Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Beauharnois—Salaberry (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 35% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Bankruptcy Legislation June 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for having shared his concerns about the former employees of bankrupt companies. This is not a partisan issue. All of us here in the House are concerned by the problems faced by employees in this situation. We all agree, I am sure, that employees whose employer has declared bankruptcy without paying them their wages are very vulnerable. They face immediate and serious financial difficulties. They need protection.

However, this is not a simple matter. Each solution has its drawbacks and, on numerous occasions, Parliament has been unable to agree on the most equitable approach.

Over the years, various governments have proposed different solutions to protect employees that are good for both the economy and Canadian workers. The problem of unpaid wages and pension contributions when a company goes bankrupt has been considered by the House many times in the past. I am sure that all the members want to find the fairest solution possible.

This motion is very straightforward. It proposes to grant preferred protection to wage claims and pension claims, above all other debts.

At first sight, granting preferred protection to such wage claims and pension claims seems an obvious and effective solution with regard to employees whose employer has declared bankruptcy. Unfortunately, resolving this problem is more complicated than it first seems. As the numerous discussions on bankruptcy law have shown, preferred protection, as is the case for many other options, poses various problems.

One difficulty—and this is where previous proposals have failed—arises from the fact that preferred protection might have an effect on the ability of a company to obtain credit. This could be an important factor when it comes to risk assessment by commercial credit companies and contribute to lower credit being provided. This could have a negative impact on employment and the interests of workers in general. Commercial bankruptcy law plays an important role in risk distribution on financial markets.

I am not saying that preferred protection should be rejected as a means for responding to the wage and pension claims with regard to bankruptcies. I am simply indicating that this is a complex issue that has been discussed for a long time and that requires certain compromises.

Several attempts have been made in the past to amend the legislation. The basic principle of wage earner protection was established 50 years ago in the Bankruptcy Act, 1949. Since that time five committees have reported the possible changes: the Tassé study committee in 1970, the Landry committee in 1981, the Colter advisory committee in 1986, the advisory committee on adjustments in 1989, and the bankruptcy and insolvency advisory committee in 1994. None of their recommendations for wage earner protection were implemented.

Since 1975, eight bills have been introduced in the House and in the other place to amend the act. Only one of these bills substantially altered the provisions for wage earner protection, the bill involving the 1992 amendments to the act.

These committees and bills proposed or analyzed a wide range of approaches including wage earner protection funds financed by contributions from employers, from employers and employees, or by the government through general revenues.

Some bills proposed super priority protection for wage claims. Some bills proposed raising the ranking of wage and pension contribution claims among preferred creditors.

There is a great deal of divergence on who should pay for the cost of wage and pension contribution claims. It was nearly impossible to obtain a consensus on better ways to proceed than what is currently in the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. That is why the protection of wage earners requires further examination and consultation.

Despite the amendments to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, 1992, wage earners are still faced with particular problems when their employer declares bankruptcy and they lose their pay and pension contributions. They are vulnerable creditors who often cannot afford to suffer such losses.

As well, they generally lack sufficient information to assess the risk of not being paid what is owing to them by their employer.

To protect employees, the act as modified in 1992 gives preferred status of up to $2,000 in wage claims for services provided in the six months immediately before the employer's bankruptcy. It also protects up to $1,000 in disbursements for sales people.

In the preferred ranking, wage claims are given priority over claims of ordinary creditors but wage claims rank behind those of secured creditors.

Protection for pension contributions is provided in federal and provincial pension legislation, much of which gives secured creditors status to claim unpaid pension contributions.

Very few people would argue against the principle of protecting the claims of wage earners. Fairness weighs in favour of protecting them.

In practical terms wage earners are more likely to have their unpaid wages claims satisfied than ordinary creditors because of their preferred status. In some circumstances as well, secured creditors may allow trustees to pay accrued wages to which the employees are not entitled, strictly speaking.

Industry Canada, which is responsible for the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, is aware of the need to protect wage earners whose employers face bankruptcy.

In 1992, Parliament amended the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to extend the protection of unpaid wages. In particular, Parliament found it appropriate to increase the protection for wages earned up to six months prior to bankruptcy. This represents a doubling of the previous length of time. In 1992, Parliament also quadrupled the maximum amount that could be claimed from $500 to $2,000.

Further review of this important issue is currently under way. I am pleased to bring members up to date on the plans of Industry Canada to strengthen the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

First, in 2001, the department released a discussion paper addressing wage earner protection.

Following the release of this discussion paper, Industry Canada officials undertook cross-Canada consultations with stakeholders to help identify a fair solution.

The act was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. To assist the committee, Industry Canada prepared a report describing the wage and pension protection problem, proposing possible solutions and setting out the views expressed by stakeholders about these options proposed.

I can say that the parties were generally of the opinion that wage earners are vulnerable creditors who need protection when their employers go bankrupt. There was considerable support for enhancing the priority protection for wage earners. However, the views expressed varied greatly as to the relative priority they should be given.

The committee has undertaken its study and will no doubt give the matter full consideration.

In conclusion, the minister provided these details to give my hon. colleagues from all parties an assessment of the situation.

I submit that there is great interest in the whole question of wage earner protection following bankruptcies, but finding a fairer solution than what is now available will require a good deal of hard and thoughtful work during the forthcoming parliamentary review.

As I said in my opening remarks, this is not a partisan issue. Several different governments have already grappled with the question. Each option for wage earner protection has its advantages and disadvantages.

Industry Canada is currently working to identify a fair solution to ensure the protection of workers whose employers go bankrupt.

Lobbyists Registration Act June 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, it is rather unfortunate that my colleague across the way has focussed solely on lobbyists who represent the private sector.

Bill C-15 is not only about lobbyists representing the private sector. As well as these who are seeking to meet members, ministers, public servants, there are also lobbyists representing not for profit organizations, public bodies and community groups. There are plenty, and I often have them come to my office. I often have visits from them.

They are merely trying to make a point, and goodness knows the hon. member has belaboured it. In all of the speeches I have heard, there were comments about all manner of things that had nothing to do with the main subject at hand, which is the amendment made to Bill C-15.

I would like to see the member also address the fact that Bill C-15 obliges people to file returns. Legislation on lobbyists is not there to stop lobbying. It is there rather to encourage that activity and provide a framework for it, so that there will be greater transparency and so that the public will know who they are and what they are doing. That is the purpose of this bill.

As a result, it concerns the entire community, all public and parapublic bodies, all NGOs, and there are plenty of them. I will give one example. Sainte-Cécile cathedral in my riding was burned down. How many people do you suppose wanted to meet with the people at Canadian Heritage? They want to meet the minister or the senior officials to discuss their problem. They are not coming here to make money, but to look for help. As a result, they want to have the opportunity to meet with decision-makers. We want to know who these lobbyists are and what positions they held previously. That is what the proposed amendment will clarify.

So, Bill C-15, which has existed for many years, goes even further than the lobbying legislation which exists in Quebec and which was introduced only last year. Quebec did not have lobbying legislation until then. The province was forced to pass legislation last year, or two years ago, because of scandals that surfaced under the former PQ government that was in power at the time. Quebec understood that there needed to be rules for people, especially former employees who worked in offices and who were setting up companies and lobbying. That is what the Government of Quebec learned, and so it drafted legislation to regulate lobbying.

The bill before us amends an act that has been around for years and, in fact, promotes access to officials, politicians or ministers. The bill on a code of conduct for members, for parliamentarians also further clarifies the role of members of Parliament. Contrary to what my colleague opposite says, the role of members of Parliament is not to lobby.

Members are elected to study legislation, to sit in the House and to vote on bills. Our main role is not to lobby for a business or an organization in our riding. That is not the basic role of a parliamentarian. We are here to draft, debate and vote on legislation.

It would be nice if the member opposite could at least have a more open mind and discuss some of the benefits of the act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act in Canada in his speech.

Lobbyists Registration Act June 4th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I have heard what my colleague from Saint-Jean has said. In a way, he is not wrong, but even one of the greatest sovereignists in Quebec, Mr. Lebrun, has described the Canadian parliamentary system as the finest parliamentary system there is. Churchill said that, while not perfect, there was nothing better.

In all countries, be it France, England, the United States, Canada, any of the major countries, there is a second chamber. There is a reason for this. I was one of those who questioned senatorial appointments. I would likely prefer to see them elected rather than appointed, except that I do see the Senate as having a role to play. It is the one to balance things out for the regions, compared to the House.

Quebec can elect 75 members, and Ontario 101. For Prince Edward Island and the west, however, the situation is a bit different. Thus its role becomes more important, but the role of those who are in the Senate should be that of wise men and women. Perhaps there ought not to be any partisanship when senators are appointed; perhaps they would need to be appointed the same way judges are.

In this instance, I find that the amendment proposed by the Senate is justified. It is one, moreover, that had been raised by an Alliance MP at the time, and the Senate reworked it. The senators found a flaw and have proposed this amendment, which is totally in order today.

Lobbyists Registration Act June 3rd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to open the debate on the amended version of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act. This version differs only slightly from that passed March 18.

The Senate made only one amendment to correct an inconsistency discovered in an amendment passed by the House at third reading.

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot moved the original amendment during debate at third reading. I understand that he supports without reservation the change recommended by the Senate.

Obviously, the Minister of Industry considers this amendment appropriate under the circumstances.

The Senate's amendment and the original amendment moved at third reading are fully within the meaning of Bill C-15, which is to create a lobbyists registration system that works well now and that will work even better in the future. It is about creating a more transparent lobbyists registration system that is easier to enforce and that continues to earn the trust of Canadians.

The House has every reason to approve the version amended by the Senate. Rapid adoption of the bill means it will be able to receive royal assent and be implemented.

Before addressing the substance of the amendment made by the Senate, allow me to take a moment to remind the hon. members of the context for today's debate.

As my hon. colleagues from all sides of this House will recall, the review that led to Bill C-15 was a lengthy and comprehensive one.

While the original lobbying legislation dates back to 1989, parliamentarians and the public were concerned that it might not go far enough to allow a thorough public scrutiny of lobbying. In response to these concerns, our party promised improvements to the lobbying regime during the 1993 election campaign.

We delivered on our promise. Our government introduced a bill to review the Lobbyists Registration Act, which Parliament passed, and a new act came into force in 1996. This act resulting in the development of the code of conduct for lobbyists and led us to work tirelessly to ensure the efficiency of the new system.

This work has met with success. Gone are the public concerns, which were commonplace ten years ago, about agreements entered into behind closed doors. Why? Because the Lobbyists Registration Act and the system supporting it have brought a high level of transparency to the situation.

A balance has been struck between four principles: first, free and open access to the government is an important matter of public policy; second, lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity; third, concerning transparency, public office holders and the public must be able to know who is trying to influence the government; and fourth, with respect to efficiency, a registration system for paid lobbyists must not hinder free and open access to the government.

That having been said, enforcement of legislation normally reveals what improvements are necessary. That is what happened with the Lobbyists Registration Act.

In 2001, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology reviewed both the system and the act. It tabled its report, in which it recommended that the government make a number of changes and take a closer look at certain questions.

The government has followed up on these recommendations, consulted further and produced Bill C-15.

In addition to the usual housekeeping and technical amendments designed to correct minor drafting errors, the bill has three main components.

First, it contains a clearer definition of lobbying.

Second, it simplifies and standardizes registration requirements for all categories of lobbyists and strengthens the applicable cancellation requirements.

Third, it establishes more meaningful enforcement powers.

Neither the House or the Senate standing committees put forward amendments to the substantive elements of Bill C-15.

There were discussions and debates on specific points, but at the end of the day, parliamentarians from both Houses agreed that Bill C-15 would solve some key issues effectively.

Nonetheless, during debate at third reading, the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot put forward an amendment to increase the amount of information required from lobbyists. More specifically, it amended subsection 7(1) and added sub-paragraph 7(3)( h. 3). Under this sub-paragraph, lobbyists who are former public office holders would have to describe their former duties as part of the registration process.

As the hon. member himself later admitted, this amendment included an unintended loophole. It required information only from corporate lobbyists and lobbyists working for not-for-profit organizations. Consultant lobbyists, who provide lobbying services under contract to companies, organizations, or other clients, were not required to provide the same information.

It is clear that this amendment is inconsistent with the pervasive theme of Bill C-15, which is the equal and transparent application of registration requirements to all lobbyists. Having seen this loophole, the hon. member wrote to the Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to ask that this omission be corrected. The committee made the correction as requested and the Senate accepted the amendment, which is the only change that was made to the version passed by the House in March.

Essentially, what we have before us is a significant administrative correction we have every reason to accept. It makes absolutely no change in the major thrust of the law, but merely adds one additional detail in the interests of uniformity and greater transparency.

As a result, Bill C-15 as amended will enable us to take one more step toward being able to meet Canadians' growing expectations as far as ethical issues are concerned. It will be compatible with the other steps taken by our government, such as increasing the number of auditor general reports, departmental measures broadening the internal audit procedures, and the adoption of a more comprehensive code governing the conduct of holders of public office.

This bill constitutes one more means of keeping the promise made by the Prime Minister when he revealed his eight-point ethics plan last June. It falls in line with the measures aimed at introducing a guide for ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries in connection with ethical and other issues, as well as with the new rules governing interactions between ministers and crown agencies.

The Senate has asked us to make one minor change to a bill we have already passed once. It is a reasonable change, and one we should approve. We will thus be able to implement the improvements proposed in Bill C-15 to the Lobbyists Registration Act. We will be able to make a system that is working well now work still better in future.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003 May 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I should say first that there is no such thing as a surplus in the EI fund. Some say there is, but there is not. In the past, with the plan put in place by the Progressive Conservative Party, there were deficits year after year, and they were covered by the consolidated fund.

There has been a new plan since 1994. There were a few years of deficits, but we now have years with a surplus which can be used to lower the contribution rates.

In 1997, for example, the provinces took charge of the design and implementation of the programs I mentioned earlier. They can target these programs to address various problems. They can have programs providing targeted salary subsidies, targeted income supplements, measures to help self-employed workers, and job creation partnerships.

What we need is action to address current problems, but also to prepare the manpower on an ongoing basis so we do not experience the same problems again. These are human problems that are hard on families.

Budget Implementation Act, 2003 May 12th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I simply want to tell my colleague that the Government of Canada is very concerned with the situation, particularly with the crisis that New Brunswickers are currently going through.

It is very sad to see workers who depend on a resource that is being depleted faced with such a situation. We cannot sit idly by. We must get involved and this is what the Government of Canada is currently doing.

For example, my colleague mentioned that $91 million is being transferred from Human Resources Development Canada to New Brunswick, as well as $600 million to Quebec. This is for manpower training programs, but there is some leeway in these programs. There are even programs in Quebec where some people can also receive benefits during the training period. So there is some leeway in this regard. But this does not solve the problem.

Despite this, on top of this $91 million that is under the responsibility of the New Brunswick government, Human Resources Development Canada is still involved with other partners. We are constantly in contact with people in the field.

Local committees were established in 2000, four of them in Quebec and one in New Brunswick. HRDC implemented various projects in order to help seasonal workers in New Brunswick. We provided $360,000 for the creation of two service centres, in order to help seasonal workers in New Brunswick find a job during the off season. We are trying to do something in that regard.

Since the creation of those two service centres for seasonal workers, 421 people have joined the program in the northwestern part of New Brunswick. Of those people, 219 were able to find additional work, either part-time or full-time jobs. Some 219 jobs were filled that way. Of those 219 workers who got help, 123 were helped directly and 96 indirectly through heightened awareness of employers.

This simply shows that even if we have a program like employment insurance, we are trying to find ways to help regions with seasonal workers during off seasons. However, this does not solve a crisis, and I believe we are all aware of that.

We even brought in changes to employment insurance in order to fill the needs of seasonal workers. Thus, we eliminated the intensity rule, and that benefited frequent users of the system, many of them seasonal workers. My colleague from Gaspésie, Mr. Farrah, did some extensive work on that issue in the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

Workers are in a precarious situation, but HRDC is working every day to support these people and find a solution.

International Transfer of Offenders Act May 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, we have to understand that the Competition Bureau is a quasi-judicial tribunal. Therefore, it has a certain degree of autonomy and may, on its own, initiate investigations. The Bureau does not have to wait for an order from the minister to proceed.

The question is how can the Competition Bureau launch an investigation. It can do so in two ways. It can do so on its own initiative, because of prices, noting that something is not functioning properly and that it will investigate. It can also investigate if someone has tangible evidence. This evidence must be filed with the Competition Bureau and an investigation will certainly follow.

International Transfer of Offenders Act May 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to deal with the question raised on February 18, 2003, by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques regarding retail gasoline prices.

Our response on this topic is clear. We believe that a fair, efficient and competitive marketplace provides Canadian consumers with the best prices and encourages companies to innovate and offer new product choices.

As everyone knows, the Competition Bureau is an independent implementation organization responsible for administrating the Competition Act. The act contains criminal provisions that prohibit price fixing and price maintenance as well as civil provisions that deal with mergers and abusive behaviour by those in a dominant position among others.

All these provisions apply to gasoline and other petroleum products. If there are facts that indicate that prices are the result of an agreement between competitors, for example, proof of written communication between competitors, the Competition Bureau will take the appropriate measures. Representatives of the bureau will examine all information or proof that suggests possible anti-competitive behaviour regarding gasoline prices.

We also need to place this issue in the broader context. We must keep in mind that outside factors have had an influence on gasoline prices in Canadian markets: the war in Iraq, a political crisis in Venezuela that affected its oil production, a cold winter in northeastern North America and abnormally low reserves across the continent. All of these factors exerted pressure on the price of crude oil, which, as everyone knows, has an impact on the price of gas in Canada and around the world.

In the past, the Competition Bureau has conducted a number of reviews of domestic markets for petroleum products.

Since 1990, the Competition Bureau has conducted four major investigations into the petroleum products industry and has found no proof suggesting that periodic increases in prices are based on national or regional collusion to limit competition in the provision of oil products. It is important to note that each period of increased prices has been followed by a drop in prices to previous levels.

I can assure the hon. member that where the Competition Bureau finds that companies or individuals have engaged in anti-competitive conduct, it has no hesitation whatsoever to move quickly with appropriate action.

International Transfer of Offenders Act May 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I would inform the hon. members that surviving spouses of members of the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit will receive the benefits to which they are entitled under the existing legislation.

On February 10, the hon. member indicated that the government had promised that the eligibility criteria would be broadened to provide benefits to the spouses of members of the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit.

I would like to remind the House that under the existing legislation, spouses are entitled to programs and services such as disability pensions, veterans benefits or the Veterans Independence Program.

As hon. members probably know, veterans and their families have access to numerous programs and services. Many Canadians probably do not know that Veterans Affairs Canada provides some $1.38 billion a year in disability benefits to veterans, that is traditional war time veterans or younger former members of the Canadian forces.

International Transfer of Offenders Act May 5th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, after the second world war, there were limited benefits available but, in time, the troops had access to a wider range of benefits.

The Canadian program of benefits and services for veterans is considered one of the best, if not the best, in the world. This program is proof, not only of the current government's commitment, but of that of successive governments to the heroic men and women who risked their lives to protect our values and our way of life.

After the second world war, our country, in recognition, provided the necessary support and assistance to help several million veterans make the transition to civilian life. Civilian groups such as the Newfoundland overseas forestry unit and the Canadian corps of firefighters in the second world war, which had also served overseas in support of the war effort, had limited access to veterans' benefits.

Now, members of the Newfoundland forestry unit and their spouses have access to the same programs and services as our veterans and their spouses. They must obviously meet the eligibility criteria. This applies to veterans and civilians who have served overseas.

This provides the context for the question put by the hon. member to the Minister of Veterans' Affairs, which is “Will the government deliver on the promise to provide benefits to the spouses of members of the Newfoundland overseas forestry unit?”

Although this question does not deal with specific benefits, I think that the hon. member is referring to survivors' benefits.

Veterans Affairs Canada pays disability benefits to veterans disabled in the course of duty. Upon their death, the surviving spouse may receive for a one-year period, the pension amount paid to the veteran at the time of death. After one year, survivor's benefits are automatically paid.

The department also pays an allowance to veterans and civilians who have served overseas; eligibility is determined according to service record, age, health, income and place of residence. This allowance is subject to an income assessment and serves as an income supplement up to a set amount.