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NDP MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 49% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act February 14th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I am very touched to be able to rise in the House today to speak to this important bill. I am very touched, but at the same time, I think it is a real shame that we have to talk about this again. This is an extremely important debate. There is likely no other parliamentary debate that is more vital or that will have a greater impact on the lives of Canadians than the debate that we are having right now.
Simply put, it would have been nice if this issue had been resolved years ago because we are now dealing with an urgent situation in our municipalities, in our big cities, and on our streets.
People are dying from overdoses of illegal drugs, particularly opioids, and this is a crisis. Hundreds of people are dying in our communities and on our streets because our facilities are not equipped to adequately respond to this serious substance abuse problem, particularly when it comes to increasingly dangerous and hard drugs. For example, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin, and it is wreaking havoc on our cities and communities.
There is even a fentanyl derivative that is so potent that first responders are now being advised to wear masks and gloves when helping people because, if the drug is inhaled or comes into contact with the skin, it can be deadly for the paramedics and nurses who are in contact with those who need help.
Hundreds of people are dying every day in our streets and alleyways because we have failed to adequately respond to this situation. In all seriousness, this is one case where I am sad to say that our federal government dropped the ball and we have collectively failed. We could have taken measures that would have saved lives. There is a national crisis, and people are dying from lethal opioid injections because of the laws that we pass or fail to pass. This is serious.
Indeed, we in the NDP are calling on the Liberal government to declare this a national emergency and give greater powers and funding to the chief public health officer of Canada, so that he can coordinate efforts to help these individuals. I find it extremely unfortunate that the Conservatives did not respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision and instead chose to stand in the way of public health stakeholders who wanted to set up safe injection sites to help addicts in crisis.
As I reminded the parliamentary secretary a few minutes ago, I also find it unfortunate that the Liberal government dragged its feet for 16 months before introducing a bill to fix the mistakes of Bill C-2 passed by the Conservatives. I will come back to this point a little later.
I would like to share some statistics. I am talking about people who are dying because of the lack of health facilities, that is, safe injection sites, particularly in our big cities. This is no joke. In 2016, there were 914 overdose fatalities in British Columbia. That represents an 80% increase over the previous year. Across Canada in 2016, there were about 2,000 fatalities. In December alone in British Columbia, 142 people died of drug overdose. In Vancouver, more specifically, there were between 9 and 15 deaths every week.
In Ontario, there are two deaths per day. Our young people are dying in our streets because we do not have what we need to help them. Supervised consumption sites are proven to save lives. When Insite was finally given the go-ahead several years ago in Vancouver, community officials realized that the number of deaths dropped by 35% in the area surrounding the site.
It works. It works in Vancouver, it works in British Columbia, and it works around the world. It has been proven.
Why have we been unable to respond appropriately? The previous government spread all kinds of prejudices, which is a terrible shame. In 2011, a unanimous Supreme Court ruling authorized Insite and encouraged the government to change the law to define the process. The previous government was very right-wing and focused on repression, and it wanted to turn this into a partisan issue. When that government introduced Bill C-2, it was not to help people involved in public health; it was to create more barriers to setting up these very important sites. That is a terrible shame.
What did the Conservatives do in their day? They added 26 eligibility criteria that had to be met before Health Canada could authorize a supervised consumption site. What was the outcome of that? How many sites were given the green light? Zero. Not one. We are years behind because of that.
Health Canada was unable to authorize the opening of such sites despite the fact that the experts, the scientific community, municipal officials, and the groups that work with addicts every day all wanted them. Montreal had been asking for a supervised consumption site since May 2015. We can say that was a while ago. Every year, between 70 and 100 people in Montreal die of an opioid overdose. How many people could we have saved in that time?
Communities approve of this type of measure. I want to share a few short quotes to that effect. The first one is from Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver. “Every month we lose because of Bill C-2, and an onerous process that's totally unnecessary and overboard, means we're losing dozens of people.”
Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal, asked, “What are we waiting for? People are dying.”
Adrienne Smith, health and drug policy lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, said that she feared that while we wait, while we set up working groups and give the Liberal government the benefit of the doubt, hundreds of people could die.
Sterling Downey, a Montreal municipal councillor, asked, “How do you go into the media and announce over a year ago that you're going to open these sites and back off and go radio silent?”
According to another quote, the organizations that are supposed to host the sites don't even dare set opening dates any more. They are stuck in a grey area where, every year for the past three years, they are told that the sites will open in the spring, but it doesn't happen.
I have pages and pages of quotes like that. For years, people have been anxious to help our young people, and the older ones too, but especially the street kids who fall victim to these opioids, these hard drugs.
I think it is a shame that society has lost so much time because some people tried to score political points by holding fundraisers. I would remind hon. members that the director of the Conservative Party sent a fundraising email and used the politics of fear by accusing the NDP and the Liberals at the time of wanting to put our children in harm's way, claiming there would be more syringes in our schoolyards and back alleys. They would have people believe that with injection sites comes increased risk, but the facts say otherwise. If a person enters a supervised injection site and is treated by a professional, that person will be given a course of treatment and drugs to help ween them off the hard drugs. That person will pull through. What does that mean? It means that thanks to supervised injection sites, there will be fewer syringes in the streets, in the parks, and in the back alleys, not the opposite. For years, people have tried to convince us that this is more dangerous, but that is not true.
The NDP moved a motion in the House a few weeks ago. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway wanted the debate to end and to send Bill C-37 to the Senate so that it could come into force as soon as possible.
It is too bad that the Conservatives refused and blocked the NDP's motion. That is why we would like to see this bill pass through all stages, intelligently and diligently of course, but as soon as possible. We have wasted enough time. We need to save lives.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act February 14th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. He pointed out that the NDP, who are progressive, will be supporting Bill C-37, which is finally going in the right direction. However, I am wondering about the following: why, once in power, did the Liberal Party drag its feet for 16 months before introducing a new bill to correct the mistakes made with the Conservatives' C-2?
Even the Minister of Health said at the start that it was not necessary and that they could work just fine with existing legislation. The Liberals are waking up, a bit late, now that we are facing an emergency and a national crisis and people are dying in the streets. Why did the Liberal government change its position at the beginning and then change it again? In the end, we have lost more than a year.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hochelaga for her comments.
She is absolutely right. That is the basic problem with free trade agreements. They give a huge amount of power to major corporations and are detrimental to our interests, our neighbours, and the people in our communities. My colleague's example of the plant in Mexico highlights that.
I have another example. An American company is currently suing the Canadian government for $250 million because the Government of Quebec placed a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect ecosystems. This company is now suing our governments. Taxpayers could end up being out of pocket just because we want to prevent pollution in the St. Lawrence River.
That is exactly what the NDP is rejecting, and that is why we will be opposing Bill C-30.
Mr. Speaker, yes, we want our companies to be able to grow and export so that they can create jobs. We need to diversify our exports because we are very dependent on our American neighbour. However, we do not want to go about it in just any old way. We cannot accept the dispute settlement mechanism included in the Canada-European Union free trade agreement because it puts too much power in the hands of big companies, large corporations, to the detriment of Canadians, our elected officials, and democratically elected governments. That is a major problem for us.
I would like to know what my colleague has to say to Quebec cheese producers who will have to bear the brunt of the arrival of 17,000 tons of fine cheeses from Europe every year. The Europeans have protected approximately 200 types of cheese by giving them a controlled designation of origin. In this free trade agreement, the Liberal government did not protect any Quebec cheeses by giving them a controlled designation of origin.
Mr. Speaker, we could double check. According to the information I received, it was three years or three and a half years for changes to the definition of “intellectual property”. However, even if it is two years, that would still have an impact on the price of drugs, which is what we are concerned about.
I want to take this opportunity to say that when the Liberals were in opposition, they asked the Conservative government to conduct an impact assessment on the provinces and their pharmacare budget. I wish they still maintained that position. Now that they are in power, I would like them to conduct that impact assessment.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased an honoured to rise in the House to speak to this important bill. Indeed, the bill relates to an important trade deal, or free trade agreement, with the European Union. We appreciate how natural it seems for Canada to enter into much more intense and closer trade relationships with the European Union, and for a number of reasons. First of all, Europe is a natural trading partner for historical and cultural reasons. Furthermore, several European countries have legislation that is similar to ours or often even better than ours when it comes to environmental protections, collective bargaining, workers' rights, and where unions fit in society and in the economy.
We should realize that, of course, we need to have a free trade agreement with the European Union and increase our trade relationship with the EU. I agree. However, this deal is so huge that it needs to be negotiated properly. We will not accept just any deal that is reached hastily or under pressure, simply because the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet want a good photo op with some nice handshakes that they can post on Facebook. It is much more important than that.
As my colleague pointed out earlier, we should have taken the time to properly review this free trade agreement, which, I would remind him, was negotiated in secret under the previous government, the Conservative government. At the time, the process was heavily criticized by the Liberals. However, in their usual fashion, the Liberals started to change their tune once they came to power.
I would cite a recent example to to argue the importance of proper trade with Europe. On Friday, I was in my colleague's riding, Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. We visited a small business called Utopie MFG, in Saint-Narcisse, near Rimouski. The business employs about 30 people. It makes alpine skis and snowboards. I had no idea how these things were made. I learned some amazing things during our visit. Every ski is made by hand with hardwood. This company's chief competitors are Austria and China. There are only two businesses that manufacture alpine skis in Canada, this business in Saint-Narcisse and another in Whistler. It is important for them to have access to the European and U.S. markets.
In every small community, there are entrepreneurs who are starting up businesses, innovating, and making new products, and who need the opportunity to export their goods to foreign markets.
We want Utopie MFG to be able to sell its skis in the United States, Europe, and anywhere in the world where there is snow. That is why we need a good free trade agreement, and we must not rush into it as the government is currently doing. I would add the Liberals are exceptionally gifted when it comes to using words to say the opposite of what they mean.
Once in power, the Liberals copied the free trade agreement negotiated by the previous Conservative government. It is the same free trade agreement, but it has suddenly become a progressive agreement. It is the same thing but they have tacked on the word “progressive”. Given that it comes from the Liberals, it has magic powers. Abracadabra. I would like to be able to do that with my kids at home. It is the same as what we had before. This agreement is a threat to many of our economic sectors, including cheese producers, who will see 17,000 tonnes of European cheese enter Canada, without having any protection and receiving only a pittance in compensation.
I also went to the Saguenay last December. We visited Fromagerie Blackburn, a family cheese company that started out as a dairy farm. Its cheeses have won prizes in Europe. The company is currently expanding, but growth could be stalled by the massive arrival of European cheese if we do not provide the protection and assistance the company needs.
How can the government abandon our cheese producers who have also been growing for years in Quebec? Thirty years ago, people were eating cheddar cheese and that is about it. There were no other types of cheese available, besides the kind eaten on toast in the morning. However, today, there are dozens of great cheese producers across Canada, particularly in Quebec. How can the Liberal government abandon them and offer them almost nothing in the way of compensation? That is a concern for us. My colleague also mentioned it in her speech earlier.
Another concern is the fact that this agreement with Europe deals with intellectual property and the associated definitions, which will impact the price of prescription drugs. The progressive Liberal-Conservative agreement will delay the introduction of new generic drugs in Canada by three and a half years. Big pharma will obviously be thrilled, but this will directly impact those who need those drugs.
According to estimates, the yearly cost of drugs in Canada could increase by $850 million to $2.8 billion. That will have a huge impact on the people who need those drugs and who do not have good private insurance, since few provinces provide public insurance. Canadians are the ones who will have to bear these costs at a time when they are already struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet. It has to be said: the Liberal government does not care that this agreement will benefit large pharmaceutical companies to the detriment of seniors, the sick, and people with disabilities.
There is another very fundamental thing that concerns us about the free trade agreement with Europe. We have talked about economic sectors, exports, and the cost of drugs, but there is a dispute settlement mechanism in the free trade agreement with Europe that is extremely dangerous for our governments and even for the quality of our democratic life. Think chapter 11 of NAFTA, only in the free trade agreement with Europe.
I do not understand how a progressive agreement can give companies the option of suing a government or a level of government for making regulations that could jeopardize their future profits. Talk about belt and suspenders. Companies make plans to invest. If a government makes a decision that is in keeping with the will of the people or to protect public health, public safety, or the environment, those companies could take legal action against that government before the trade tribunal and demand compensation for the loss of expected future profits.
That is handing over tremendous power to corporations and big companies to the detriment of democratic choices made by the elected representatives of the people. This kind of dispute settlement mechanism subverts democracy. That is extremely dangerous, and the NDP will never stand for it. We will never agree to giving big companies that kind of power. It happened with NAFTA. Canada was sued several times. It cost us millions of dollars, and we do not want to make the same mistake again with the European Union.
We are not the only ones saying so. People in the European Union share our concerns, including in Germany, the Netherlands, and of course in Belgium, where the Walloon Parliament stood up and set conditions that had to be met before it would accept the Canada-European Union free trade agreement.
People like José Bové are also concerned that the agreement is going to weaken environmental standards and social programs on both continents, whether here in Canada, with respect to pork or beef production, for example, or in Europe, with respect to accepting oil-related products that produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, which goes against the philosophy of people from the European Union right now.
This deal is dangerous, and we should have taken the time to study it properly.
These are the reasons the NDP will be voting against Bill C-30, knowing full well that a good free trade deal, a good trade agreement with Europe, would be in our interest. However, we cannot afford to mess this up, which is what the Liberal government is doing.
Business of Supply February 9th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I was kind of dumbfounded by the minister's speech. I sincerely hope that she never expected to find herself in this position as Minister of Democratic Institutions when she decided to get into politics and offer her services to the Canadian people. Seriously, this is a real shame.
The Liberals campaigned on a promise of new environmental assessments. They did not deliver. They promised to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but they are keeping the previous government's targets. They promised to defend our rights and freedoms by repealing Bill C-51. They did not deliver. They promised to restore home mail delivery. They have not delivered. They promised to change our voting system. They broke that promise.
Is that how they plan to regain the people's trust? Are they really trying to fight cynicism, or are they just doing politics the way it has always been done?
Business of Supply February 9th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Green Party for her question.
I would like to acknowledge her continued hope that it is possible to improve our system. I would like the Liberal members to share this hope, because they promised Canadians that they would improve our electoral system. I am asking them to keep their promise and to make the change that people wanted and that they voted for by putting them in office. Otherwise, this will increase voters' cynicism to the point that it will cause irreparable harm to our democracy in future years.
Business of Supply February 9th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
With respect to the attack by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, I would simply say that it is sometimes an honour to be a target. I do not have a problem with that because it means that we have done a good job.
I would also like to point out that my colleague is quite right about the government's broken promises piling up, whether it is home mail delivery, or Bill C-51, or the small deficit promised by the Liberals during the election campaign.
However, when it comes to our democratic institutions and how people vote, these are fundamental elements of our identity as a society that expects promises to be kept.
Today, people realize that they can no longer take the Liberals at their word. They are saying that if the Liberals can break this promise, they are capable of breaking the next promises they make.
Business of Supply February 9th, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I do appreciate how uncomfortable this must make the Liberal Party spokesperson for this broken promise.
The Liberals could at least recognize that a consensus did emerge on the committee struck by the government. The committee produced a report that stated that Canadians should be consulted through a referendum on a proportional system based on certain standards. That is the consensus.
Of the experts we heard from, 90% said that a proportional system is the best way to go, and 88% of ordinary Canadians who came to see us said the same thing. When we hosted town hall meetings, as the Liberals asked us to do, people told us they wanted a proportional system. In addition, in the parliamentary committee's online survey, 72% of respondents said they wanted a proportional system. That sounds like a consensus to me.