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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Gatineau (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Federal Public Servants September 23rd, 1994

Mr. Speaker, for many years, federal employees working in the National Capital Region have had to cope with upheavals that have changed their lives. The Conservative government destroyed the morale of the region's public servants, but it paid a price for its ill-advised partisan policies.

All studies on decentralizing federal services should be suspended immediately. We need a five-year moratorium on transfer of public servants.

Treasury Board should prepare specific guidelines that are sensible, cost-conscious, and consider the impact on public service morale and whether services will really be improved.

As members of the National Capital caucus, we intend to defend our position and demonstrate that these plans are a big mistake. Specific guidelines issued by Treasury Board would prevent the party in power from transferring services for political reasons.

Construction Industry May 11th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to raise the subject of housing starts in this House.

Increased interest rates had no negative impact whatsoever on housing starts in April. In fact, the residential construction sector was given a boost by a more positive employment situation, increased consumer confidence and a steady resale market. The month of April ended with positive results for builders across the country.

Total housing starts nation-wide, on a net basis, increased by 5.9 per cent, rising from 149,000 units in March to 158,000 last month. Housing starts for individual homes have reached their highest level in 16 months, totalling 75,000 homes in April, an increase of 19.3 per cent over the 63,000 reported in March.

Agriculture May 10th, 1994

Madam Speaker, I would just like to bring to the attention of our colleague that the period is long enough, I am convinced, to adapt to new international regulations. The problem with the six years does not lie there.

What I am concerned about in the six-year period, is whether our neighbours to the south will really follow the rules of the game. I do not wish to prejudge, but we have seen in the past that our neighbours to the south, the Americans, do not always follow the spirit of the agreement. The issue of Grand Pré milk that you have raised is a classic example. In my opinion, they found unfair tactics to prevent Grand Pré from keeping its products on the shelves of stores in Puerto Rico.

Agriculture May 10th, 1994

Madam Speaker, I must say to our colleague from Vegreville that I have always been sold on the system we have whereby we have control of the markets and the production. I have always been sold on that aspect of it.

The member posed the question: Is it good that one section can benefit by this and another section will suffer? I do not believe so.

To go back to the member's first question, I mentioned that when we came in with the gestion de l'offre-I forget the term in English unfortunately, but marketing boards or whatever it is. It is true that when it came to milk production, Quebec was the big winner with 48 per cent of the production in Canada. At that particular time in our development, yes Quebec was the big winner, but I do not think we expected it to be the big winner all of the time and it was not. There were other times when it came to agriculture in Quebec that it was not the big winner. It was probably the west that benefited. However, that was another particular time.

Over a period of 25 to 30 years, if we have in mind to correct the shortcomings, we will all benefit. We cannot feel that at one time we benefited more than at others. It just so happened that the milk production and the way we had structured it was very favourable for Quebec. But it was very favourable for the whole of Canada also in the way that our farmers were guaranteed a price and they could produce a product that was second to none from the point of view of quality and otherwise.

I do not see any problem. We have to look at the long term in agriculture. That goes for our attempts by our new Minister of Agriculture to open up in Asia and elsewhere. It is going to take time. In time we can solve our problems providing we all work together and not one against the other.

Agriculture May 10th, 1994

Madam Speaker, of course, agriculture is a crucial sector in our country's economy. Like the industrial and technological sectors, it plays a capital and inescapable role. That much is crystal clear. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade better known as GATT will come into effect in 1995.

For the first time in the history of international trade, GATT will subject the agricultural sector to a set of predetermined trade rules that will apply to all countries.

Article XI has been replaced with customs tariffs that will allow our supply management systems to survive in a new era of international trade.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the agriculture or agri-food sector in our national economy, and I listened with interest to my colleagues opposite, the hon. members for Québec-Est and Vegreville, whose criticisms were not unjustified, far from it. I agree with them that there is certainly room for improvement and, as the hon. member for Québec-Est talked about grain transportation, there is no question that this government must resolve the issue of grain transportation.

It is true that it does not make sense, that there are no excuses in the world. But let us not forget that the problem has been around for years. We are not more responsible than others, except that our government has a duty to find a solution.

Although the grain and wheat sector was extremely important, previous governments let the situation deteriorate from month to month. There is no excuse and I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister are very aware that solutions must be found.

We cannot let a sector of our economy suffer as was the case in the past. There are so many issues at stake in the agricultural sector but I just want to address a few that were mentioned by our colleagues.

The hon. member for Québec-Est said that the failure of GATT with article XI-well, a failure-when all the countries in the world agree on an issue and want a trade agreement, it would be rather difficult for us to go against an agreement signed by all the other countries. Some claimed that the six-year transition period was too short, but I think that six years is more than enough time to adjust, especially with today's technologies.

Let us consider the little time we had to adjust to free trade. I do not want to start an argument with my colleague, but you used to belong to a political party that was in favour of free trade and you did not criticize the fact that we had very little time to adjust to the changes caused by free trade.

Free trade came in at a bad time and many Canadian companies were affected. The hon. member's own leader was one of those who favoured that free trade agreement-even your other colleagues in the Parti Quebecois did all they could to elect the previous government in 1988.

In any case, that transition period was so short that we have suffered the consequences. We must be consistent and know what positions we took in the past. So your argument about six years for agri-food does not stand up. I think that six years is reasonable. It is one of the factors.

Our colleague from Québec-Est also mentioned a company. I do not know if it is just by chance or because the field interests me, but he referred to a Quebec company called Interal Marketing Inc. which produces Grand Pré milk. This Quebec company exported its product to Puerto Rico where it held 40 per cent of the market and provided a good return to Quebec.

This problem arose a few years ago and I was interested in it. When I was in the opposition, I had the opportunity to raise the issue in the House and to make representations for the company.

I spoke many times with the company president, Michel Gilbert, and very recently I wanted to find out what the decision was. A panel of Canadians and Americans was set up to solve this problem, since Grand Pré makes its product in accordance with hygiene and other standards. I wish to inform my colleague from Québec-Est that I received a letter from Mr. Gilbert which says: "Thank you very much, Mr. Assad, for following up the above-mentioned matter. As a result of your efforts, the minister"-meaning the former minister, Mr. Wilson-"finally decided to refer the matter to a panel".

This question of Grand Pré is an important factor. They went to the panel. I heard recently that this panel's decision will be known in a few weeks. Like the officials at Foreign Affairs who are dealing with this issue, I am sure that the decision will be favorable and that Grand Pré products will be back on store shelves in Puerto Rico and regain the market which they held before. This is an important point.

Since the free trade agreement, many Canadian companies, not only industrial companies but also agri-food, have had difficulties. We know that the Americans have used tactics to limit access to the U.S. market because they knew that we could compete and had quality products.

As our minister said, the quality of Canada's agri-food is probably among the best in the world. That is no exaggeration; we know it is true.

As regards the part of the Department of Agriculture's budget allocated to the West, to Quebec or to any other region, the hon. member for Québec-Est said that the situation may be a blessing in disguise, because since Quebec farmers were receiving less, they set up various co-ops such as the UPA, an organization with which I worked in the past when I was a member of the National Assembly. This may provide part of the answer; it may be true. However, I am not prepared to say that Quebec did not get its share.

Let us go back to the days of Eugene Whelan, the former Liberal Minister of Agriculture who created the supply management system and quotas for dairy products. I know that the hon. member for Québec-Est worked for Mr. Whelan's department then. When milk quotas were established, which province got the lion's share? It was Quebec of course. That province was providing 48 per cent of the total dairy production. This was a major component of the province's agricultural sector. I knew many Quebec farmers who had milk cows. This was a phenomenal success for these people. Their family farm increased in value, they had a guaranteed income, and things were going well. This is something which must not be overlooked when you look at the situation of Quebec's agricultural producers.

Indeed, it is a blessing in disguise that we have to create various bodies. I attended several meetings held by the UPA and other agricultural organizations in the riding I represented as member of the National Assembly, and it is true that many initiatives were taken by our farmers in Quebec, but this is to their benefit because the market is very competitive right now. The technological sector has a major role to play. This past experience will certainly help us in the future.

As regards horticulture, I had a meeting a few days ago with officials from a Quebec provincial organization. I was told that a fantastic market exists, just south of here, in the Boston region and certain parts of New York State, where the population exceeds 15 million people. There is a very short but very important period during the year for Quebec producers, especially in the field of fruits and vegetables, when they can meet the demand.

Over the years, the agricultural sector has taken an increasingly important place in our economy. I even said before that agriculture has become more important than national defence. If we leave that sector in the hands of our neighbours or other foreigners, we will pay for that and the price might be very high. Consequently, I believe it is necessary, and in fact it is this government's responsibility, to correct the mistakes made in the past. I am convinced, considering the Minister of Agriculture's determination, that we can arrive at solutions.

I hope that the hon. member for Québec-Est will stop comparing the East and the West, or Quebec and the West, because this simply does not solve our problems.

Party Fundraising May 6th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on this motion on party financing put forward by the hon. member for Richelieu.

One of the speakers opposite referred to the Lortie Commission, a commission which has investigated extensively and heard the testimonies of numerous witnesses who wanted to voice their opinions on political financing. At the time, I had seized the opportunity to very humbly submit a brief on party financing because this is a subject I have been interested in for many years, even before I had the privilege of representing the people of the riding of Papineau at the National Assembly. All this to say that my main concern was with the way political parties were funded. I maintain, and I am not the only one, that the way political parties are funded leaves much to be desired. I have read extensively on the subject and I have come across a solution I consider very practical, yet revolutionary. It is from a professor at the University of New Brunswick who was completing a doctorate, and the subject of his thesis was party financing in Canada.

In this thesis, it was demonstrated that indeed, the easiest and most democratic way of financing political parties would be to eliminate all contributions from companies, labour and other organizations and allow only individuals to make donations or contributions to political parties. No companies, no legal, architectural or engineering firms. We all know the gamut of contributors to party funds. There is no need to elaborate. I do

not think that large contributions are made out of love for democracy. We must absolutely look at this issue.

I say this as the member for Gatineau-La Lièvre. I have had many discussions on this with my fellow citizens and they fully support the opinion which I have always expressed, not only in this House, but also in Quebec's National Assembly and before the Lortie Commission, to the effect that changes must be made. If we believe that we are a democratic society, then we must make changes to the financing of political parties.

I want to go back to the New Brunswick professor. I discussed this issue with him and, in fact, I had a question put on the Order Paper to get information to help him in his work. That person claims that only a citizen of Canada should make a donation and that the maximum allowed should be one dollar. One might say: How are we going to finance political parties? It is very simple. We are here to represent all Canadians; consequently, we should be elected only by individual Canadians and not by lobbies, law firms or engineering companies. Our fellow citizens should be the only ones allowed to financially help us get elected.

So, that person suggests a one-dollar limit. How would that be done? It is very easy. For all intents and purposes, one dollar per Canadian amounts to $25 million. That $25 million would be divided each year between the political parties. I will not get into technicalities here, but it would not be complicated. According to the professor, the procedure would be very simple-it only takes two pages-and the distribution would be done very democratically, thus ensuring that political parties would have the necessary monies to conduct their activities.

Subsequent to the conversations I had with this professor, I learned about the amount of tax refunds the governement of Canada grants to people who donated to a political party. You have all heard about tax credits and other such things. I do not have to get technical and go into details. Suffice it to say that such contributions entitle to tax credits. In 1990, in particular, these tax credits reached $20 million. And this does not take into account the management of the system, etc. In other words, it would almost amount to an economy for the state if people were contributing the funds needed to operate democratically the political parties of Canada.

This idea is very attractive and deserves careful thought. I submitted it to the Lortie Commission, which found it very interesting, but the opinion is divided on this issue. The principle is very simple.

If we believe in a democratic society and if we believe that one could represent people in this House without having to accept contributions from anyone, this would be the ideal situation. That is the goal aimed for in our society, because we know human nature. There is nothing illegal involved, but such is human nature. There are people making contributions who are very sincere in their contributions to a party or a candidate.

However, we have to take into account that we always have to find means to keep it as democratic as possible. I personally felt that this professor from the University of New Brunswick had a magic solution to this problem.

We do not have all the data, but we could have a closer look at it. I would have liked to speak longer, but the principle, the notion is very clear that only individuals, the people, our fellow citizens, should finance our election to this House.

In concluding, I would like to put forward the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by substituting to the figure of "$5,000" the figure of "$1".

Supply May 3rd, 1994

Madam Speaker, after listening to the member for Charlevoix who dealt with many subjects, I will come back to the issue of taxation, because that is what we were discussing this morning.

He talked about the need to reform the tax system. Of course many people have called for that. The hon. member is on the finance committee. Last night, I had the opportunity, as a member of Parliament, to testify before that committee and talk about the need for tax reform. In the brief I presented, I spoke of the need to reform the tax system.

There is something we can refer to. Twenty-five years ago, maybe more, there was a well-known royal commission of inquiry on the tax system, the Carter Commission. Twenty-five years later, the Carter Commission's recommendations are still valid today. The tax system must be improved to make it fairer and more equitable. We need consider only a few figures to realize that in the past 15 or 20 years, the tax system has worked against the welfare and interests of the middle class, which for all practical purposes is the backbone of any modern economy.

Of course, in a society like ours, when the middle class has disposable income, the economy is moving. But as the years go by and taxes are so high that incomes go down, we see the problems that we have in Canada now. These are only some indications of the reform that must be made to our whole tax system, including the GST, of course, which was a disastrous error for the country.

I would like to draw your attention to some figures and show you how unbalanced our system is. Back in 1980, the richest 1 per cent of Canadians at that time held 16 per cent of all the wealth and income in the country. That is just to give you an idea. Ten years later, only ten years, which is not much in the history of a country, in 1990, the same top 1 per cent held 26 per cent of all the income and wealth in our country.

Did those people invest? Did they make wonderful investments in the country? Not at all. They used the tax system to their advantage. Please note that everything they did was not illegal, far from it; it was legal, they were protecting their own interests. They used the tax system; they found loopholes in the act to protect as much as possible their wealth and revenue. This gives you an idea of the imbalance which prevails.

Another figure also shows that problems exist. Everyone agrees that the accumulated deficit is enormous, but 44 per cent of that deficit is due to compound interest. This means that 44 per cent of our accumulated deficit is not due to any actual spending. That part of the deficit is the result of compound interest. As you know, interest rates were very high for a period of 12 years. Even our interest rate was one third higher than the American average for 12 consecutive years. You can see the damage caused by that situation to an economy.

Is my time up, Mr. Speaker?

Rwanda May 2nd, 1994

Mr. Speaker, the world's worst tragedy is currently taking place in Rwanda. In a country of about five million people, 100,000 are reported dead so far, while 250,000 have taken refuge in Tanzania or Burundi.

A call for action is necessary and urgent. The UN forces were reduced from 2,000 to less than 300. The bishop of South Africa, Edmund Tutu, made a plea for help, asking for the return of UN forces to Rwanda, to implement a ceasefire and help a population subjected to unprecedented violence.

Pearson International Airport Agreements Act April 27th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, listening to the analysis presented by our colleague opposite, it appears to be a black and white issue. His view of history betrays prejudices which have no room in our world.

Sure, if you look at our history, you will find that not everything was perfect, but an analysis such as yours is bordering on slander. I wonder where you found all those data to reach such a negative conclusion. It is unfair. There are two sides to every story and you must take it into consideration when analyzing situations like this one, especially going all the way back to 1840.

Would you be willing to consider the benefits of our confederation, one of the best in the world? It will be difficult to convince you that, were it not for the Canadian federation, you would not have been able to maintain a second official language. It would have been impossible anywhere else but in Canada. We are the only living proof of that in the world.

Commemorative Medal April 11th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I would like to deal with the motion in which the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona proposes that the federal government strike an honorary medal for Dieppe veterans.

Like all Canadians, we have great admiration for Canada's veterans. No one has been more devoted to our country than these brave men and women, and I am still in favour of giving the greatest recognition for the services they rendered.

Of course we support the intent of the hon. member in presenting this motion, but I believe, as the hon. member for Charlesbourg said a moment ago, that other Canadians sacrificed their lives in the Second World War. We would not want to give the impression that we are overlooking not only those who sacrificed their lives but also those who were injured or marked for the rest of their days. That is not our intention, far from it.

Under the circumstances, and I believe that the hon. member for Charlesbourg was right to raise this issue, I feel that there is certainly another way to proceed. I believe that discussions on this matter should continue with the association of Dieppe veterans and prisoners of war-that would be a step in the right direction. I sincerely believe that the process of consultation should be given a chance before asking the House to act. Above all, we want to show that everyone who fought in the Second World War is on an equal footing.

Nothing can diminish the heroism of the Canadians who took part in the Dieppe Battle. They showed incredible courage and a great deal of determination on that truly memorable day of World War Two. Because of their bravery, these Canadians will always have a special place in the history of this country.

On August 19, 1942, at daybreak, a little under 5,000 Canadians were in position off the coast of Normandy, prepared to risk their lives to break through Hitler's defences, known as Fortress Europe, and to open the way toward liberation. However, as soon as they set foot on the beaches in Dieppe, they realized that theirs was a totally impossible mission. What lay ahead was an absolute nightmare. Hundreds of young Canadians were killed by enemy snipers shooting from positions on top of the cliffs.

We know now that they had been assigned an impossible mission. The surprise effect was ruined. Small groups did manage to approach their objectives, but most of the soldiers were easy targets on the beaches, as tanks got stuck in gravel and could go no further. For many of our men, attempts to make it back to the landing craft proved futile. Finally, fewer than half of the Canadians, many of whom seriously wounded, managed to escape this hell and return to England.

Losses were extremely high. Some 2,000 became prisoners of war and 907 were killed that day. News of this tragedy caused consternation from coast to coast.

I have known many veterans in my riding as well as in my home town, and I have heard quite a few stories about the Dieppe Raid. It is obvious that we are indebted to these men and women for their self-sacrifice; some gave their lives and lie buried in Normandy.

The hon. member's initiative cannot go unnoticed. It is up to us, on this 50th anniversary of that battle, to remind the people of Canada of the great sacrifices that were made for our country. If we have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and peace after the war, it is thanks to these people. It is our duty here to express our gratitude for it is the highest form of justice on this earth.

I am convinced that these veterans will realize that Canadians never forgot what they did for their country. So, we should support our colleague's motion, which proposes changes designed to pay tribute to these people.