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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was problem.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 25% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Madam Speaker, we could start with a little reminder: Walkerton. This is what happens when a government places itself at the service of lobbyists and not at the service of the people. This is not an ideology, but greed.

Walkerton is a small town that was having its water tested by the government. One fine day, the Harris government, on the advice of lobbyists, decided to privatize the lab studies. So the private company, which was supposed to do much more for a better price, decided to make it much more profitable. The tests were erroneous and the residents were poisoned.

Unfortunately, this is the type of situation that we are facing. Once again, a government on the right decides to listen to lobbyists rather than face its duties. In this case, on one side, we have a very old Canadian union that was established in 1911. This union has taken part in many conflicts and has also brought many benefits. It created the context of a permanent, professional and non-partisan public service. It was an essential element in 1911. The petty politics of personal involvement were banished.

This union has become one of the best organized, most democratic and most powerful unions in Canada. It was part of many struggles in Canada. Over the years, it has created for itself a good collective agreement, with fair wages for fair work. It also established a defined benefit pension plan, and of course indexing has been added to protect pensioners from inflation. A clause for survivor's allowance, without penalty, has also been added to prevent the spouses of pensioners from falling into poverty. The union even gave same-sex couples the same rights long before any other unions. This is a very rich, very well capitalized pension plan with blue chip stocks in banks, Canadian financial institutions, PotashCorp and so on.

Unfortunately, plans like this one are coveted by everyone across Canada. This was obvious based on how quickly the government decided to intervene in the case of Air Canada. What was the problem at Air Canada? We were told that a strike at Air Canada would trigger an economic calamity, even though the company issued a press release telling everyone not to worry because the strike would in no way compromise the company.

Yet the government said it had to intervene immediately, that the union had to be crushed, that someone must prevent it from protecting its defined benefit pension plan. That was crucial in the case of Air Canada. The big shots that supposedly saved the company suspended pension contributions. Combined with some bad investments, this led to a $2.1 billion deficit in the fund, an actuarial liability for the company.

We can only imagine what a lovely gift the government was about to give the company. By waving a magic wand, it was going to force the union to come back, to give up its defined benefit plan and, as if by magic, between $500 million and $1.2 million would have disappeared from the deficit. The net worth of shareholders was going to jump by over $1 billion in just one day. Would that not have been great? That is what the Conservative Party is all about: friends first, the people second, like in Walkerton.

The postal institution is as old as Canada. As a joke, we used to say that, even before the RCMP and even before the first settlers arrived, a Canadian post office was setting up shop. That is not far from the truth.

Historically, this public service institution has always played a vital role in Canada. It has always been in operation, whether as the post office department or as the Canada Post Corporation. It has always operated under political authority.

Never in Canadian history has a Canada Post president, a crown corporation or a postmaster general taken action without getting the Prime Minister's approval first, especially when planning to cause havoc and declare a lockout. That cannot be done without the political authority's permission. And I am not the only one to say this.

Just recently, we have seen this with the Gomery commission. The hon. member for Bourassa would be able to confirm that the Gomery commission clearly showed that the Canada Post Corporation had followed the directives from the Prime Minister's Office in the matter of sponsorships.

So here we are with a big mystery. They are attempting to persuade us that the Canada Post Corporation started the lockout without permission from the Prime Minister, who had no other choice but to take action by imposing special legislation because he thought the lockout was so terrible. Wow! And he is trying to persuade 33 million Canadians of that. Let me just say that the number of Canadians who believe them after finding out the facts will drop. It will drop like a stone, in fact. No one can believe so implausible a story, that the Prime Minister does not know what his left hand is doing while his right hand is doing the opposite. The Prime Minister's authority is directly involved in all this. It clearly means that everything that has been happening is simply an ambush. They have intentionally led the union to a lockout in order to be able to ask for an arbitrator who, under this special legislation, will eliminate the pension plan for the benefit of their friends in power.

Unfortunately for the government, the longer the debate goes on, the longer people outside the House will talk about it and the sooner they will realize that the government's version of events does not add up. I doubt that 33 million people are going to believe, after a week or two of lockout, that the Prime Minister is not aware of what is going on in his own office.

What impact is this having? Some 55,000 Canadians are without an income or wages because of the government's decision. They can not afford to buy groceries or pay the rent. Moreover this is affecting the Canadian economy.

The members opposite are saying there is cause for concern and that it is important to do something about it. That is true. They have to end the lockout, stop making backroom deals and start doing their duty by listening to people and standing up for them instead of serving the interests of their friends and lobbyists.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I am a new parliamentarian, and I have a practical question that perhaps you can help me with. Is there not supposed to be a minimum of 15 members from the government party to make quorum?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to ask the last person who spoke to briefly explain what the future could hold if a two-tiered pension system is implemented, or what it would mean in terms of employee relations within a union where some workers, because of their age, would clearly be discriminated against and condemned to a certain life of poverty when they retire.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I would remind the hon. member for Montcalm, as well as the members of the opposition, that this debate is simply about whether or not we are going to resist the lobby pressure of those who wish to raid pension funds. That is what it boils down to. The pattern is always the same. Everyone makes mistakes, but the important thing is not to keep making them, especially after what happened in Walkerton, where people died because lobbyists took advantage of the opportunity to do their own laboratory testing.

I would simply ask the hon. member to answer the following question: should we always grant the wishes of lobbyists, yes or no?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, she is not in contact with the union representatives because she is in contact only with management. She is not doing her job. It is clear that the postal workers have been ambushed.

If anyone here thinks that the Prime Minister of Canada was not informed that there was going to be a lockout, they are about as broad-minded as a skinhead and they are not too bright either.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, since the country is run by the Prime Minister of Canada, not the head of a crown corporation, it is clear that the 55,000 Canada Post employees were ambushed in an attack that was planned and directed by the Prime Minister's Office.

Unfortunately for them, the more we talk about it, the sooner people will understand that it makes no sense that the Prime Minister imposed a lockout and then brought in special legislation with the excuse that there was a lockout.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, not only do I know these people, but I can say that the cheques they are receiving do not cover their rent, let alone their groceries. And that is the government's fault because it ignored our budget proposals. A word to the wise.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am going to talk a little about what is really going on here, about this totally trumped-up lockout. It's not just happenstance that the postal union is the target of such a massive attack. You have to know the history. In the history of this country, postal services, either as a department or as a crown corporation, have always been subject to political authority. No one will make me believe that the director of the Canada Post Corporation imposed a lockout without first getting permission from the Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister reacted favourably to this lockout. Then the Prime Minister introduced a special bill, saying that there was a lockout and that he had to act. But if he had not agreed, there would have been no lockout.

This union, which has been in existence since 1911, is exemplary on any number of levels: democratically, socially, and as an institution. When it was part of the public service, it professionalized the public service and made it non-partisan. The members of this union have always delivered quality service. The Canadian postal services have always provided the services expected of them.

Over time, this union negotiated some important improvements, such as salary increases and job security. Then it obtained a pension fund. The first pension funds were perhaps not extraordinary, but at a certain point the union obtained a defined benefit pension plan. It made sure that this defined benefit plan was indexed and that it included survivor benefits. The union even obtained the acceptance of same-sex survivor benefits. As institutions go, the union has a good pension plan. And that is the problem. This issue is at the heart of all of the collective agreement negotiations. Salaries are not the issue, as they have already been settled. The union signed a salary agreement with management. The problem is not compensation, nor is it the normative provisions, as they too have already been agreed upon.

The problem is management’s desire to reconsider the pension system. That is nothing new; it is the same problem as at Air Canada. It is no accident that in both cases there was speedy intervention by the government. In the case of Air Canada, the pension fund deficit is $2.1 billion. If the private entrepreneur that owns Air Canada, which is in fact a speculative venture, is able to reduce that to $500 million, it will have gained a $1.5 billion asset in one fell swoop, with the help of the politicians in this government. That is the problem.

In the case of the postal union, what can it be accused of? Wanting to defend a system that guarantees its retirees that they will not be reduced to poverty? Essentially, they are having a gun held to their head and being asked to agree to be poor when they reach the age of 65. No, they do not agree to that. That is why they have used pressure tactics, to which the Prime Minister responded with a lockout.

If someone here tries to make Canadians believe that the Prime Minister did not authorize the president of a crown corporation to impose a lockout that was going to damage the Canadian economy, I think they have not read the same Constitution as I have. I also think they do not know their Prime Minister. On this side of the House, we know perfectly well that he and he alone makes the important decisions. That is the problem. The Conservatives have got to the point of attacking the largest and oldest Canadian union.

If they succeed, they are going to be able to get their hands on private pension funds. All union funds will become private funds. For the next 35 years alone, that represents $1 trillion in Canada. That is the problem: greed. The people on the side opposite are defending greed. We are not going to allow something as essential to the social and economic life of this country as pension funds to disappear. We will not agree to turn a blind eye to the fact that two or three generations of Canadians will be condemned to poverty when they reach retirement age.

I will also point out to my colleagues that at present, in spite of the economic exploits the Conservatives boast of, the poverty rate in Canada has been rising for five years. That is nothing to brag about.

The people on the side opposite are preparing for another Walkerton. People will remember that little Ontario municipality. The government had assigned the water testing to its friends in private enterprise, who supposedly did everything better and more cheaply. They walked off with the cash and left a mess. If they had only left a mess for the government, no one would have complained, but the problem was that people died because of it. The Conservatives are making exactly the same mistake all over again. This is the same mistake the Americans made not so long ago: giving the public’s money to the private sector. What a great bargain: commissions and bonuses. The devil is in the house and they are the ones who let him in.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Madam Speaker, even though I am two hours late, I want to wish everyone a happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.

We are faced with a bizarre situation. Under the current government, Canada is the only country in the world where the money saved to stave off poverty in retirement is considered a nuisance.

That impression is so deeply ingrained among government MPs that the following question seems relevant: once the most powerful, the oldest, the most active, the most modern and the most democratic of Canadian unions has lost its right to a defined benefit pension plan, what will happen to the rest of the Canadian population?

Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation June 23rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member and I think he is missing the real issue.

The problem is not the services provided by Canada Post or Air Canada. It is not production at Nortel or AbitibiBowater. The problem is the workers' right to keep an effective pension plan, a defined benefit plan. That is the problem. We cannot expect people to agree to live in poverty in their senior years. That is what the government is asking.

That is what was happening with Air Canada. They came to an agreement because they decided not to include this issue. They decided not to talk about the pension plan and, in two days, the whole thing was settled. The issue of wages at Canada Post was settled. The issue of working conditions was settled. Everything was settled except the pension plan and the disability benefit plan. What this government is essentially asking is to recognize people's right to give up a viable pension without access to the food banks in which the hon. member told me he is actively involved.