been reports showing that drugs were used in a top secret military base and that there was another cover-up by the Department of National Defence.

In view of these facts, why does Canada not appoint an inspector general for the armed forces?

Newfoundland School System October 27th, 1997

Madam Speaker, I want to begin today by reading to you from the column by William Johnson which appeared in the Montreal Gazette last week. In it he wrote:

Removing constitutional rights from a minority is a serious undertaking. Ottawa showed its contempt last year by trying to ram through Parliament the amendment to Newfoundland's Terms of Union as it affected religious control of the school boards. The result was a constitutional mess, and Parliament will have to deal again with the issue of Newfoundland's schools.

Well here we are again for a second time in as many years dealing with the issue. Members of the House of Commons did not travel. They did not even hold hearings. The government rushed it to judgment and the result was, as Mr. Johnson noted, a constitutional mess.

I am new here and I would certainly not want to make snap judgments. I do not wish to insinuate that the Liberals are heartless and that they are acting with no regard for others. I do not wish to insinuate that the Liberals are not doing a good job in keeping an eye on the provincial authorities and allowing them to do their jobs as they must. And I particularly do not wish to insinuate that the Liberals have mishandled the Constitution in a cavalier manner. That would be to make judgments and that is not my purpose.

What I do know is that the other place did hold hearings. Members of the other place travelled to St. John's. The Senate wrote an outstanding report. The chair was Senator Sharon Carstairs.

This government called a snap vote late one afternoon to dismiss the work and the will of another house of Parliament. In fact I am told that voices from every part of the Chamber were yelling “dispense, dispense” when the Speaker was informing this House of the message from the other place. This House did not take the time to listen, to consider and today this is the result. It is back before us again.

If we are going to do something, we should do it well. If we are going to amend our Constitution, we should do it right. If we are going to remove minority rights, we had better be certain that the affected parties are heard from. It is their right and our duty.

I want to take the time now to speak to the amendment put forward by the Reform Party. I am currently sitting on the special joint committee to amend the Constitution with regard to Quebec schools. The players are different but the same important debate remains: the protection of minority rights.

I spent one week on this committee but I have to tell this House and the Reform members who sit on this committee with me that I value the role the senators have played so far. The other place does more than provide sober second thought. The other place provides expertise. Whether it is the Constitution, human rights or education itself, the other place shares with a committee experience that is far reaching.

What we are speaking of is amending Canada's Constitution. This is serious business. Reform should understand how serious this is and should support the other place's role.

On March 3, 1896 Sir Wilfrid Laurier made what some consider his best speech. He spoke in defence of minority rights in Manitoba. At second reading of Bill 58, the Remedial Act, Wilfrid Laurier, who was not yet prime minister, asked, “Is the government impelled by the desire of doing justice to the minority?” He continued, “In a community with a free government in a free country like this, upon any question involving different conceptions of what is right or wrong, different standards of what is just or unjust, it is the part of statesmanship not to force the view of any matter but to endeavour to bring them all to a uniform standard and a uniform conception of what is right”.

None in this House approach Sir Wilfrid Laurier's eloquence and leadership, but today's Prime Minister need not be eloquent. He need only ask himself whether an amendment to term 17 is necessary to achieve the provincial government's stated intention of reforming the educational system.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier knew so long ago that rights are aimed at limiting and domesticating state power in attenuating its outcome. Does this Prime Minister understand what Laurier understood?

In contrast to the Unitarian point of view in which the ends justify the means, human rights offer an ethical approach setting constraining limits on authority. As expressed in a letter dated May 27, 1996 from Archbishop Francis J. Spence, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, to the Prime Minister, the primary responsibility of the Government of Canada is not the reform in Newfoundland's education system, which all parties agree is necessary, but the protection of minority rights under our Constitution from the arbitrary action of the majority.

The Constitution and the charter can either be worthless pieces of paper or very real and binding instruments of guidance. A true standard. Whether these documents will be one or the other does not depend on governments alone. It is up to all of us to determine how seriously these guidelines will be taken, how they will be implemented and made real.

It is necessary to recall these documents that guide Canadian society and try with new energy to ensure that the government acts according to their spirit. Governments must accept the indivisibility of human rights and respect constitutionally entrenched minority rights.

The Newfoundland terms of union are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. Premier Tobin appears to no longer respect those terms. The Prime Minister appears to accede to a historical approach to public policy making. Together they appear disrespectful of the rule of law and delicate balance that must accompany a state's intrusion into a matter expressly outside its jurisdiction.

Has the will of the popular majority been a safe haven for safeguarding the rights of the minority? No it has not. Nor indeed has the majority's will always been when one considers the history books and the many clashes between minority and majority.

This is precisely why Reform Party's policy of blind adherence to government by referendum is seldom in the true public interest and hardly ever in the interests of legitimate minority interests. There are some issues that legitimately require majority action and others which lie outside the proper arena of majority determination.

Majority rule implies a great deal about civil rights, such as free speech, free assembly and free association. I might add that the word majority means major part, and so connotes the presence of other parts in one as several minorities.

Some would say that minorities constitute the margins of society. Others would say that minorities are the practical manifestations of a society's ability to accommodate and provide safe alternatives.

Rather than build on Canada's proud heritage and respect for minority education rights by extending rights, perhaps to the francophone minority in Newfoundland, Premier Tobin and the Prime Minister have actively pursued a diminution of minority safeguards.

His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter in writing to the Prime Minister on May 21, 1996 said: “I am disappointed, like many Canadians, because I took you at your word and the Liberal Party is a party of principle and a champion of minority rights”.

I take no pleasure in drawing to the attention of the House the following curious examples of political leadership. On March 12, 1993 just before an election, the then premier of Newfoundland made a statement in the House of Assembly: “In response to the church leaders' concerns that implementing certain recommendations of the royal commission report would jeopardize their traditional rights, government has assured the leaders that it is not seeking change to the Constitution that would remove the constitutionally protected rights of classes of people specifically provided for”.

Canada's great advantage over other nations is our tradition of diversity which was born of the historic necessity of English and French speaking Canadians working together and which has blossomed into a basic respect for the multitude of cultures which make up Canada.

The Canadian tradition has been one based on the obligations of history and respect for cultural, religious and ethnic minorities. That tradition is in a certain degree of peril with this latest incursion into the Constitution to strike down the valuable education rights of the religious denominations in Newfoundland.

Search And Rescue October 27th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, Canadian search and rescue did a fantastic job last week. Canadians should all be proud of what was accomplished. But how many ships have to sink before the government realizes that helicopters are not about partisan politics but about saving lives?

On Friday the minister told the House the capabilities of the new helicopters were limited. During the weekend some of the manufacturers went on record as saying they could have done the job.

Who understands the capabilities of these new helicopters, the manufacturer or the minister of defence?

Search And Rescue October 23rd, 1997

Mr. Speaker, those 30 people are facing eight metre waves out there. Canada is not properly equipped for today's operation. We hope it all goes well and they all get back safely. However we have waited long enough.

I ask the minister of defence again where our helicopters are. When are we going to get them?

Search And Rescue October 23rd, 1997

Mr. Speaker, the Vanessa , a Dutch owned tanker vessel, just sunk at 1 o'clock Atlantic time. There are 30 people in lifeboats waiting to be rescued. Naval Lieutenant John Larson from the Halifax rescue staff has told my staff “Our helicopters can't go because it is just out of range”.

When are we getting our helicopters?

Somalia October 21st, 1997

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Fowler said he was not ready to testify. It seems to me that Canadians should have faith in their public servants and I am sure this House agrees.

When will the former deputy minister of defence who is now representing Canada's interest to the world at the United Nations in New York have a chance to restore Canadians' faith and tell his story?

Somalia Inquiry October 21st, 1997

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to the government that there is a difference between Ambassador Bob's being interviewed on current policy questions and as a principal figure in the Somalia story.

Perhaps it is time to recall Ambassador Fowler until the cloud is removed. When will this government allow Bob Fowler to participate in interviews with the media on the Somalia affair?

Appointment Of A Special Joint Committee October 1st, 1997

Mr. Speaker, it is quite straightforward that I represent my constituents. They elected me to do a job. I do not think they expected to come here every time there was a separate vote, that they would have to vote individually. I am here representing them and that is the job we should be doing.

Appointment Of A Special Joint Committee October 1st, 1997

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to the motion put forward by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs on the establishment of a joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate to study matters related to the proposed resolution respecting the amendment to section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, concerning the Quebec school system. That is just to be clear on what we are addressing today. We seem to be wandering a little bit.

I commend and congratulate Madam Speaker on her appointment as speaker. The Right Hon. John G. Diefenbaker once said to parliament “Parliament is more than a procedure. It is the custodian of the nation's freedom”. Madam Speaker, you are charged with a very important duty in the House as members seek to serve their constituents. I, on behalf of my constituents, look for your assistance in the pursuit of serving Canadians.

First of all, I want to thank the constituents of Compton—Stanstead who entrusted me with the important task of representing them in the House of Commons. It is an honour for me to be their MP.

Compton—Stanstead is a half urban, half rural riding. It is a dairy farm region. It is also an area full of lakes and hills where one can do some sailing, boating and trekking during the summer and ski or go on snowmobile tours during the winter. Finally, it is a region where everybody loves the great outdoors.

I would like to invite all the members to visit this wonderful region where people have never stopped working towards a stronger Canada, a part of Quebec where anglophones and francophones have rubbed shoulders for many generations and have learned to live and work together.

As a representative of this Eastern Townships region, I have some experience in the issue before us today.

The Eastern Townships have been used as a test area for linguistic schools in Quebec for the last 10 to 15 years and I must say we are very pleased with the results so far.

Linguistic schools were tested in the Eastern Townships in preparation for their implementation all over Quebec. At first there were some real concerns, because people did not know how this system would work and they wondered if it would be fair.

In fact it worked. It worked quite well. We were the test case. We went through it. At present I have lived through the experience personally. It has been a good working system.

This committee, however, will examine something a lot larger than the test case of linguistic schools in the eastern townships. At present the rights of minorities are guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution. They are guaranteed under the Constitutional Act, 1867 and 1982.

It remains my opinion that amending the Constitution is a very serious matter that should not be taken lightly, which presents the House with a dilemma.

The National Assembly in Quebec City has voted overwhelmingly in favour of instituting linguistic school boards as soon as possible. It is desirable for that purpose to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, so that Quebec has full capacity to act in matters of education.

As I said earlier, in my experience this probably makes good sense. Yet it concerns me. Is it the role of the House to stand in the way of what seems to be the overwhelming will of the people of Quebec? Or, is the role of the House to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are protected under the law? Can it do both?

I am new to this debate. I have much to learn about the Constitutional nuances of my country. What I do know is that the Reform Party's proposal to have a referendum on this question is without merit.

At some point we have to trust elected officials. On this particular matter there seems to be consensus in the national assembly. The Reform Party is proposing to have a constituent assembly comprised of the entire province of Quebec.

As a constitutional amendment must not, it seems to me, be made with a nod of the head, I intend to ensure that the committee examines all the repercussions of the proposed amendment on Quebec and on the Constitution of Canada.

I would like now to speak of my immediate concerns and the questions this committee must answer.

The matter is a complicated one, but it concerns a very basic right. I believe that, in the context of the debate on these issues, we must first and foremost answer the following question: will these decisions best serve the interests of young Canadians?

Still on the subject of education, let us look at a few other concerns. First, minority rights and specifically the rights of the anglophone minority in Quebec.

The legislative report of the Government of Quebec indicates that, in order to protect the rights of linguistic minorities within denominational school boards, the bill would have language councils in each. I quote:

The parents of students of the linguistic minority in question will sit on these councils. As appropriate, the language councils will have sufficient authority to ensure constitutional guarantees to anglophones are honoured.

The language councils are to be consulted prior to the establishment of the schools needed for the students of the linguistic minority. They will ensure the school boards provide the minority with an equitable distribution of human, material and financial resources. In the event the school boards conclude service agreements, these agreements shall also be approved by the language councils.

All that seems reasonable. The minorities will have their language councils. That seems perfectly reasonable. However, the document continues, and I quote:

The foregoing provisions are contained in a specific section of the bill, which indicates clearly that denominational school boards and the right to dissent shall remain in force until such time as the Government of Quebec regains its full legislative powers in the field of education.

In other words once the Constitution is amended that is it for language councils.

Second, it is important to note that not all francophones are in favour of linguistic school boards. I have a stack of letters in my office from very pious, observant francophone Protestants who are concerned they will lose their own schools and no religion will be taught.

I will read one letter as an example.

Dear Mr. Price,

We have three children, two of whom have attended and one of whom still attends a French Protestant school called Le Sentier. I am writing to express my disagreement with the request of the Quebec government to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 to make school boards non-denominational in the province of Quebec. I am very satisfied with this school for which we fought for well over 15 years before it finally opened six years ago. I am totally opposed to the fact that we can be denied our right to an education that is tailored to the needs and aspirations of our community.

Therefore, I urge you not to allow our Constitution to be amended, particularly section 93.

I want to keep the right to dissent, which to me is synonymous with freedom, and I am counting on you.

And this letter is signed by Mr. and Mrs. Béliveau of Rock Forest.

In my experience in the eastern townships there has been a chaplain in all the schools. These chaplains are trained to teach and handle issues arising from different religions. This will satisfy the needs of very religious people, but will there still be chaplains?

Another concern raised by some is that without religion in the schools there is nobody to teach and instil values in Canada's young people. This has to be addressed by the committee.

The last concern to which I will speak today is crucial. The Government of Quebec is devoted to independence for Quebec. It is imperative that any decisions regarding this issue be made for the right reason, not to appease that government or because we feel threatened by the separatist government in Quebec.

Similarly we should not make a decision that only serves to frustrate the Government of Quebec. The interest of Canada's young people must be the guide.

I would like to point out something that I found very interesting. When the Quebec minister responsible for education, Pauline Marois, issued the notes for the press conference to introduce the bill she made reference to several objectives in it.

The number one objective in notes of the Quebec minister was to promote the integration of immigrants into the francophone community. While it is important and necessary to ensure immigrants are welcomed and integrated into the Quebec community, it seems that bettering the education of Canada's young people might be a more important first objective for a government serious about education, not just talking about taking Quebec out of Canada.

I would like to address the differences between the situation in Quebec and Newfoundland, and I say differences because there are very few similarities. The people in Newfoundland have spoken clearly on the issue. There has not been full public consultation in Quebec. The public needs to be consulted and this committee will ensure that the public will be consulted.

In Newfoundland two school systems are being combined to create one public school system. In Quebec it is proposed that two school systems change dramatically to create two new school systems. While the principle might be similar, the realities vary. For this reason it is important to look at the issues of Quebec and Newfoundland separately.

I am pleased that the House is getting around to considering this matter in a serious fashion. It was completely unacceptable for the government to forgo any real consideration of the last constitutional amendment that came its way. Thankfully the Senate did an admirable job last year in travelling to Newfoundland to hear all the views and concerns of interested parties. The House should not have dispensed with its constitutional duty so cavalierly, without debate and without concern.

A last concern is that it has come to my attention that this committee will not be permitted to travel. This seems strange. I hope I have succeeded in outlining the importance of this committee. It should be given the resources to conduct its job properly and efficiently. This will almost certainly mean hearing from witnesses who would not come before committees if it meant being unreasonably inconvenienced.

The eastern townships was a test case and it worked out quite well.

Let us look now at what we can accomplish together for our country and especially for our youth.

Search And Rescue Helicopters September 29th, 1997

Mr. Speaker, the need to replace our aging and unreliable search and rescue helicopters was established over four years ago. We hope the government's decision to postpone the replacement of these helicopters, at an enormous cost to Canadian taxpayers, will not have unfortunate consequences.

If there are any further accidents, injuries or losses due to the prime minister's callous partisanship in delaying this purchase, Canada will hold him personally accountable.

For the safety of the men and women who fly these helicopters, we sincerely hope we will never reach that point. Party politics have no place in the managing of our Canadian forces.