House of Commons photo

Elsewhere

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was elections.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Louis-Saint-Laurent (Québec)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply September 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. I also thank him for supporting the motion that we moved today.

I will be brief. We have heard many comments and questions from government MPs and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who has accused the opposition of wanting all kinds of things.

The truth is that during question period, all members of the House have the right to ask the government questions. I think that even applies to members of the party in power who do not have portfolios. They have the right to ask the government questions too.

I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Business of Supply September 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. She has been advocating for a more civil Parliament from day one. I am very pleased to have her support today.

She got to the heart of the problem. We are aware that many of the Standing Orders are not always enforced by the Speaker at this time. We understand that, and we clearly understood the Speaker's response last week. That is precisely why today we want to ask that this rule, which already exists, be enforced so that it does not become one of the many rules not really enforced by the Speaker. We do not want people to be able to continue answering when they have clearly crossed the threshold of absurdity. Responses need to be more tangible and concrete.

Business of Supply September 29th, 2014

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

I think that it is quite clear, as my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster explained earlier, that currently, if questions are not relevant, for example, if a member asks a question about the status of the whales in the Great Lakes, which has nothing to do with the government, the Speaker has the right to stop that member. During oral question period, the Speaker has the right to cut off a question that is not relevant. I therefore do not see why we would have to provide our questions in advance to be sure that the government is able to answer them.

I would add that we already have a system for written questions in our Parliament. This has been heavily criticized in recent years because even when there are written questions we do not manage to get answers that make any sense.

Business of Supply September 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in this debate.

In my opinion, the motion moved is extremely important if we want to give Canadians some hope and restore their confidence in our democratic system, especially during question period.

We have decided to use our opposition day to discuss one of my favourite subjects, that is the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I am very pleased to be a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which gives me the opportunity to study the Standing Orders in more depth. Ultimately, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the foundation of democracy and Parliament. In my opinion, it is important to be able to make changes directly, that is in the Standing Orders, so that we can improve the system.

Our current goal is to give the Speaker the authority to apply the relevance rules to oral question period. As my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster just explained, this rule already exists and applies primarily to debates in the House of Commons. For example, if I am supposed o debate a bill and I start talking abut whales in the Great Lakes, the Speaker has the right and the power to call me to order by stating that my comments are not related to the matter at hand. What an MP talks about must be relevant to the subject being debated. No one questions the authority of the Speaker to call to order a member who is speaking about something completely different, because this is a simple and basic principle. The rule applies to debates in the House and committee meetings.

The chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs does an excellent job. I have seen him call to order MPs from all parties many times when their speeches were not really pertinent. This is not about partisanship. When an MP gives a speech that is not relevant or that is repetitive, the committee chair has the authority to call him or her to order so that they focus on the subject at hand.

Given that the Speaker of the House of Commons represents the entire democratic institution of Parliament, it is really important that he or she be able to apply the rule during question period.

We all know what prompted today's debate. Basically, it comes as a result of an exchange that we all witnessed last week. Indeed, last Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition asked some very specific questions about precise aspects of Canada's military involvement in Iraq. One of the responses was not even a semblance of an attempt to answer the question. There was not even any suggestion in the response that the parliamentary secretary had any desire to answer the question. In the end, the answer given was completely absurd and had nothing to do with the question. At that moment, for many Canadians, political commentators and people who follow Canadian politics, this crossed the line. For me personally, I think it is important to draw a very clear line. Of course, we know that the government's responses will not always be what the opposition wants to hear. The role of the opposition is to question the government and hold it to account. We will not always be satisfied with the answers we get, but there needs to be a limit. When it comes to relevance there must be a line we cannot cross if we do not want Canadians to start thinking there is no point in following Canadian politics because what we do here is nothing but a ridiculous spectacle.

I think the motion simply aims to draw a clear line to say that if the absurdity and irrelevance go too far, it will be up to the Speaker, the keeper of our democracy, to call the member to order. That is what happens when the person speaking does not stay on topic during debates in the House, during committee meetings and within other current institutions.

Members must be called to order when what they are saying does not even come close to an answer. Government members must provide relevant answers. We are not asking that they provide answers that satisfy the opposition, but they have to respond to the question that has been asked. This seems so simple to me that I have to wonder why we need to spend a whole day debating this issue. It is really too bad that it has come to this.

As a young woman who has been participating in the debates in the House since being elected in 2011, I must admit that it is sometimes very difficult to attend question period. I am not an aggressive person and I do not like to yell.

When I realized that I was in the House of Commons to work with all of my elected colleagues in deciding the future of our country and then I saw people yelling at each other like second-grade children, it was a rude awakening.

I think that there are many other steps we need to take before we have a more respectful parliament. In this regard, it would not be a bad thing if we were able to make some improvements to question period today.

There are many very interesting people who would do a great job in Parliament but who may have decided not to get involved when they saw the tone of question period, the insults being hurled and the yelling that goes on. As my colleague pointed out, this could also completely discourage some people from participating in democracy in the simplest way possible, namely by voting.

By making this small change today, we could show Canadians that we want to improve our system. This is not the first time that the NDP has moved motions or proposed small but effective solutions or changes. Two years ago, on an opposition day, I participated in a fairly similar debate on closure motions, since the government was breaking records in the use of this measure. It was a similar discussion because we wanted to give the power to the Speaker.

We are not saying that closure motions are always a bad thing. We understand that there may be urgent reasons that would justify their use. However, why not give our Speaker that power, since he is the keeper of the House?

Then, since he would be the one responsible for assessing the situation, he could decide on the relevance of the reasons given to justify the use of a closure motion. He could refuse, on the basis that the reasons were insufficient or that too many members wanted to speak, for example. This is the only place where members can debate bills, and it is our duty to do so.

We thought this excellent suggestion could be useful, but it was not passed. We made several other suggestions. For example, we suggested that omnibus bills be prohibited. They make no sense, because they sometimes amend 100 different acts in one fell swoop. This does not help Canadians regain their trust in and their respect for our democracy, which we have been losing in recent years. We could also change the rules with respect to prorogation. It is the same principle.

We could reform so many aspects of our parliamentary system to greatly improve our debates, to help us do our jobs and to help us better represent our ridings without the side show that is question period, during which members yell at each other without giving any kind of answer.

If I rose in the House today and started talking about any old thing in my speech, it would be in your power, Mr. Speaker, to stop me. I simply think it makes sense to apply this rule to question period.

I sincerely hope that we will have the support of all members for this motion.

La défense nationale September 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, from the outset, the Conservatives have been refusing to answer Canadians' legitimate questions. They are refusing to explain the nature and scope of Canada's military involvement in Iraq.

With regard to humanitarian aid, the Conservatives are simply not living up to the expectations of our allies and the international community. Now, more than ever, we need a debate and a vote in the House on Canada's role in Iraq.

Why is the government refusing to explain itself to Canadians?

Foreign Affairs September 26th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, since the conflict in Iraq began, the Conservatives have been tangled up in their half-truths and contradictions. There are urgent needs on the ground. It is no longer enough to merely condemn. We really need to help. The refugees need help. Children are being wounded and thousands of women are falling victim to sexual violence. We can help our allies by contributing in our own way, by making help for civilians a priority.

Our allies are getting involved by offering humanitarian aid. Why is the Conservative government not supporting those efforts?

The Liberal and Conservative Parties of Canada September 23rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, if we want real change, not just the appearance of change, we cannot just keep switching from blue to red and back. When it comes to employment insurance, Keystone XL, Cacouna and the Senate, those two are cut from the same cloth.

The two old parties have grown so alike that they are courting the same candidates. This week, we learned that both the Liberals and the Conservatives tried to recruit Nathalie Normandeau for the next election and that former Liberal organizer Beryl Wajsman is vying for the Conservative nomination in Mont-Royal. As we all know, Wajsman was booted out of the Liberal Party after he appeared before the Gomery commission, and Nathalie Normandeau was put through the wringer by the Charbonneau commission because of the many gifts she received from building contractors.

It is hard to believe that the Liberals and the Conservatives really want to clean house when they are raiding commissions of inquiry for candidates, in the same way they raided the employment insurance fund. Canadians who want change have a simple choice: vote for the old, worn-out parties rife with corruption and cronyism, or vote for the NDP, the only party that stands for change.

Reform Act, 2014 September 18th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-586 and discuss exactly what measures this reform act contains.

The NDP has been talking about Canada's democratic deficit for a long time. What does that mean? The term democratic deficit involves two major constructs. One of them is more concrete and pertains to the exercise of democracy, while the other is more abstract and deals with the perception that voters have of that exercise.

Canada has 150 years of experience with democracy. Canadian democracy is well-established, reliable and, in some ways, sine qua non. We can no longer envision our lives in this country without our democracy. Even if we criticize it, and sometimes with good reason, it serves us well.

Over the years, we improved the democratic process whenever we felt as though something was not quite right. As challenges arose and mores, demographics and regional cares changed, we quietly shaped and changed the House to reflect our great country and its people.

What I am trying to say is that when real problems arise, we solve them. The major exception, and we will continue to speak out against it, is the unfair elections act that was introduced last spring. It will cause serious problems in upcoming elections.

While we are witnessing an alarming increase in democratic apathy and while strong and informed action should be taken to rouse voters and get them interested, a repressive elections act reminiscent of East Germany's received the enthusiastic approval of the Conservative government.

The democratic deficit that I am talking about is caused by obvious social and cultural circumstances. Accustomed to democracy, a growing proportion of Canadians no longer sense how fragile it is and they forget that they have a duty as voters. This is a very worrisome trend for which the NDP has been seeking solutions for a long time.

The government, on the other hand, is pleased with this decline in interest. It is sad, but that is the way it is. However, our platform is clear and sound. We are going to do everything we can to overcome this lack of interest. That is what Canadians expect and we will not let them down.

The deficit is caused by actual practices, which need constant adjustments in order to remain effective, and by the widespread false perception that our democracy is elitist and lacks transparency.

Bill C-586 is not the great reform that it claims to be, and for this very simple reason: although it says it addresses a concrete problem, that problem is first and foremost a problem of perception. A bill is a proposed solution to a problem. If Bill C-586 is meant to tighten up a specific mechanism that is part of our democracy, where is the problem? If the answer is 42, does anyone know the question?

Here is the problem this bill is meant to fix. Party leaders and decision makers have too much power regarding the nomination process and how their members vote in the House. The way these powers are used dilutes the democratic voices of the people and affects the transparency of the system that governs us.

To fix that, and this is what Bill C-586 proposes, riding associations, the grassroots, the partisan base, must be allowed to select candidates without any interference.

Once elected, these candidates should have greater flexibility when voting in the House. This all seems fine and dandy, but in reality, what we are really dealing with is a very abstract problem. In fact, the opportunity to work to improve the concrete aspect of the issue was buried last spring along with the government's democratic credibility in a communal grave.

Candidates are not chosen the same way as party leaders. There are no major debates or massive conventions. In most cases, candidates are nominated without any opposition.

Bill C-586 is therefore meant to change the electorate's somewhat false perception that everything is decided ahead of time and the party steamrolls over Canada right before an election, imposing its own will.

That is not the case, but it could actually become the reality, which is why I am supporting this bill. We can prevent this risk right away. It will regenerate a certain partisan fervour and force parties to be more accountable during the nomination process in the ridings.

Bill C-586 contains another very interesting and very telling aspect regarding what happens in the Conservative ranks. Usually no information ever leaks out, except when a member gets fed up with the black hole atmosphere and ditches the party.

The bill aims to reform certain aspects of what is known as the party line culture. The preamble of the bill includes a very important sentence:

Whereas the leadership of political parties must maintain the confidence of their caucuses;

Once again, we have a slight shift in meaning. At conventions, the people who make up a political party's partisan base fine-tune and reassert the resolutions that become their party's ideological base.

Party leaders lead elected members with their own strategic vision of the issues that are important to the partisan base. The leaders are the ones who decide which of these wants take precedence, who do the calculations and who take all the risks. Members of Parliament must support their leader and his or her decisions, since together, they form a molecule of public support.

The party line is the agreement between the leader and the members of Parliament. That is what the party offers to the electorate that has put its confidence in the party. The electorate is not partisan; the parties in the House must respect the diversity of public opinion. The party leaders have the confidence of the partisan base. The base has the opportunity to confirm or deny that confidence during votes at national conventions.

When a person runs as a candidate in an election, they announce that they are supporting a leader. The election platform is a compromise. The candidate may not be pleased with all of the aspects, but they decide to focus on certain key aspects. At the end of the day, small crises of confidence are not part of the democratic deficit, since that person knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed up. I am sorry, but it is simply a reality that we must face.

I have a problem with some other aspects of the bill regarding a party's internal practices. For example, I understand that including the election of the caucus chair could seem like an excellent idea for a party that does not already do that. However, for the NDP, electing a caucus chair once every four years would be a step backwards from our current practice of holding a yearly election. Furthermore, our party has a gender parity system that works very well. Obviously, if this bill forced us to regress in these areas, I would have a hard time supporting it. However, the bill's sponsor has assured us that these changes would become suggestions instead of requirements.

Now that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has indicated that he is prepared to change some aspects of his bill through amendments in committee, I think that the best decision is to vote in favour of this bill, send it to committee and study the impact or effect of this reform. That is why I will support this bill, in the hopes that something good will come out of it.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act September 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-587 introduced by the hon. member for Okanagan—Shuswap. I am also very pleased to learn that there is a place in Canada called Shuswap. I looked it up. It seems like a wonderful place. I hope to visit it one day.

Bill C-587 amends our Criminal Code in order to provide that a person convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of one victim is to be sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole until the person has served a sentence of between 25 and 40 years.

I will be honest. Discussions on amending the Criminal Code make me uncomfortable and a bit nervous because I am not a lawyer and I do not claim to understand the full extent of these changes. What is more, at first I did not really understand all these different assaults listed in the bill, as though triple heinous crimes were common currency in Canada. Not only that, but it is as though punishment worthy of that name were missing from the Criminal Code in its current form.

Neither of those is the case. I think I am justified in feeling uncomfortable. I find it strange that a backbench MP has introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Code. I think the Minister of Justice should be responsible for such important changes, to ensure that the bill can be properly studied. This kind of initiative should be much more formal. This all comes across as cavalier, which worries me.

The idea behind this bill is immediately clear when you read it. It is simply an exaggeration, typical Conservative-style hyperbole. They are looking to hand down excessive or double punishments. They appear to believe that this approach will ease the suffering of victims, whose lives have been turned upside down by crime.

The first ombudsman for victims of crime said that this bill was nothing but smoke and mirrors or an empty promise. He said that the measure would be used at most a few times a year, but would change nothing for the families of victims.

This is a foolish move that is taking us back to the Old Testament philosophy of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The victim's role is being made out to be inalienable. The victim becomes this person in need of assistance, whose constant pain serves as proof that justice is about redemption.

Victims are being forced to remain victims, in order to justify never-ending punishments. By exploiting the pain of this serious crime, they are justifying the need for absolute justice. The crime becomes an eternal act to be relived day after day, in order to satisfy the need to punish over and over. By punishing, we are only selling out our own morals.

I would even venture to say that what is behind this type of discussion on the effectiveness of our Criminal Code, and what is at the very heart of this bill, is an irascible belief in the validity of the death penalty. Real justice is hiding behind that.

Our Constitution prevents us from bringing back the death penalty, but the government is constantly trying to get as close as it can. If it cannot execute someone, it will punish the person threefold. It wants to brandish full, irrevocable punishments. Surely that kind of inflexibility will make us feel better.

However, the experts all agree: our judicial system works very well. We do not need to up the ante in such a completely emotional and unenforceable way. Crime is emotional; justice should not be.

The discussion we are having here today is not a new one. In fact, the record is starting to skip. The Conservative Party wants to appeal to its partisan base, so it introduces bombastic bills on victims' rights, and declares a holy war against crime. Immediately, the NDP is stuck preaching moderation and defending the existing rule of law, and then we are accused of being a bunch of whining patsies who want to rehabilitate Satan himself. We are told, “Oh, the NDP is soft on crime” or “Forgive them, they are a bunch of bleeding heart leftists”.

The reality is that Canada has very little crime to worry about. Maybe the Conservatives are perhaps confusing Canada with the United States. It would not be the first time. What is the fundamental difference between the United States and Canada? It is precisely the fact that we rehabilitate criminals. The sentimentality of the patsies I just mentioned has helped make Canada one of the safest, most peaceful countries in the world.

The Canadian Bar Association said:

...[It] does not believe that Canadians would benefit from a system where individuals are condemned to spend their entire lives behind bars, with no hope of ever being released. Even those convicted of homicide, the most serious of all crimes, should know there is some slim possibility, after serving lengthy periods of their sentence behind bars, of being released into the community and contributing to society, provided that their behaviour while incarcerated makes them deserving of such a privilege.

The most reprehensible notion that would be introduced into the Criminal Code by Bill C-587 is the idea of relativity. Believing that punishment is meted out in an ad hoc manner and that such an indiscriminate criterion has a place in our justice system shows a very poor understanding of that system. Behind it there is the notion that human justice is not enough and that the wrath of God is needed to really vindicate the victims. I am not a lawyer, but I know that the Middle Ages have passed and that the notion of justice has evolved since Spain discovered North America. We are not going to return to outdated practices to please Conservative voters. Justice is a system and not an election platform.

When you remove even the smallest bit of rationality from the justice system, you weaken it. In fact, power is being taken away from judges, who must from now on make decisions based on random concepts. A crime is still a crime. A despicable thing is vile. The only thing that can vindicate us is judicial stability.

How can this notion of seriousness be measured? How can we ensure equality before the law when a notion of relativism is introduced into the equation? I would really like the member for Okanagan—Shuswap to clearly explain that to me. What gap is the bill trying to fill?

At present, in Canada, under Canadian criminal law, it is possible to not be eligible for parole for over 25 years. This is in line with international criminal law. We have adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and this is in keeping with our long tradition as adherents to the rule of law, which is seen around the world as being fair, balanced and exemplary. The Conservatives are systematically damaging that tradition by isolating Canada in the world.

It is deplorable to have to watch our status as mediator crumble because of the actions of this government.

Parole ineligibility is being increased from 25 to 40 years. How will this increase improve our justice system? The only reason to have a sentence like that is as a deterrent, but this is such a rare crime that one would think the laws of civilization would be enough to deter those who might be tempted to kidnap, rape and murder. Yes, these are heinous crimes, but our system already punishes these rare occurrences severely and justly.

This crime is extreme, but that does not mean we need to go to extremes to punish it. It is up to us to be reasonable, not to criminals.

In closing, I will vote against this private member's bill because I think it is time we stopped using victims to make useless changes to our justice system. After all, if the Conservative government wants to make that kind of change to our Criminal Code, all it has to do is introduce a government bill that can be studied as such.

Ukraine September 16th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the situation in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk is a challenge for the western world. Even so, the friendship between Canada and Ukraine remains steadfast. Canada fully supports the Ukrainian people's desire for peace and democracy.

On behalf of all my colleagues, I would like to extend a warm welcome to President Poroshenko, who is visiting our great country for the first time.

[Member spoke in Ukrainian.]