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  • His favourite word is liberal.

NDP MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 49% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House June 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Drummond for his remarks and for the important work he is doing at the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

I wonder if he can give us an explanation to the best of his knowledge. For some time now, the Liberal government has been making a mess of the official languages file. My colleague from Drummond said it is important not to leave francophone and anglophone minorities out in the cold, but it seems to me the Liberals dropped the ball. The appointment of a new official languages commissioner turned into a total fiasco. Their pick was too partisan for a Senate seat, but suddenly not too partisan to oversee official languages in this country. It was so ridiculous that even she realized it and decided to withdraw her candidacy.

The interim commissioner's mandate ended last week. My colleague from Drummond very kindly informed the minister of this fact, just in case she had not seen it coming. He made her an offer and urged her not to forget because there were just four days to go. Saturday passed, midnight came and went, no commissioner. We now have no official languages commissioner. Can my colleague from Drummond tell me if this is either negligence or incompetence on the Liberals' part?

Canada Revenue Agency June 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, at the OECD's instigation, Canada signed dozens of information sharing agreements with tax havens. Those agreements were supposed to increase transparency, but all they did was facilitate tax evasion. What began as a solution to a problem became a massive gift to big corporations.

Over the past five years, at least $55 billion in profit has not been taxed by the Canada Revenue Agency. We have no way of knowing if the Liberals have even used the agreements because they are refusing to tell us and will not answer journalists' questions.

What do they have to hide?

Employment Insurance June 15th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, a legislative change cost hundreds of Aveos employees their jobs. Because Air Canada took 11 months to compensate them, those hundreds of workers now owe thousands to employment insurance.

That is what happened to Annie Bellemare. Her husband lost his job with Aveos. Two years later, he died of cancer. Now employment insurance is demanding Ms. Bellemare pay back $11,500. If the government does nothing, she will have to take that money out of the funds set aside for their three children's education. More than 700 people are in similar unacceptable situations.

Will the minister show some compassion and do something about these cases?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return June 14th, 2017

With regard to the Prime Minister’s and other Cabinet Ministers' private meetings with the American asset management firm BlackRock: (a) what is the list of government officials, cabinet ministers, public office holders, and staff who attended the meeting held on November 14, 2016, at Toronto’s Shangri-La Hotel; (b) what is the complete list of financial institutions, pension funds, sovereign funds, and other financial entities, and the names of their representatives, that attended the meeting in (a); (c) what are the details of the agenda for the meeting in (a); (d) what were the total expenditures of the government associated with the meeting in (a), broken down by (i) cost for renting the rooms, (ii) cost for food and drinks, (iii) cost for security; (e) how many meetings has the Prime Minister had with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting; (f) how many meetings has the Minister of Finance had with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting; (g) how many meetings has the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development had with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting; (h) how many meetings has the Minister of Environment and Climate Change had with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting; (i) have any other Cabinet Ministers had meetings with BlackRock executives or employees and, if so, how many times have they met with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting; and (j) how many meetings have the staff and designated public office holders from the Office of the Prime Minister had with BlackRock executives or employees since November 1, 2015, and what are the details of these meetings, broken down by (i) meetings held in person or by teleconference, (ii) locations and times of all meetings, broken down by meeting, (iii) costs associated with all meetings, broken down by meeting?

Canada Revenue Agency June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are going to sign a tax information exchange agreement with Cook Islands, a well-known tax haven. The Minister of Finance is justifying this by saying that it will make it harder for the wealthy to hide their money, but that is false. The only thing the agreement will achieve is allow the wealthy to avoid paying taxes.

By signing such agreements, Canada is standing in the way of the international community in the fight against tax havens, which have even been condemned by the U.K. finance minister.

When will the Minister of Finance stop helping her rich Bay Street friends hide their money in tax havens?

Business of Supply June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Sherbrooke for his question, which is very timely.

We must indeed distinguish between apples and oranges, and between the various positions and their responsibilities and duties, when it comes to this government's appointments.

Let us be clear. I am going to name seven of the eight officer of Parliament positions. We spoke of them earlier, they are the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who will shortly also be an officer of Parliament.

There is one more, the Chief Electoral Officer. That is the person who coordinates, manages, and oversees our entire electoral process, the way we choose our members of Parliament, the men and women who represent the 35 million Canadians, here in the House. What a complete disaster it would be if someone had been appointed directly by the Prime Minister’s Office, using its majority in the House to impose its views on all parliamentarians. We would have a partisan individual in a position that manages general elections. To avoid that catastrophic scenario, we absolutely have to revise our processes and ensure the complete independence of officers of Parliament.

Business of Supply June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank my Green Party colleague for her remarks and her support for this important motion.

Indeed, the member has reminded us of a specific case, a very concrete example where the lack of combined effort and consultation and the failure to listen to the opposition parties resulted in an absolutely deplorable decision. Putting someone like Mr. Porter in charge of the SIRC, knowing his past, his sympathies, and also his connections, was a bad decision that could have had serious consequences.

Yesterday, in a very moving speech, one of our Liberal colleagues called on us all, saying that we sometimes had to rise above party divisions, listen to one another, and be able to work together much more constructively and collaboratively. Today’s motion reflects that, and I would like to see the Liberal members support it.

Business of Supply June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

First, contrary to his claims, the motion is not redundant, since the current process is not working and we are instituting a new process.

If my colleague acknowledges that it is a decision of Parliament as a whole and there must be consultation, I imagine he is outraged that the leaders of both opposition parties were informed by a letter telling them the name of the next official languages commissioner. I also imagine he would be entirely open to the idea of establishing an all-party subcommittee so there is discussion and consultation, so we can have our say as parliamentarians, and so the process is not simply directed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Second, I understand the purpose of his question. We were asked the same question yesterday at a press conference.

Is the fact that a person was involved in party politics at some point in their life sufficient to disqualify them from all positions in the public service or from the kinds of key positions that officers of Parliament hold?

The answer is “not necessarily”. There are many factors to consider, which is why a subcommittee would be valuable. The member of the official opposition and the member of the second opposition party who were at the table would be able to determine whether a candidate was eligible. They could assess whether the candidate was in a conflict of interest and whether their partisan work was intense, significant, or recent.

There are rules in other legislation enacted by Parliament and sometimes it takes several years before a person may apply for certain positions after being in government, for example. That is precisely what the subcommittee could work on.

I hope that addresses my colleague’s concerns.

In the case of Ms. Meilleur, if we had been at the table, we would immediately have said that she was frankly too partisan.

Business of Supply June 13th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who has done incredible work to bring forward this motion that, as some media noted yesterday, provides an elegant solution to a real problem. I really like the term “elegant solution” because it is very simple. I will have the chance to discuss that in a few minutes.

I would first like to note that what the Liberal member said a few minutes ago was inaccurate. It is not up to the government to appoint officers of Parliament. It is instead up to parliamentarians to vote to approve the appointment of such persons, who play a major role in our system, institutions that have become absolutely essential over time. I simply wanted to clarify that. It is certainly not a government decision, even though the initial proposal or suggestion may come from the Prime Minister’s Office. We will come back to that, as it raises another sort of problem.

I would like to digress a bit to describe how our modern democracies have evolved. I will have the opportunity to explain how important it is to properly conduct the process of choosing these watchdogs for our system, for taxpayers, for citizen’s rights, and for minority languages rights.

Albert Jacquard said that we could have a very balanced society with 1% princes, 4% soldiers, and 95% slaves. After all, that worked in many places in the world for thousands of years. It was a very stable system, and there was a certain balance. The progression of all of our democratic systems was always characterized by the gradual erosion of the absolute powers of the monarch. All of the powers invested in a single individual were always withdrawn, powers that were often conferred under the pretext that the monarch had been chosen by God and could do whatever he wanted. He was the State. He even had control over the life and death of his subjects. In effect, they were not citizens, but subjects of His Majesty.

All the progress we have achieved in our democracy has been achieved by withdrawing certain powers and certain decisions from the king and putting them in the hands of other organizations or institutions. That was how we elected the first parliaments. The British nobles were somewhat tired of the king doing whatever he wanted and deciding to levy taxes at any time because he wanted to create a new army to engage in a new war. They therefore created a type of council in which English nobility, namely the aristocrats, barons, dukes, and others, held the power to authorize the monarch to levy taxes and spend money. He could no longer make the decision alone.

Moreover, we still have some traces of that perspective in our current Parliament. One of the major roles of parliamentarians is to pass laws, but they also have the role of authorizing expenditures by the executive. Also, one of the things that I learned when I arrived here is that expenditures can be approved or refused in committee, or a reduction can be proposed, but an increase in the expenditure can never be proposed. That dates back to the first parliaments, which existed to control the king’s spending. We still follow that same approach.

Royal power was then divided into legislative power, executive power, independent of the representative of the Crown, and judicial power, which could be exercised to check the choices made by the government and ensure that the rights of the people and the laws of the land were respected.

We can see that, over time, institutions were added to control the monarch or the executive branch. That created a type of dissemination of power within society, a type of distillation of decision-making. Over time, other checks and balances were added, such as the media and journalists, and thus public opinion, when we live in a democracy.

As a society, we have also created institutions capable of monitoring and controlling what the government does. That is what is done, for the most part, by these officers of Parliament that we have created over time. They did not all exist 15, 20, or 25 years ago; we will come back to that. For example, the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer did not exist prior to the previous Conservative government. Enjoy that, as it is rare for me to note good things done by the Conservatives. That position has taken on crucial importance and no one would now want to eliminate that institution. To the contrary, we want to make the position more independent, with more powers and more opportunities to do the work.

I would like to continue discussing these checks and balances by distinguishing between Westminster and presidential systems, like the French and American systems. Under presidential systems, particularly the American one, which we know a bit better, the checks and balances are enormous compared to the power that the Prime Minister can have under a British system like ours. Even though he is President of the largest, or maybe now the second largest, power in the world, the American President can face a lot of opposition from the House of Representatives, the Senate, and all the institutions that make up Congress and everything in Washington.

To illustrate, an American President could very easily face a hostile House and see his plans repeatedly blocked. He can even have a friendly House and see his plans repeatedly blocked. That is not the case here. We do not have a presidential system. Under the Westminster system, people often think that they vote for the Prime Minister, but that is not the case. They vote for a member of Parliament from one of the country’s 338 ridings. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that has the majority in the House and has the confidence of the House. A lot of powers rest with the Prime Minister under our system, to a point that it becomes problematic.

The motion by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley is so important because it is part of the process by which we ensure the independence of those checks and balances and the involvement of all recognized political parties in the House in decisions regarding the best person to fill those positions. That is something.

I took a few minutes for that digression, but it puts into perspective the steps that must be taken to advance the quality of our democratic institutions. In theory, the Liberals should agree with that. We remember the Liberals’ election promises, namely that they would fight cynicism, put an end to partisan appointments, and restore Canadians’ trust in their institutions. I therefore have trouble seeing how they could now seek pretexts to object to such an elegant solution, an offer by the opposition to improve the procedure and ensure that the disasters and fiascos we have seen recently do not happen again.

What can be done to avoid partisan appointments? First, we absolutely refrain from doing what the Liberal government did in the case of Madeleine Meilleur, who was to be the Commissioner of Official Languages. The law states that the government must consult the leaders of the opposition parties. What happened, then? The Conservative and New Democratic leaders received a letter advising them that Ms. Meilleur had been chosen. I do not call that consultation. I call that a fait accompli.

If the opposition parties had truly been consulted, we would have sat down, discussed the matter, found common ground or a compromise, and chosen the best possible person for the position. No, the king decided that he was holding on to that power, while we want to share that power. Officers of Parliament are not the purview of the Prime Minister. They are the purview of parliamentarians, and thus of all Canadians. There was a total lack of consultation in the case of Ms. Meilleur.

Moreover, a person who is too partisan to be a member of the Senate was appointed as commissioner, an officer of Parliament. That is a very interesting logic. We call that backpedalling. She was a Liberal MPP and a Liberal minister, and has donated more than $3,000 to the Liberal Party since 2009. She also donated money to the current Prime Minister’s leadership campaign.

I think that the appointment of that individual had the very appearance of a partisan appointment. That was much of the problem and she realized it herself. However, it would have been good for the Liberal government to realize it earlier in the process.

To avoid fiascos like this, we would like to implement a process that will involve all recognized parties in the House. If we do not, and continue with this kind of tradition of dubious quasi-partisan or completely partisan appointments, we would be undermining the legitimacy of these officers of Parliament, as they are important. I was speaking about the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but we should also talk about the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying. These are critical positions whose duties include overseeing audits and requiring that the government show accountability and uphold the law.

Why do we need these people to be above any partisan suspicion? Because we don’t want their work to raise any doubts afterwards and in the future. If someone like Ms. Meilleur had ultimately been appointed Commissioner of Official Languages, her decisions would always be under a cloud of possible bias and tainted by partisanship and liberal affiliations. This is why we must have people who are absolutely independent, for the sake of their own work and for the future.

The motion that my colleague has put forward today is good for our institutions, but it also serves all future officers of Parliament who are appointed or elected by the House.

What do we propose? First, we recommend replacing the current appointment system—Standing Order 111(1)—with a system ensuring that when the government intends to appoint an officer of Parliament, it must provide the name of the proposed appointee to an appointments committee composed of a member from each recognized political party. This committee would have 30 days to review the nomination and may report a rejection or approval. If the committee has not filed a report within 30 days, the nomination is deemed rejected.

This is intended to serve as a safety provision to avoid delay tactics that would be unjustified, and to have a procedure that can work.

If the committee recommends approval, the nomination is then put to a vote in the House, contrary to previous interpretations by the government House leader.

In this case, the name of the person remains secret during consideration, for their protection, of course. Afterwards, if there is an agreement between the three, four, or five recognized political parties around the table, a recommendation is made and it comes back to the House. Then there is a motion and parliamentarians can vote. It is always Parliament that chooses the officers of Parliament.

A procedural deadline of 30 days is expected. We could therefore proceed with a degree of diligence to avoid partisan appointments. It would also put pressure on the government to have an appointment process that works well, which is not currently the case. My colleague recently mentioned this, when quoting a CBC article from last March.

Under the current government, vacancies are upwards of 80%, which is no small matter; the process failed in the case of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Not only have we not made any progress under the current government, the backlog has increased. In addition, in two other cases, the government cannot seem to find skilled and qualified people in the established timeframes, so it has asked the current Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner to stay on for six more months because it did not do its job and could not find any candidates.

This compels us to ask why the Liberal government would refuse a solution and a new process that would help the process as a whole. These officers of Parliament we are talking about have a real impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, on the quality of our democratic life and on taxpayers' compliance with the tax code.

I have a few examples I would like to remind members of. The actual cost of the F-35 would never have been uncovered without the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Without this vital information, how would we know whether the military equipment acquired by Canada will cost $9 billion, $16 billon or $25 billion? These are considerable sums that are not always easy to put into perspective in our daily lives, and yet they have huge impacts on taxpayers' wallets and tax rates.

In order to get to the bottom of these types of matters and to examine the government's work, the Parliamentary Budget Officer must therefore be above suspicion. Why not agree to sit with the opposition parties to come up with a consensus recommendation, if possible? The Liberals said they wanted to do politics differently, so let us all gather together, have a good talk and strive for greater collaboration, especially when dealing with such topics as officers of Parliaments.

Here is another cause for concern. The Liberal government now has to appoint a new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The Prime Minister is currently the subject of an investigation by the current Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner over a trip to a private island in the south, a trip that would seem to be against the law, especially regarding the use of helicopters or private planes to fly the Prime Minister around. If the process is botched by virtue of the Prime Minister's Office pulling the strings and the majority government imposing its choice on Parliament, then the person being appointed to a position whose job it is to investigate the Prime Minister will be in a conflict of interest, their credibility weakened.

I would like all Liberal members to give this motion due consideration because it would be a significant improvement over the existing system in that it would be cheaper, more effective, faster, and more respectful of our institutions and all parliamentarians. It would be a step in the right direction. Would this be a completely independent committee like they have in the United Kingdom? No, not yet, but it is a whole lot better than the Prime Minister's Office, which seems to be incapable of making reasonable choices, picking its own candidates.

I hope we can reach consensus on this motion. At the moment, there seems to be some resistance from the Liberal government because they say parliamentarians would no longer be able to vote and this subcommittee would have a kind of veto power. That is completely false, absurd, even. It was never our intention to suggest that.

Let us look at the motion itself. I would like to read three short excerpts that I find informative.

...that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;

...that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;

Parts (3)(a) and (3)(b) are explicit about the procedure. Part (4) of the motion reads as follows:

Immediately after the presentation of a report...the Clerk of the House shall cause to be placed on the Notice Paper a notice of motion for concurrence in the report, which shall stand in the name of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons under Notices of Motions....

Parliamentarians would therefore be able to vote on the adoption of the report and the hiring of an officer of Parliament. I hope that the Liberal government will stop obfuscating by willfully misinterpreting the motion and will take into consideration the collaborative approach that we have chosen to take, in the interests not only of the officers of Parliament, but of all Canadians.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I will try. I thank my colleague for his question. I find it hard to explain this kind of strategy on the part of the Liberal government, which refuses to participate in good faith in these crucial negotiations even though it intends to seek the support of those same countries to get a seat on the Security Council. It is completely contradictory. Just because an objective is difficult to achieve does not mean we should not have the political will to achieve it.

We have seen Canada play a leadership role in the past, as it has with the Ottawa convention or the creation of the International Criminal Court. It is time for Canada to make a comeback.

If we are back, we should be back for real.