Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament April 1997, as Bloc MP for Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 1997, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Budget March 10th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I will first answer my colleague's first question, in which he refers to his government's responsibility for the state of the Canadian economy. I come back to what I just said in the last ten minutes, something that is mentioned very eloquently in the study done by economists at the Université du Québec. I remember the figures given in this study by the economists, which incidentally was published in the newspaper La Presse last Monday:

The federal budget provides for a net deficit reduction of $8 billion in 1995-96. However, slightly less than half of this had already been proposed by the previous Conservative budget.

The new Liberal cuts are thus about $4.1 billion. Of this amount, $2.4 billion is from savings made through changes to the unemployment insurance program.

So the responsibility belongs both to the previous government and to the present government, because in fact just the label has changed from Conservative to Liberal but the measures are the same.

So, yes, the present government bears some responsibility for the drastic economic situation in which we find ourselves. As I said, the present Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Finance some 15 years ago and more, was one of those who started this deficit tragedy which means that today we have a debt of over $500 billion.

On the second point, I will answer my colleague that I believe that people in all parties are sincere when they feel sorry for the unemployed and welfare recipients throughout Canada, except that a government is judged by its deeds and its actions.

In this budget, dear colleague, the cuts being made are aimed at the unemployed. Again, I take the example of family trusts, on which nothing is being done, although they could immediately have obtained large amounts from them.

If the Prime Minister or members of the government are not talking about the unemployed when they say to stop complaining, I would like them to tell me whom they are talking about. The unemployed people whom I met in my riding last week feel these remarks were meant for them.

The Budget March 10th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak on behalf on the citizens of Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead about the budget tabled recently by the Minister of Finance. Let me assure you that my constituents, like Quebecers and Canadians everywhere, have become acquainted with the measures contained in the budget and, like the Official Opposition, are extremely concerned about the budget's implications on their day-to-day lives.

In the past few days, as I was thinking about what I would say on the subject, the front page of the Saturday, March 5 edition of La Tribune caught my attention. In fact, two headlines caught my attention. I would just like to mention that La Tribune is owned by the Power Corporation. It has no ties to the Bloc Quebecois and is in no way sympathetic to the Bloc's position. I would invite my colleagues on both sides of the House to subscribe to this daily which, I might add, focusses on the Eastern Townships. On reading the editorial page, they will see that this newspaper has nothing in common with the usual stands taken by the Bloc Quebecois.

As I said, this daily newspaper is sold in the Eastern Townships and outside this region. So, naturally it also reports on the

goings-on in the riding of Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead which I am honoured to represent in this House.

As I was saying, two headlines in the newspaper caught my attention. The first one, which I would like to show to my colleagues, proclaimed the following: "Record Number of Social Welfare Recipients".

Last January, 21,539 people in my region received unemployment insurance benefits, according to statistics supplied by the Department of Human Resources Development. How in all conscience can we speak of human resources development in the face of such a high level of unemployment? In addition, 17,600 people received social welfare benefits during the same period. These figures do not include dependants of unemployment insurance and welfare recipients. In reality, what all of this means is that 28.6 per cent of the region's labour force is unemployed.

The 1994-95 budget launches an assault on the least fortunate, the very group that the Liberal government and its Minister of Finance profess to staunchly defend.

The second headline in this newspaper was a statement made by the Prime Minister of Canada which earned-the statement that is, not the headline-the applause of 700 people attending a luncheon given by the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce. I assume that very few unemployed people must have attended that luncheon. The Prime Minister is quoted in this article as saying: "Stop complaining. The time has come to stop whining, to forget about the Constitution and think about creating jobs". He goes on to say: "Stop whining-you know what I am talking about-and you will make progress".

The Prime Minister's comments show unacceptable scorn towards the thousands of people who find themselves unemployed, not because of their own iniquity but mostly because of mismanagement by all federal governments of the last 20 years, in particular that of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in which, as Minister of Finance, the current Prime Minister was one of those who started the monstrous deficit spiral that has led to a debt of over $500 billion.

However, we understand why the Prime Minister drew applause from the richest members of our society, since this government has not touched the outrageous family trust system.

I want to point out another perverse effect of this budget on unemployment insurance. I refer to the study done by three economists from Quebec University in Montreal, Pierre Fortin, Pierre-Yves Crémieux and Marc Van Audenrode. What are the conclusions drawn by these economists?

They point out that the new unemployment insurance measures are generally more stringent than the 1990 Tory reform that caused an outcry among members of the current Liberal government then in opposition, and make the unemployed bear the burden of the unemployment insurance reform now under way, which represents 60 per cent of the new budget cuts announced by this government.

According to these three economists from Quebec, the new cuts are in the order of $4.1 billion, $2.4 billion of which comes from savings made possible by the changes to the unemployment insurance program.

In the face of such measures, how can we assume that the government is acting in good faith when it claims it wants to improve income security programs through an extensive reform process and when, even before knowing the first thing about this reform, we already know that this government intends to make cuts of between $5 billion and $6 billion in unemployment insurance and who knows how much in the Canada Assistance Plan? Only yesterday, the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Prime Minister announced outside this House that they would make cuts not only in unemployment insurance and social assistance but also in old age security pensions.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister of Finance to intercede with the Prime Minister to make him show more compassion towards the disadvantaged and more common sense in the administration of federal affairs. If the government really wants to save $280 million at Quebec's expense, it only has to put Quebec in charge of managing job training programs, as all Quebec stakeholders are asking; it will thus save $250 million a year while ensuring that job-seekers receive better services.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements And Federal Post-Secondary Education And Health Contributions Act March 9th, 1994

Yes, and I repeat it, it is opposed to Bill C-3 which renews the ceiling on equalization payments, a measure which, I want to remind you, means a loss of 900 million dollars for Quebec and perpetuates the federal government's tradition of unloading its problems on the provinces.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements And Federal Post-Secondary Education And Health Contributions Act March 9th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise at this stage of consideration of Bill C-3, which was tabled by the government to renew the equalization payments program. This bill is yet another proof of the inefficiency and inequity of the federal system for the provinces, and particularly for Quebec.

In principle, this program is basically designed to reduce financial disparities between the provinces. It is more than time to see if this objective has been reached. In the case of Quebec, our province is still penalized, in the long term, by such a redistribution of revenue. Of course, some will say that Quebec receives more than its share of federal transfers, but let us not forget the historical causes which put our province in this uncomfortable situation.

Indeed, is it not strange that, since the implementation of equalization programs, the money given to Ontario was intended to cover structural expenditures such as investments in research and development, or infrastructure expenditures which have promoted a stable economic development for that province?

All these measures have weakened Quebec's position and, to this day, even if our province's contribution still accounts for more than 23 per cent of Canadian wealth, it never gets its fair share when the federal government decides to distribute monies

for structural investments. The statistics are quite eloquent in that regard, and I want to mention a few.

Between 1979 and 1989, Quebec's share of research and development was 18.5 per cent, while Ontario's was 50.1 per cent. Again, let us not forget that Quebec's contribution accounted for 23 per cent of Canada's wealth.

As far as federal investment is concerned, in recent years Quebec's share has been 15.4 per cent, with the remainder allocated outside Quebec. When we consider the value of infrastructures in the defence sector, the figures become even more revealing and damning, with Quebec receiving only 13 per cent of investments in this sector, compared with 25.8 per cent in Ontario, 34 per cent in the West and 27 per cent in the Maritimes.

While we are on the subject of infrastructure, there is also the St. Lawrence Seaway which goes back at least 30 years, in which although it did provide opportunities for ports in Quebec to expand, also stimulated development of ports in Ontario and especially the development of the automobile industry in Southern Ontario.

Meanwhile, Quebec was allocated funds for unemployment insurance and welfare benefits, symbols of a negative outlook for Quebec's economic development. As we have seen, the difference in fiscal capacity between Ontario and Quebec continues to exist, despite supposedly generous equalization payments to Quebec.

As a result, Quebec has become increasingly dependant on federal transfer payments, because its unemployment situation has always been worse than Ontario's. For decades, unemployment in Quebec has always been from 3 per cent to 5 per cent higher than in Ontario. It was a situation bound to please those who favoured authoritarian federalism.

Bill C-3 provides that the ceiling on equalization payments will not be abolished but extended for a period of five years. However, this measure negates the very principle of equalization by failing to provide for equitable redistribution of Canada's wealth. In a particularly underhanded way, it will actually reduce transfers to the provinces, and Quebec will again be stuck with paying most of the bill.

If the rate of growth of the GNP reaches 5 or 6 per cent a year, as predicted by our very optimistic Minister of Finance, that is under the best possible assumption, Quebec will suffer a loss of $900 million, or 60 per cent of the planned $1.5 billion reduction in transfer payments, solely as a result of freezing the ceiling for the next five years. That is the perverse effect of this bill.

Once more, the federal government is passing the buck in terms of the deficit to the provinces by giving Quebec and other provinces less money while their citizens require the same level of services. It means that they will have to raise taxes.

I can already imagine what the members opposite are going to say. They are going to say loudly that the critics from the Official Opposition are exclusively motivated by crass sovereigntist-if not separatist-intentions, since it seems that last week the Prime Minister learned that the Official Opposition intended to pull Quebec out of the Canadian federation.

Let us come back to Bill C-3. The Quebec minister of finance and Premier Johnson form the most federalist pair imaginable; yet even that minister of finance could not help but make some negative comments on the bill dealing with equalization payments. Naturally, as a good champion of Canadian unity, Minister Bourbeau said that he was generally satisfied with the results of the Federal-Provincial Conference of Finance Ministers held in Montreal last January. However, Minister Bourbeau made some negative comments on this bill. His criticisms take on a very special significance since Mr. Bourbeau is member of a Quebec Liberal Cabinet which was ready, as we saw with the Charlottetown Accord, to accept any shady deal to save a semblance of Canadian unity.

So, that was what the Quebec minister of finance told us in a press release dated January 21. We can consider that that declaration is still in order today. The minister said, and I quote: "However, I have a hard time accepting that the federal government decided to maintain the ceiling on equalization payments". If the Quebec minister of finance, who is definitely a federalist, declares that that decision is hard to swallow, that means it is simply ridiculous and unacceptable to the population of Quebec.

With this ceiling, we are moving away from the aim inscribed in the Constitution, which is to give provinces enough revenues to be able to provide quality public services based on more or less comparable taxation systems from one province to another.

It is always surprising to hear a Quebec minister, and a keen partisan of federalist orthodoxy, declaring himself satisfied with a provision that moves away from one of the major aims of the Canadian Constitution. But the contradiction did not end there, and the Quebec finance minister, as we saw recently, will not let a contradiction stop him.

Indeed, the minister went on to say in the same release: "Property taxes are the second largest source of revenue used to calculate equalization payments, and Quebec's fiscal capacity in that area is clearly overestimated, which results in a serious shortfall in that regard. For the Quebec government, the fact that

we have to wait for five years before this standard of fiscal capacity is significantly improved is hard to swallow".

How can anybody claim to be pleased with a measure that is so detrimental to him? The answer is quite simple and is matter of common sense. Everybody knows the perfectly legitimate position of the Quebec finance minister and his government on the preservation of federal ties. Everybody knows as well that a general election is looming in Quebec and the provincial government has nothing to gain from a confrontation with a newly elected federal government, and a Liberal one at that.

Not too many people are pleased with Bill C-3. One positive proof that sovereignists are not the only ones to condemn the ceiling on equalization payments is the declaration of the Manitoba deputy minister of finance, Mr. Newman, who recently said to the Standing Committee on Finance, right here in Ottawa:

"The proposed ceiling on equalization payments violates the spirit and intent of the Constitution. Continued application of the ceiling is unwarranted and detrimental to Canadians living in the less affluent provinces".

If you combine the principle of transfer payments to provinces with the various discretionary powers of the federal government, as is the case presently, you get a result which is particularly bad for Quebec.

Let us see what happens: first, in order to finance programs which, in many instances, are of provincial jurisdiction, the federal government levies taxes on Canadian and Quebec taxpayers. Then that same federal government creates supposedly national standards which everyone from coast to coast must observe. This is pure and simple interference in provincial affairs, and such interference is especially unacceptable, even indecent, when the federal government reduces its own contribution to programs while maintaining national standards that provinces must keep on respecting.

In other words, the federal government is asking the provinces to maintain the same level of services while giving them less money to do so. That is exactly what happened in Quebec in the health and post-secondary education sectors, which are still exclusively provincial jurisdictions, according to the Constitution of Canada. Between 1977 and 1993, the federal government's share for the provision of these two programs was cut from 47 to 34 per cent of total costs.

Then this same federal government told Quebec that it was going to keep on taxing the province more and more, as shown in the finance minister's recent budget speech, to fund both these programs. But it was going to give Quebec less money to provide services to its people. If you call such transfer payments fair, I do not know what fairness is!

In the health care area, while the federal government was continuously decreasing its share of contributions, it compelled the provinces to abide by health standards it had set. Quebec is not getting greater control over its health care system, it is getting the power to cut without being able to decide where to cut. Another one of the great inequities of the present system of transfer payments to the provinces can be found in established programs financing, under which the federal government comes and takes money from Quebecers to implement national programs according to Canadian standards, even though they do not always fit the Quebec reality.

The distinct society is much more than a hollow formula which emerged one day out of a lake that was the scene of a so-called constitutional agreement-the distinct society is, for believers, and we are among those, much more than that; it means also that Quebecers are a nation and that their specificity is rooted in a very real social and political situation.

A nation draws its sense of identity from the values shared by its people. Its programs and infrastructures should be based on these values, which should also be reflected in government programs which will determine people's standard of living. Quebecers have come to identify less and less with the standards imposed on them by the federal government. For its part, the government still refuses to recognize Quebecers' distinctiveness.

Let me give one example which the Minister of Health herself used in this House a while ago. I am talking about the network of local community service centres, or CLSCs, which Quebec established without the help or advice of the federal government. This network was set up in the early 1970s and the minister cited it as a model for service delivery. This mechanism which allows Quebecers to benefit from health care and social services right in their own community was fully developed and funded by Quebecers.

The Bloc Quebecois advocates radical changes to improve federal transfer programs to the provinces. By carrying out small sectoral program reforms, the federal government is manipulating the figures and pushing through changes which are not in the best interest of the provinces. As we have seen with the recent budget, the budget which is now before us, on the one hand, the government is slashing $2 billion from established programs financing in the area of post-secondary education and the Canada Assistance Plan, while on the other hand, it is maintaining the ceiling on equalization payments, despite the resulting inequity that I described earlier. All this just to confuse people and to make believe that the federal transfer payments system has been upgraded, when it is not so.

The Bloc Quebecois is strongly opposed to Bill C-3, which renews-

Tribute To André Viger March 9th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, today I am proud to pay tribute to one of my constituents in the Eastern Townships, Mr. André Viger, who is well known nationally and internationally and was recently inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.

As a winner of many awards, including Olympic gold medals in the wheelchair runners category, Mr. Viger is living proof that one's determination, qualities and potential are in no way diminished by physical disabilities.

With his positive attitude, André Viger is very involved in a number of associations in Eastern Townships that help the disabled maximize their potential.

I would invite all members of this House to join me in extending our warmest congratulations to Mr. Viger. Speaking on behalf of all Quebecers and all Canadians, we are very proud of what he has achieved.

Borrowing Authority Act, 1994-95 February 25th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be as brief as possible to allow the minister time to respond. I put the question to him, since he is the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and this is the area that concerns me at the moment. The minister spoke at length about government efficiency and wondered if the state got too involved. Many people do in fact believe that the state intervenes too much in their lives. Many people also feel that there is too much government.

I would like to hear the minister's views on the role of the federal government in its relations with provincial governments. I am thinking here in particular about the Quebec government and the whole question of overlap. What does he intend to do about this?

Cigarette Taxes February 11th, 1994

I have a supplementary question for the Minister of Finance.

Since the Government of Quebec will be reimbursing the full amount overpaid in taxes on cigarettes, would it not be possible for the minister to make arrangements with the Quebec government to harmonize the refund verification procedure, thus sparing governments and retailers alike unnecessary administration costs?

Cigarette Taxes February 11th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, the Quebec Food Retailers Association has explained to the Minister of Finance that the government's plan to fully refund retailers with an inventory exceeding 5,000 cartons of cigarettes the amount they have overpaid in taxes was unfair to small retailers, as they will be the only ones to incur losses, losses which are estimated at between $5 and $10 million.

In the absence of the Minister of National Revenue, I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister. How can she justify measures that will penalize only small retailers while large retailers will be getting a full refund?

Supply February 11th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, I would like, first of all, to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for St. Albert, for the motion he put forward to the House. It will certainly generate a good debate. It is quite appropriate to review government spending as a whole. Everyone will agree with that. Year after year, the Auditor General tables reports that raise disturbing matters about public spending.

This motion is pretty much in line with what we discussed yesterday during debate on the motion of the Official Opposition. Several of my colleagues in the Official Opposition asked for a House committee to be established in order to review all government spending, item by item. We were told, in particular by our colleagues on the government side, that such a committee already existed, the Public Accounts Committee, and was responsible for such reviews of government spending. I believe the comment by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier shows the need for a committee mandated by the House of Commons. I hope this would make the House more responsive to its recommendations and more likely to follow up on them.

I will conclude this comment by referring to the speech of the hon. member for St. Albert-I had to go out for a few seconds and I may have missed a short part-because I did not hear him talk about the duplications mentioned in the motion. This aspect, and I will conclude on that, Mr. Speaker, is a great concern for Quebec in particular, but also for the whole of Canada, because the costs are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. I would like to have the opinion of the hon. member for St. Albert, as well as other Reform members, on this issue of duplication of services.

Agriculture February 9th, 1994

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food decided to slaughter a Highland bull imported from the United Kingdom because, according to the department, this animal might suffer from the so-called mad cow disease. However the maximum incubation period for that disease is eight years, and this bull, which was considered to be of unique genetic value in the world, had been in Canada for 12 years.

My question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Since the incubation period does not justify killing the animal, whose commercial value is upwards of $40,000, why was the department so intent upon getting rid of it?