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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament November 2005, as Liberal MP for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2004, with 48% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, that may be his comment, but it is factually incorrect. Unless the opposition days are exhausted, the hon. member will be familiar with the fact that the government cannot bring in the supply days, so obviously the government has to produce the number of opposition days necessary in order to arrive at these votes. That is obvious, and the hon. member knows that I am sure. That is the way it works.

Now if the hon. member is arguing that he wanted an opposition day on a particular day, an opposition day is a government order. A government order is set by the government and it is of course announced on the floor of the House by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. I held that position previously for some seven and a half years. I designated a number of opposition days in my time. I changed a number of days.

No opposition day officially exists until the day starts. The minister introduces an informal calendar, which he produces for the benefit of members. It did not even exist until I became House leader. Following this, the minister designates an actual day on the Thursday prior, and the minister can reverse the designation any day, even when that occurs. I have done that countless times as well.

The hon. member has not listened to the answer. Maybe that is why he is asking these questions.

Committees of the House June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is mistaken insofar as how the rules work for these appointments. Let me go back a little bit to the history prior to the modernization of committees.

Prior to modernization, some order in council appointments for officers of Parliament were debatable, some were simply by order in council, others were debatable and votable by one House, and others were debatable and votable by both houses. It was a mishmash. No two were the same, so we unanimously agreed to a rule change at the time.

I invite the hon. member to confer with some of his own colleagues who worked very hard on this. We made them all uniform and we said that we would appoint all officers of Parliament. There would be a possible review by committee, if that is what the members wanted. Then when the candidate's name appears before the House, it would carry by a majority vote. For all the appointments, it involves a vote in both houses, the ones that are in legislation anyway. There is one exception, which is the Chief Electoral Officer. That is voted on only in the House of Commons, but in the case of removal, both houses have to vote.

Getting back to the case at hand, the appointments are non-debatable and votable right away. That is the way the process works. Because it involves an officer of Parliament, the threshold of approval is very high. It is not in the rules, but if I were appointed privacy commissioner or something like that, and I am not running for this or any other position for that matter because I am retiring, the threshold would be very high. We would not want to be an officer of the House unless we knew that all parties, or at least a critical mass of them in the House, thought that we were able to do the job. Otherwise, it would be very complicated to do. It is the same for the new Ethics Commissioner and all the others.

That is how the process works. It is not just a matter of the government choosing someone to its liking and imposing that person on the House. In modern times, that would be very difficult to do.

In the case that we have here, the person was a Liberal MP, a Liberal cabinet minister, and the enthusiasm was generated largely by opposition members. The person has now served his term. I have no idea whether the government will propose him again, but I consider Mr. Reid as having been an excellent commissioner. That is how the process works.

I have explained it now to the hon. member. Perhaps we can do the opposition day motion, if the opposition has any grievances at all, which it probably does not.

Committees of the House June 14th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I was a bit surprised this morning to learn the subject of today's debate.

A few weeks ago in the committee which I have the honour to chair, a number of Conservative MPs created a spectacle by complaining that they were not getting what they judged to be a sufficient number of opposition days. At that time, the committee decided it would report the issue to the House in its 35th report. The Conservatives then argued that not only did they need more opposition days, but they wanted them right away because they wanted to debate opposition issues.

Today is one of those days. Instead of debating their own opposition day, in which they should indicate their perceived failings in the way the government administers the business of the nation, opposition members have decided to filibuster by discussing a concurrence motion in a committee report. I guess they have been unable to find anything wrong with the government.

They claim that is not the case, but I challenge them to this. The next time they have an opposition day, what would happen if a Liberal moved concurrence in a committee report thereby displacing their opposition day? Presumably this would be perfectly okay because after all that is what they are doing to themselves. If they are doing this to themselves, presumably somebody else doing it to them would be similarly correct. Otherwise why would they be doing it now?

You are truly objective in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and non-partisan so you have probably fairly evaluated at this point the fact that the Conservative opposition does not know what it is doing, at least this morning. I will let others decide about other occasions. Clearly this morning those members do not want to debate their own opposition day.

What is the purpose of an opposition day? It is historically and constitutionally a process by which the Sovereign is not granted supply until the grievances of the people have been heard. That is very clear in our rules. The grievances of the people are manifested, in parliamentary terms, by way of opposition days and listening to the debates. Once all opposition days are exhausted, we vote on supply, which we will be doing tonight. Once we start with the supply bill, there is no more debate on the bill because debate was held prior to the bill's introduction on the floor of the House. That is the way the process works.

Today we were supposed to listen to the grievances of the people as manifested by the opposition days. This morning opposition members are saying that they have no grievance. They do not want to debate the grievance they said they had when they tabled their opposition motions. That itself is very indecisive on the part of the opposition. They cannot make up their minds what they want to grieve because they have tabled half a dozen opposition motions. They then have to decide whether one of them has any legitimacy for debate in the House of Commons.

I guess this morning they looked at the list of their so-called grievances and concluded that none of them had any merit. Having done that, the only thing left for them to do was to move concurrence in a committee report. Concurrence in the committee report in question has to do with reappointing an officer of the House, not a government official.

We are talking, here about the hon. John Reid, who is the Information Commissioner of Canada. I am somewhat familiar with Mr. Reid's file because I was the one who moved the motion a few years ago that he be appointed to this position. At that time, another candidate had expressed interest but he failed to receive the unanimous support of the House. Mr. Reid had not officially submitted his name. Some members of the House, even some members of the opposition, suggested that the government consider appointing or officially submitting his name as a candidate, if he was interested. He was. The hon. John Reid, a former minister, expressed interest in this appointment. Prior to this, he had co-sponsored the Access to Information Act. He was well known in the field and continues to be today, since his appointment. In my opinion, he has done an excellent job.

John Reid's name was put forward for this position. He appeared before a parliamentary committee, and his appointment was approved by a unanimous vote in the House, as we all recall. This happened during the previous Parliament, some five years ago, I believe.

Today, some members feel Mr. Reid ought to be reappointed. I do not know if this is possible under the rules. He is certainly highly competent. The government will decide whether it wants to propose him again as a candidate.

A parliamentary committee is of course absolutely free to congratulate an officer of Parliament on his work. This is evidently what the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics concluded in tabling its fifth report. That is all very well and I have no objection to the process or to the fact that the committee made that statement, and that it is submitted to this House.

What I do have trouble with is that the opposition made such a fuss a few weeks ago about not having its quota of opposition days. In fact, the committee I have the honour to chair was asked to table a report in this House setting out this shortcoming. Today those same members who were demanding their opposition days are in the process of holding a filibuster on the opposition day they themselves asked for. I just do not get it.

I have been in this House for some time, and I find this parliamentary strategy a bit hard to understand. Normally, MPs, particularly those in opposition, consider these opposition days something sacred in a way. They are, to some extent, because they are part of our constitutional conventions to which I have already referred, which require that the grievances of the people must be heard before we vote on supply.

That is what we are doing, or at least what we should be doing today. The members opposite have the opportunity to debate this or that government policy, be it agriculture, foreign affairs or what have you. They have a chance to say that it is not to their liking and that the policy should contain more of this or less of that. They can fault the government for not having done as much as it ought to in connection with this or that issue, or for having done too much in connection with some other. These subjects of debate are totally legitimate. That is why we are here. That is the reason the opposition itself raised in demanding that the 35th report be tabled.

I will summarize that report, on the off chance that some members may have forgotten some points in the text.

The 35th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which I have the honour of chairing, need I point out, said:

Pursuant to its mandate under Standing Order 108(3)(a)(iii), the Committee has considered a change to the Standing Orders.

The Committee recommends that Standing Order 81(10) be amended by adding the following:

(d) For the Supply period ending no later than June 23, 2005—

That is the supply period ending this evening, the deadline being June 23. So we will decide tonight, and this is the last opposition day.

—if the government has not designated any of the remaining six allotted days so that an opposition motion can be considered—

This is oddly like what could have happened today, had the opposition chosen to exercise its mandate. According to the Constitution, the opposition must want, by definition, to make the grievances known. The leader of the opposition calls himself the leader of the government in waiting. So, the leader of the opposition wants, rightly or wrongly—this time, I think, wrongly—to replace the Prime Minister. To do so, he must explain to the Canadian public as forcefully as he can, why his ideas are better than those of the government, using the opposition days.

That is not at all what is happening. That is not at all what the opposition is trying to do this morning.

I will continue to read this motion because I know the hon. members find it interesting:

—that May 19, 2005 shall be so designated—

What they wanted the other day was to get as many opposition days possible as quickly as possible. They did not want to miss out on any before the end. However, we are now coming to the end and the opposition finds, believe it or not, they have one opposition day too many. They no longer want it.

I have a question for the New Democrats. If they were offered an additional opposition day, would they take it? I think they would. There are, no doubt, issues the New Democrats would want to raise in this House if they had an extra opposition day. I am sure of it. How is it that the New Democrats would have an issue to raise and the Conservatives seem not to? Do they not have any more matters to address, nothing more to do or to ask? They feel the government is doing a good enough job that there is no need to question it during the last day reserved for that purpose. As a parliamentary strategy, it is nothing to write home about.

I will continue to read the motion from the report I tabled on behalf of the committee that I chair:

—the vote shall not be deferred beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on that day.

According to the opposition members, it was so urgent to have opposition days that the vote could not even be deferred until the next day. They had to have as many opposition days as possible as soon as possible and the votes had to be held the very same evening, such was their need to denounce the government.

Now what do we have? The opposition has a day left over. It ran out of things to ask the government. It put a number of motions on the order paper for supply. It should only be putting one in any event. That was the intent of the first modernization report which I chaired, but that is another matter. Then it looked at all of them and guessed that none were legitimate. None of these so-called grievances were worthwhile raising, so the opposition moved concurrence in a committee report instead of debating an opposition day motion on the last opposition day and the last opportunity that we have to do so before the summer adjournment.

Therefore, I ask all my colleagues sitting on this side of the House, is this what an opposition party should be doing? I know my colleague from Scarborough--Rouge River sat with me in opposition. When we were in opposition, and I was there for a long time, we never ran out of things to ask Brian Mulroney. We never ran out of subjects to raise on opposition days. We know of course that when the Conservatives were in government, they had a number of shortcomings.

Given all the shortcomings that the Conservatives had at the time, we had lots of things to ask of them on the floor of the House. We never ran out of subjects to ask. We never filibustered our own opposition day in order not to get to orders of the day because we wanted to debate our opposition day motion. We wanted to keep the Prime Minister of the day accountable. First, because that particular government had many shortcomings; and second, we saw it as our duty as a government in waiting because that is what we were. We waited very patiently, particularly from 1988 to 1993, as my colleague from Scarborough-- Rouge River will recognize, and then in 1993 having duly waited as the government in waiting, we became the government.

Why did we become the government? It was because the previous government was not very good. As a matter of fact, it was bad. We held it accountable which was our duty and then the Liberals were elected. That is what happened in 1993.

The spectacle we have before us is an opposition day with the opposition having run out of subjects to ask the government. It is filibustering its own opposition day to avoid holding the government accountable. If that makes sense, I guess I will have to eat my hat.

Employment Insurance Act June 13th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, I want to ask if the Chair has had the time to consider this matter, in other words, did this bill require a ways and means motion.

I am raising this question in reference to a Speaker's ruling on a Senate bill during the last Parliament. That bill sought to impose a levy on cigarettes that would have gone into a separate fund. The money collected would have gone to good works, such as a campaign to prevent youth smoking. It was highly commendable.

However, I told the House back then that this was a levy or a tax. Since it was a tax, the Chair decided at that time that the bill required a ways and means motion, if my memory serves me. I invite the Chair to consider this further. This was my first point.

I would like to raise a second point. Given that we have a large number of these bills coming up in the future, as Mr. Speaker has correctly said, we will begin third reading knowing that we cannot complete that stage of the same bill.

I wonder if the Speaker has ever thought that we should maybe ask that before we begin the third reading stage of a bill, the government either indicate that it will provide the royal recommendation, or otherwise the time of the House will be taken up to debate a motion namely, the acceptance of a bill at third reading, knowing that the bill will never be voted on.

I thought I would offer those two items respectfully.

Firefighters June 10th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the provocation, I will get back to the original proposition because I support the motion and I support the fund. I hope the minister proposes the fund, which is exactly what I said to the firefighters who came to see me. However, that is not an excuse for us to disobey the law under which we operate. Parliamentary law is just like any other law and we must live with it. The hon. member knows that.

I think we could all work together in soliciting the minister's support for establishing a fund the way he wants it. An initiative of the crown can be generated and a government bill can be generated. The government bill then requires a royal recommendation, which is sought from the Governor General. It then is produced as government legislation. If he is willing to work with many of us to do that, I am sure there would be the support of several hon. members.

It does not matter who is listening to the debate or not. I have been around here long enough that I will not supersede the laws which govern us because of the political expediency of the moment. The issue is a very serious one.

I helped my constituents to establish Fondation Fernand Lanthier in my riding, known to some of the people listening to the debate right now. Fernand Lanthier was a firefighter. After fighting a fire, he had to have his legs and one arm amputated. With the stress of that, he suffered a heart attack and died. The man lived in Plantagenet. As far as I know, his widow might be listening to the debate. She knows the work that we all did together to establish a foundation. I started this during my days at Queen's Park and my provincial counterpart continued on with it. Eventually we won our case before the Workers Compensation Board.

In terms of the need for a fund, I am the last person around here who needs to be convinced. I was talking about this before many members ever set foot in this place, and I believe it today.

I ask the member if he will work together with all of us to generate within the law that governs us exactly that which he wants and I will support it? I know the hon. member probably knows that is how I think because I am sure firefighters have told him that too.

Firefighters June 10th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, a little earlier today I rose very briefly on a point of order to indicate to Your Honour why the amendment in question was out of order. I deliberately made it very brief so as not to interfere with the debating time of others.

However, Your Honour, I must indicate that the amendment proposed is out of order. It offends both initiatives of the crown. First, only a minister can propose that which is said. Second, the hon. member knows it and that is why he did not move the motion.

Firefighters June 10th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have a list of procedural points to indicate to Your Honour that this motion would be out of order and therefore I cannot give unanimous consent.

Agriculture June 10th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, my question is also for the Minister of Agriculture. The Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, or CAIS program, helps protect producers from drops in income. However, producers have raised with me concerns about money being tied up in the CAIS account.

Will the minister please tell the House what actions he intends to take, together with the provinces, to respond to the concerns of my constituents?

Supply June 7th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I support the main motion and the amendment. However, I do want to raise another point. We cannot conclude today's debate without talking what I consider to be a major problem in western society: being overweight.

Being overweight is a very important determinant of cardiovascular disease and some cancers too. However, it is not a determining factor in other diseases. We know there is a link between the rates of cancer—such as prostate cancer—in men and being overweight. This is not always the case, of course, and I am not claiming otherwise. Whatever the case may be, there is a direct link between being overweight and diabetes, although not juvenile diabetes.

In my opinion, any debate on health must consider the problems associated with being overweight or obese, a problem afflicting western nations, particularly Canada. We eat a lot of fast food. This issue deserves consideration.

I invite my colleague to respond to the following proposal. In the past, advertising campaigns, particularly the ones from ParticipAction, encouraged Canadians to be physically active. To some degree, we have turned our attention elsewhere lately. I think we need to focus on this again. The health of Canadians depends on it.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act June 3rd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. member opposite. First, I did not want to raise a point of order earlier, but I take this opportunity to point out that this is a new expenditure for the Crown. We would take money out of a federal agency to hand out to the provinces. I do not think there is any doubt that this involves an expenditure. The hon. member opposite said that these programs are not new. As you know, this has nothing to do with the issue.

Here is an example. If I introduce a private member's bill that provides for the hiring of 100 inspectors by Agriculture Canada to inspect some kind of food that was not inspected up to that time, the problem will not be the hiring of inspectors in a new area, but the fact that a greater number of inspectors will be hired. So this is an extra expenditure, even if it is in the same category.

The member argues that he is not proposing new programs and that he is only suggesting taking money that is in the government's coffers and transferring it to provinces. However, that is of course money spent by the Crown. Be it the same program, an old program or a new one, a royal recommendation is needed, in my opinion, because it is a new expenditure.

The criteria are different in the case of reducing revenues. For example, if the bill sought to reduce premiums or something like that, I admit that it is not always the same criteria that apply. Here, in the House, we have had examples of private members' bills, which I did not always like, that sought to reduce the tax rate for certain people. The Speaker said that that met the requirements of the Standing Orders. The government's revenues were reduced, but there was no new expenditure. The criteria are different.

In any case, many Canadians wish to become homeowners. Without mortgage loan insurance, many would not be able to buy a house, ever if they could afford the necessary monthly payments. This is because many families would find it hard to save money to make the down payment for a normal loan. The down payment is always a problem for first-time buyers, particularly for young people and people with children.

Through its mortgage loan insurance, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, has helped millions of Canadians finance the purchase of their home with a down payment of only 5% and interest rates comparable to those offered to buyers making a down payment of 25% or more.

I suspect that most of us in the House have, at some point, benefited from the mortgage loan insurance of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It is easy to say today that the CMHC has higher reserve funds than before, through sound management by the current Prime Minister and the government. However, this does not mean that we should be less careful in how we manage public funds.

The Canada Mortgage and House Corporation approved more than 650,000 mortgage insurance applications last year. In some cases, the CMHC mortgage loan insurance has allowed individuals or families to buy homes sooner, giving them a head start on the road to financial stability.

There is no doubt that the sooner people buy their first home, providing of course that they can make the monthly payments, the sooner the cycle of mortgage payments will finish. Owning their own home, presumably without a mortgage, will provide them with the kind of stability that people enjoy when they own their home.

In other instances, the CMHC has helped open the door to homeownership for countless Canadians who might otherwise have been unable to buy a home of their own. For others it has played a key role in increasing the availability of affordable rental housing or the supply of beds in nursing homes, retirement homes, shelters and so on across the country, including the riding that I have the honour and privilege to represent.

Over the years the CMHC's mortgage loan insurance programs have also evolved to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements of the housing industry and the changing needs of Canadians.

While its investments in solid risk management tools and cost effective processes has meant a strong financial performance, the CMHC has consistently and proactively lowered its insurance premium to maximize the number of Canadians it can assist in attaining their dream, the dream of home ownership.

For example, the CMHC lowered its home owner mortgage loan insurance premium for the second time in two years this April offering first time home buyers with 5% down a total reduction of 30% in their mortgage insurance premiums relative to what it was a mere two years ago.

I do not know about other members in the House but I sure wish my car insurance and my regular home insurance could have premiums of 30% less than what they were two years ago.

If the CMHC is able to achieve this, this means that it has had prudent management, it is well run and it has been able to give these kinds of reductions for the benefits of Canadians who have mortgages.

At the same time, the CMHC has introduced a further 15% premium reduction on affordable rental housing developed through the CMHC's partnership centre, as well as a full waiver of premiums for rental housing projects funded under the federal affordable housing initiatives which were designed to serve those in greatest need.

To stimulate construction of affordable rental housing, the CMHC has also made several improvements to rental property mortgage insurance in recent months by permitting, among other things, high value loans in this sector; by reducing mortgage insurance premiums for rental properties; and by providing more leeway to borrowers in terms of cash flow, cash advances and conditions of repayment.

To allow more Canadians to obtain residential mortgage credit, the CMHC continues to improve its guidelines and to develop new mortgage insurance products. In recent years, it has introduced insurance for loan-to-value ratio refinancing loans provided to occupant-owners, and for mortgage guaranteed lines of credit, to provide Canadians with more flexibility in managing their finances.

To assist more buyers, the CMHC has also introduced a new product, thus enlarging the sources of funds permitted to form the down payment. CMHC has also improved its policies to allow self-employed Canadian workers and people buying a second home to obtain mortgage loans with a high loan-to-value ratio more easily than in the past.

The CMHC has established a track record of helping to make housing more affordable and accessible for all Canadians in every corner of the country. As all members of the House will know, in recent years Canada has experienced an extremely strong, healthy housing market thanks to the good finances and the well run government of this Prime Minister. That is why we should reject the private member's bill before us today, unless of course the Speaker rules it out of order at third reading, which I suspect he will.