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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament November 2009, as Bloc MP for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Unemployment Insurance Act March 11th, 2009

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-339, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (maximum--special benefits).

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill is to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 45 weeks.

We have all had people come to our riding offices who have cancer or some other disease and are eligible for only 15 weeks of benefits, with no other income after that.

It would be far more realistic to allow the duration of these benefits—the number of weeks—to be equivalent to what it is at present for someone who is unemployed, with the possibility of correcting that in future. It would then ensure a decent income for someone experiencing a very difficult situation, particularly in the case of cancer.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Mining Industry March 11th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, a group of Ecuadorians is suing Canadian mining company Copper Mesa and the Toronto Stock Exchange for $1 billion in damages. Copper Mesa allegedly hired paramilitary groups to terrorize opponents of its copper mining project in the Andes.

Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs finally give a favourable response to the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries report, which he has had for two years now and which would make it possible to bring delinquent companies into line?

Business of Supply March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I would tell my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse that today’s debate should be the most instructive period for the Conservatives since the government returned after the election.

We have shown in black and white how government lawyers are pointing to loan guarantees as an acceptable measure under the agreements. For weeks, the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) has been saying the opposite. Today, we have the evidence that Export Development Canada—EDC—is giving the okay to this kind of measure. The lawyers who represented the Government of Canada before the courts in London did the same thing. The Conservative government is the only holdout. That is why we have tabled a proposal that calls for these things. I agree with him concerning the utility of wood construction. Thank goodness we can agree on that point. The Quebec forestry industry has issued a distress call to say that it needs loan guarantees. The Conservative government is the only one that does not want to move forward, even though its own lawyers admit that loan guarantees are a good management tool and the one that should be used.

Will my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse intervene with the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec) and the Minister of International Trade to ensure that this tool will be available so that our industry can get through the current crisis and move toward recovery? Obviously, we must use all the other tools available but this is one that is important and which the Conservatives have unacceptably deemed off limits.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, in the past, the NDP has had valid ideas when it came to social equity. However, when it comes to the softwood lumber agreement, it is completely out of touch with reality. Again last week, I met with forestry industry leaders and workers. They said they were happy that the agreement had been signed, that it was not the best agreement in the world, but it was something. They told us that the agreement absolutely has to be maintained because it contains a dispute mechanism. They added that even if we lose some cases, we can win others. It relieved them of the sword of Damocles, which the Americans were dangling over their heads.

I would be willing to bet that during the latest federal election the NDP lost at least 5 to 10% of the vote in my riding because they are so out of touch with this reality. People do not want to hear that the agreement should be denounced and that it would have been better to live worse off without it. People felt that the Bloc Québécois position on this was reasonable and asked us to continue supporting this agreement. Today, we continue to defend workers and industry leaders. The forestry industries of Quebec and Ontario need the tools that the Bloc Québécois are bringing forward, which the Conservatives still refuse to accept.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, the Bloc Québécois' new private forests critic. The Bloc Québécois is the first party to have such a critic.

The Bloc Québécois decided to dedicate this day to the fact that the forestry industry, the industry as much as the workers, has been neglected, forgotten by the federal government. Why do we have to dedicate a day to this debate? Because the federal government has decided to have a double standard. On one hand, there is the auto industry that deserves a real helping hand. The federal government decided, for example, to go ahead with loan guarantees, offering companies the opportunity to get help from the government. On the other hand, there is the forestry industry, which has been abandoned by the federal government.

During question period, we saw—and this may prove very instructive for the Minister of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec), who was saying that loan guarantees could not be used by the federal government because they are in conflict with the free trade agreements—that its own lawyers, before the London Court of International Arbitration in connection with the softwood lumber agreement, and the civil servants at Export Development Canada, EDC, are basically giving the okay to loan guarantees for the forestry industry.

Why is the government now the only party that does not want to go ahead with this measure? The Bloc Québécois' work could result in success for business if we manage to make the government understand that the tool is available, that we can move forward, that we can offer loan guarantees to prevent companies from going bankrupt, not because of mismanagement, but because the U.S. market has shrunk dramatically. We have to make the government understand that we need a transition period, perhaps six months or a year, during which companies can go forward with loan guarantees, get the money they need, keep working, and maybe even buy equipment to improve productivity. That is the purpose of the Bloc's proposal today.

We know that the softwood lumber agreement, though not great, could have been worse. We had to sign it. In the past few weeks, industry representatives and workers in my riding have reminded me that the Bloc did the right thing when it supported the agreement. Now, the industry needs another helping hand because the U.S. market has dried up.

My riding is blessed with cross-border industries in Saint-Pamphile and Daaquam that mill American timber in Canadian mills, in Quebec mills, and then resell it, mostly to the American market. Luckily, they are exempt from the softwood lumber agreement. Unfortunately, they are not getting that kind of support from Economic Development Canada. The federal government and the ministers involved seem to think that the forestry industry's time is up, but thousands of jobs depend on it, and those jobs will last. There will always be a market for wood. If Quebec and Canada fail to do what must be done in time, they will have a much smaller share of that market in the future.

This morning, the United Nations issued a reminder that one way to combat the slowing economy is to invest in silviculture. That is one of the approaches we could use. A lot of workers are out there planting trees. These people help create carbon sinks to absorb carbon, and their positive contribution will help us address climate change challenges.

The federal government, however, as is the case in so many sectors, is not sensitive to this reality. It is not doing enough to move forward on this file and it continues to view forestry as an outdated industry. It is nothing of the sort. It is an industry that definitely has a future, if the federal government moves forward on this.

There are also other measures the federal government could move forward on, primarily involving benefits that could be given to workers who lose their jobs. In a forestry community, in a municipality that depends on the forestry sector, when 25, 50 or 75 workers lose their jobs, this has a significant economic impact, an impact on their families and on the entire community. In that respect, the federal government has an excellent tool to intervene.

The Bloc Québécois is proposing the elimination of the waiting period when people qualify for employment insurance. At present, during the first two weeks of unemployment, unemployed workers receive no benefits, even though they pay into the system from the very beginning. This is an appalling feature left over from the old employment insurance system, which people paid into only after working for a few weeks. Since the Liberal reforms in 1994, people must pay into it from the very first hour, but they do not receive benefits right away.

The federal government is looking for ways to stimulate the economy. One of the best ways would be to eliminate the waiting period and give unemployed workers employment insurance benefits beginning the very first week they are unemployed, thereby allowing them to remain consumers and keep the economy going. Apart from the tax cuts we have seen in the past, if we could return the favour now to those who were the key players in tackling the deficit, we should give them back their employment insurance benefits beginning on the first day of unemployment, by eliminating the waiting period.

With this motion, the Bloc Québécois is fulfilling precisely the mandate it was given, which is to defend the interests of Quebec. There is a need to do so in various areas, and particularly in economic matters. The incomes of families affected by the economic slowdown have to be protected. In that regard, measures have to be taken to move forward. My colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques will certainly address that issue as the critic for these matters.

I would like to point out that the slowdown has been such that, in the forestry industry, the sawmills that cut wood and the paper mills have been affected. However, those who often take a hit are the woodlot owners, who are not getting paid. They have to stop cutting wood because the prices they are getting are not enough to support production. In that regard, the government could have put forward a measure to help them trough these difficult times.

This Parliament must therefore go ahead and vote for the Bloc's motion which, among other things, proposes concrete action, as we did last fall with respect to the economy in general. We were the only party to do so. For the forestry industry, we are proposing loan guarantees. I discussed that proposal at the beginning of my remarks. Loan guarantees are permitted under international agreements and the FTA. We have demonstrated this. This was further evidenced by the representations made to the courts by government lawyers.

We are also calling for the establishment of a policy to encourage the use of lumber in the construction and renovation of federal public buildings. This is a specific measure the federal government could implement, which would not cost the government more in the end and would allow it to use lumber. As with all aspects of the economic slowdown, the buying power has to be maintained. When governments decide to implement infrastructure programs, they do so to keep the economy going. Deciding to build buildings with lumber would keep the forestry economy going. That would be a meaningful benefit.

We would also like to put in place measures to support the production of energy and ethanol from forest waste. It has become evident that ethanol produced from corn can be harmful to the environment. Energy products derived from forest waste are far less harmful to the environment, produce good results and use an under-utilized resource.

Therefore, the Bloc Québécois has decided to use this day to discuss the forestry industry. This issue concerns several ridings as it directly affects employment in logging and milling, the paper industry and the entire wood processing sector throughout its territory.

In the past, in Quebec and Canada, there was a sort of social pact whereby seasonal workers in resource regions could qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. In turn, they produced goods consumed in major centres. The Liberal reform of employment insurance in the 1990s broke that pact. It has never been re-established by the federal government.

We hope that this government will take action in this period of crisis. We need innovative solutions and these must be introduced by the federal government. Today, the Bloc Québécois is presenting constructive proposals and hopes that the Conservative MPs, especially those from Quebec, are listening and will ask their government to take action.

At this juncture, Quebeckers are being told that there is help for the auto sector but that the forestry industry is being sacrificed. Many Quebec and Ontario regions find that unacceptable. Our forestry industry needs proper support equal to that received by the auto sector.

The Bloc Québécois is launching this appeal on behalf of all Quebec communities that depend on forestry.

Business of Supply March 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add to what my colleague has just said. We have been told lately that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations believes that in the current period of economic slowdown, silviculture would represent an excellent investment to enable our forestry workers and people in our regions to have good jobs. This is employment for the future that would also fight the effects of climate change.

Would it not be possible to revive the Eastern Quebec Development Plan, for example? The federal government provided funds to the province, which made the appropriate expenditures. Would it not be important and useful to move in that direction at this time?

Afghanistan March 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister acknowledges that success in Afghanistan will not be achieved by military force, which is even more reason to rebalance the mission, particularly through respect for human rights, international laws and the Geneva convention.

At the next NATO summit, will the Prime Minister raise the question of torture by Afghan authorities and the application of the Geneva convention to the conflict in Afghanistan? This also concerns the protection of Canadian soldiers.

Afghanistan March 4th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the same applies to the protection of Canadian soldiers taken prisoner. We are also asking this question on behalf of our own soldiers.

The Prime Minister recently acknowledged that the success of the Afghan mission cannot be guaranteed by military means. Respecting human rights is always imperative. However, by transferring prisoners who are at risk of being tortured, Canada is in violation of section 12 of the Geneva convention.

Will the Prime Minister remain consistent with his recent statements and immediately halt the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities?

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act March 3rd, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would again like to congratulate the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for taking the initiative in presenting this bill. I had the opportunity to work with him on the Standing Committee on Finance and, although I do not wish to cast any aspersions, I would not put him in the left wing of the Liberal Party. This gives the bill even greater merit, because he considered the fact that it would be advantageous to the entire industry, as well as all operations in such countries, to move forward with Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries.

I am rather surprised by the government's position, considering that March 27 is fast approaching, the second anniversary of the report on the national round tables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries. The government member says the bill is redundant, but I do not think it is.

The members of this House want the government to take action on this. We are currently examining this bill, a motion will be debated next Monday and another bill is the subject of a notice on the same issue. It is therefore in our best interest to examine this bill, and the Bloc Québécois will support it, because we think it is a step in the right direction.

Here are a few facts: 60% of mining companies are registered in Canada; these companies contribute over 40% of global budgets spent on mining exploration; and it is estimated that approximately US $2.2 billion is invested every year by these corporations in exploration activities abroad. Thus, we see that this is a major economic force and that a great deal of investments are made abroad.

It is important to look at the social and environmental responsibility of Canadian firms abroad, especially Canadian mining companies. The Bloc has been concerned about this issue for a very long time, in fact, since 2001. At the time, we put forward motions to require companies to comply with certain criteria.

I do not believe it is possible to simply rely on companies' good faith. Most companies, like most people, are honest and do their work properly. Unfortunately, some demonstrated in the past that they had unacceptable behaviour, and it is our responsibility to discipline Canadian companies working abroad and give them the chance to behave in a way that is respectful of the entire industry.

Canada is a world leader in the mining industry. It has a huge presence in Africa in particular, where most companies are Canadian and American and are incorporated or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Canada therefore has a vested interest in making sure that these companies behave acceptably, as its international image is at stake.

For a number of years, several companies have been directly or indirectly associated with forced population displacements, significant environmental damage, support for repressive regimes, serious human rights violations and sometimes even assassinations. We must put an end to this savage behaviour and have much more definite enforcement. That is why the Bloc Québécois has always defended the need to impose standards of social responsibility on companies that work abroad.

But the federal government has always defended the principle of laissez-faire, preferring a voluntary approach, which unfortunately is what the government representatives are still calling for today in this debate. We also defended the recommendations in the report entitled National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries. It is important to note that these recommendations were unanimously supported by civil society and the extractive industry.

I gained an awareness of this issue through Development and Peace, a NGO that is mobilizing citizens on the importance of ensuring highly ethical behaviour internationally. They conducted a post card campaign. Thousands responded to the appeal by Development and Peace. We must thank them for this initiative. Many thousands sent post cards asking their MPs and the government to promote this issue. The bill before us reflects this concern.

This bill does not contain all measures found in the roundtables report but it does seek to ensure that extractive corporations will act responsibly and respect international standards for human rights and environmental law.

The bill assigns responsibility for preparing guidelines to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Practices reflecting these standards are based on recognized documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each MP is to receive an annual report on the application of this law. In this regard, the bill is headed in the right direction. It is important to support it and to ensure that it will be studied in committee. At that point, we can take a closer look and determine whether the roundtable recommendations should be added to the report.

The report examined the social and environmental responsibility of Canadian corporations working abroad and issued 10 recommendations urging the Government of Canada to adopt a number of very specific measures to:

—ensure that Canadian companies have the necessary knowledge, support and incentives to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and in conformity with international human rights standards.

Three specific committee recommendations proposed some concrete objectives relating to the Canadian government's assuming responsibility for follow up and more effective monitoring of Canadian mining operations.

The committee's recommendations were described by several Canadian NGOs as real breakthroughs. There was much hope of their prompt implementation. However, it was pointed out that problems such as those raised by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development would increase in number and severity in the years to come. So the present inaction of the government, its lack of response to the report thus far, is one way of contributing to the disorganization and this is unacceptable behaviour. It is therefore important, this finding and the government's insistence on voluntary measures with other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the other OECD member countries notwithstanding, that there be a more specific legal framework for Canada and for Canadian companies.

We do not share the Conservatives' belief that the responsibility needs to be laid at the feet of the host countries or the industry. The issue for these countries and for the extractive industry is to ensure that natural resources contribute to reducing poverty and promoting economic and social development, and the mining industry does fulfill that function. The problem does not arise from economic development in the developing countries, but it comes from the way certain businesses behave, businesses that should be subject to more supervision and possibly more discipline.

I have referred to our desire to integrate a number of improvements into the bill. Among them, I mentioned the creation of an ombudsman position. We will need to look very seriously at the possibility of integrating all of the recommendations into this bill, even though it might need a royal recommendation in the end. I understand that the hon. member wants to see his bill passed. That is completely normal. But why not put some effort into giving it more teeth and making it more effective? The bill needs to contain as many possibilities and as much efficiency as possible. That aspect of the bill can be improved, and I am convinced that the hon. member will concur and we will be able to move forward with it.

In conclusion, despite these shortcomings, Bill C-300 is a step in the right direction. It fails to act on most of the round table recommendations, but a step in the right direction is still progress. That is why we support this bill in principle. We believe that the situation is so critical that we must act now to ensure that Canadian resource extraction companies comply with international human rights and sustainable development standards so that Canadian companies can contribute to economic development, social development and the redistribution of wealth worldwide, not just to exploiting natural resources with no concern for how they do it.

We can ask the Chinese and Indian governments to introduce environmental protection or worker's rights regulations, but the Government of Canada has to abide by the same standards.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act March 3rd, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would quickly like to congratulate the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on this initiative. We have been waiting for almost two years for the government to respond, and I quite liked the explanation he gave about the bill in terms of royal recommendation.

There were many recommendations in the report from the national round tables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries. I understand that the member may not be able to remember all of the recommendations that pertain to royal recommendation.

Is he open to improving the bill when it is studied in committee, especially in terms of a mechanism that would allow the appointment of an independent ombudsman who could pursue complaints?

In his bill, it is provided that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade would receive complaints. But that could create a conflict of interest for them.

Would he be open to this possibility if it did not create an issue with royal recommendation?