House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was riding.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Liberal MP for Laurentides—Labelle (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities November 21st, 2018

Mr. Speaker, or perhaps I should say House traffic control, thank you for granting me a clearance to speak to Motion No. 177, the challenges facing flight schools, from my colleague both in the House and in the sky, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country.

The aviation industry as a whole is an important one, and the biggest challenges facing flight schools stem from wider problems in the industry, namely a shortage of qualified pilots. As many of us here know, this is not a problem unique to aviation. The worker shortage across my region is significantly affecting all sectors. Restaurants are having trouble staying open, not for a lack of clients, but for a lack of kitchen staff. The 24-hour Tim Hortons are not. Even garages have significant ad campaigns on local radio stations to hire mechanics, and the story is repeated in just about every industry across the region.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the aviation industry will be short some 620,000 pilots over the next 18 years. We are in a period of feast, and there will no doubt be challenges that come along that affect this prediction over the course of that time, but the need will still be significant.

When I started flying in 2005, the industry was in a state of famine. My first flying school, which closed not long after I earned my licence, had an abundance of flight instructors, each paid by the flight instruction hour, on contract, rather than on a salary. Many, if not most, had second jobs to get by, as well as significant five-figure loans. If someone got a job offer off the instructor circuit, it was a huge victory worth celebrating.

Times were tough in aviation, and while I dreamed of being a career pilot like my grandfather, Jack Ross Graham, before me, who flew from the early 1930s until his death by pulmonary embolism in 1959, a direct consequence of his time in flight, there was no way I was giving up a good career as a news editor in the free software world for the high-risk gamble of following that passion.

The industry since that time has faced a complete reversal. Around the world, aviation is on an upswing, and rather than going overseas looking for students to keep idle fleets of training aircraft occupied, schools are struggling to find instructors to meet the demand of largely overseas students coming on their own.

That leads to another point. I cannot think of very many industries where it is the novices, rather than the seasoned veterans, who teach the beginners. For the majority of new commercial pilots, their first job is either as a bush pilot or as what is called a class 4 flight instructor. Veteran career instructors exist, but are extremely rare and are largely a dying breed.

For most new pilots, flight instruction is a job held for the minimum amount of time possible, until what they call “a real job” becomes available. Today, these instructors often serve as little as four months' time, meaning new pilots, if they are lucky enough to find an instructor, risk changing instructors several times through their training, which can slow down the process.

There are some instructors who for various reasons choose to remain instructors, and I am privileged to have one of this type as my own instructor, but that has not always been the case for me. When I started as a student at a flying school called Aviation International at Guelph Airpark, then the busiest uncontrolled airport in the country, I had someone I felt to be an exceptional instructor in Rob Moss, then both a civilian and a military instructor. Over the course of my training, Rob got an interesting job flying in northern Ontario. Then I was bounced through Andrew Gottschlich, Scott Peters, Marcia Pluim and Alex Ruiz before finally getting my licence in the summer of 2007. I had to check my logbook to make sure I did not miss anyone. While each of them was both a good pilot and a good instructor, there is no doubt that the constant change in instructors slowed down my training. That was one of the pitfalls of not training full-time.

Another of these pitfalls was that during this time when I filed my flight training receipts with my taxes as a tuition expense in view of training toward a new career, Canada Revenue Agency rejected these significant deductions because I had not yet achieved a commercial licence and therefore it did not count, though I was told by many in the industry that if I made a federal case out of it I could get that fixed.

It is little roadblocks like this that tend to cascade into larger problems for those trying to get into the industry. Some of these affect the schools themselves, which have onerous and difficult processes to be recognized as schools by provincial education departments, complicating matters further.

It is certainly a particular personal pleasure for me to talk about aviation here in the House. One day, early on in my flying career, I was learning the basics of how to land a plane. Every landing, though successful, was sloppy. Off the centre line, a bit of a bounce, a bit more of a bounce, a little long on our short runway, maybe an incorrect radio call or two, and I was getting frustrated. I was very focused, doing exactly what I had been taught in ground school and shown by the aforementioned Rob. Then, a few circuits in, Rob and I got into a long and interesting conversation about politics. At the time, it was the dying months of the Martin administration, and there was a good deal for us to talk about. We kept talking about federal politics until I had pulled off runway 32 at the far end and started taxiing back for the next circuit. It was only at that point that we realized that I had made my first perfect landing. Politics, it seems, was the solution. Indeed, we never missed opportunities to talk about politics while I was learning to fly. Now, fast forward 13 and a half years and a couple of hundred flying hours in a dozen different aircraft, and it is a complete reversal to at last be able to speak about aviation on the floor of the House.

I have, on a few occasions, travelled to events in my riding by plane rather than by car. I have landed at all five registered land aerodromes in the riding, including La Macaza/Mont-Tremblant International Airport, where I rent a Cessna 172M.

There are another five registered heliports, five registered seaplane bases, numerous unregistered runways and the occasional temporary airfield plowed into a frozen lake, several of which I have also landed at, and helipads, as well as float plane docks on many of the approximately 10,000 lakes that decorate Laurentides—Labelle. A search last year of Transport Canada's airplane registration database found about 300 aircraft that are registered to postal codes in my riding.

Aviation is, then, an important part of the Laurentians. I am a member of the Association des aviateurs de la région du Mont-Tremblant, Association des pilotes de brousse du Québec, and the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.

The first puts up an event we call Jeunes en Vol every year at the Wheelair field in Mont-Tremblant, itself the site of Canada's first commercial airline. There have also been such events in Sainte-Anne-du-Lac and La Minerve over the past couple of years. At five of these, I have participated as a volunteer pilot, offering rides to three kids at a time aged eight to 17 in what we call “aerial baptism”. All the organizations I mentioned put on this type of event all across Canada.

At its core, it is a way for the aviation industry to tackle the problem of self-renewal. In offering 200 kids at a time the opportunity to experience flight in a small plane, for the first time in almost all cases, we are inviting interest in pursuing a career in the industry. I have taken a total of approximately 50 kids up so far in this manner, as well as my own four-year-old daughter Ozara, who now insists, depending on the day, that she will either be a member of Parliament, a pilot, or most recently, a flight attendant.

Almost every time I take a new person up in the air, I see their eyes light up. Only once has one of the kids also lit up a plastic bag, but we do try to avoid that. The interest is there. People want to fly. The challenges of learning to fly are numerous. It is expensive. A new pilot will typically incur $75,000 or more in debt before obtaining their commercial licence, and while prices have climbed steadily over the 13 years that I have been flying, schools are reticent to further raise prices. Of course, this leads to the vicious circle of instructors being few and far between.

Aviation medical examiners are rarer than they need to be, and if people do complete the courses, there are not enough flight test examiners to meet current demand. Now, I am lucky to have an extraordinarily competent instructor in Caroline Farly, the owner of Aéro Loisirs at La Macaza. For her, finding and retaining additional instructors for the three Cessna 172s used for land training at her school, and many others like hers, is a huge challenge.

A newly commercial-rated pilot with 200 hours, the minimum necessary to get a commercial license, can easily pick up a job for mines in Central Africa, for example, or obscure routes across the Far East, making decent money, and it does not take a whole lot of hours to pick up a flying job back at home.

Sticking around to be a class 4 instructor, the class that an instructor remains until they have successfully trained at least three students, at which point they become a class 3 instructor, is hardly a lucrative way to live. Generally on contract and paid by the instruction hour rather than by the duty hour, they are severely constrained by weather and aircraft availability, among numerous other factors, and there is no way to clear their $75,000 in debt in anything resembling a rational timeline.

While schools themselves face challenges with things like noise complaints from neighbours who get annoyed by the constant buzz of planes climbing out and circling over their houses and then landing, the biggest challenges are in incentivizing commercial pilots to pass on their skills.

There is, for example, zero incentive for an experienced pilot to pass their thousands, or tens of thousands, of hours of knowledge back to the next generation. It is left to the new pilots to train the newer pilots. More than that, there is little incentive for those new pilots to even take on that challenge, because their immediate concern is getting themselves out of the mountain of debt they incurred to become a pilot in the first place, a debt that many succumb to before even finishing their license, resulting in high drop-out rates, further stressing the system.

There are obvious places to look for solutions. Only about 7% of Canada's pilots are women, and indigenous communities are severely under-represented, yet are generally more reliant on aviation than most of the rest of society—though many reserves do not even have an airstrip. Ensuring that reserves have a landing strip, a plane, and a flight and mechanical instructor could kill several birds with one stone, but not before we address the financial challenges of getting into the business, for which solutions have been proposed, such as granting student loan forgiveness for instructors who serve a certain amount of time and/or in a remote location.

There are myriad other ideas, and this study would help us identify and evaluate them. The problem, of course, is wider than just pilots, and also speaks to the related problem of the death of the apprenticeship economy. Aviation mechanics, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and pretty much anyone hiring in the aviation industry has stiff competition for competent, trained workers, and so a deeper study of these challenges and how we can address them is not only warranted, but urgent.

Jewish Refugees November 7th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, today, the Prime Minister will apologize on behalf of all Canadians for what happened to the passengers of the MS St. Louis in 1939, when 907 refugees, most of them Jewish, knocked at our door after being turned away by Cuba and the United States. Our response was famously recorded in the book by Irving Abella, None is Too Many. No one wanted to help them and this unfortunately helped validate the racism and anti-Semitism of that era. Following their unexpected return to European soil, more than one quarter of those refugees lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps. They died for two reasons: they were Jewish and they were turned away. The survivors and families of several survivors are here today for this historic moment. I sincerely hope that this lesson stays with us for a long, long time.

VIA Rail October 29th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, on October 29, 1978, VIA Rail launched its first transcontinental service from Montreal to Vancouver. Forty years on, I am privileged to rise in the House to celebrate this Canadian institution, and not just because I am a devoted train buff.

The last time a VIA train went through my riding, Laurentides—Labelle, was in 1981, the year of my birth. Service cuts are a problem in many regions across the country, but I cherish the dream of bringing train travel back for all Canadians.

Thanks to investments in upgrading VIA's fleet, more and more Canadians are choosing to travel by train. Rail passengers are living proof that the environment and economic development can go hand in hand.

I would like to thank VIA's 3,000 employees for working so hard for so long to keep this environmentally friendly mode of transportation alive. Train travel is essential to our Canadian identity.

Happy anniversary, VIA, and keep up the good work.

Electoral Reform October 24th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I am proud of the important work we have done on modernizing our election laws.

As part of our study of the Chief Electoral Officer's report following the 2015 election, we released a series of reports containing numerous recommendations. We are pleased to have completed our clause-by-clause study of Bill C-76 and to see that the bill will be sent back to the House of Commons this week.

Could the Prime Minister tell the House about the measures our government is taking to follow through on our commitment to strengthen the openness and fairness of Canada's democratic institutions?

Liberator Harry Crash September 28th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, I will be at a ceremony in Saint-Donat to mark the 75th anniversary of the B-24D Liberator Harry crash.

On October 20, 1943, 24 Canadian military personnel returning home from the battlefield died on Black Mountain, which lies between my riding and Joliette. The crash site has become an important historic site in our region. It is the worst tragedy the Royal Canadian Air Force has ever experienced on Canadian soil.

I salute those who watch over the Liberator Harry, and the volunteers who have taken care of the site over the years. I congratulate André Gaudet and everyone who worked with him to organize this commemorative gathering. I am grateful to Héli-Tremblant, which volunteered to transport veterans to the mountaintop by helicopter.

I want to express my sincere respect for the families and descendants of the victims. It is our duty to remember all of the aviators and soldiers who have served our country.

Laurentides—Labelle September 20th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, from Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs to the Petawaga ZEC, by way of Lantier, Huberdeau, and Notre-Dame-du-Laus, I travelled more than 10,000 kilometres this summer to meet with the residents of the 43 municipalities in my riding.

I joined hundreds of young people at an aviation open house organized as part of the young aviators program in Sainte-Anne-du-Lac and Mont Tremblant. I met with more than 100 employers, community organizations, and students who were benefiting from the Canada summer jobs program. I attended more than 100 community activities, festivals and events, where I congratulated and thanked the organizers and volunteers who get involved in our communities and without whom there could be no community events.

I often feel like I have the best job in the world, because it allows me to meet people and spend time with them. People are the heart and soul of a region. I can say without a doubt that Laurentides—Labelle is the most beautiful riding in Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 1 June 5th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I had the privilege of joining my colleague from Joliette and going to the Atikamekw of Manawan First Nation.

We could see that there are desperate needs on this territory. Together with Chief Jean-Roch Ottawa and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, we embarked on a day-long tour of the community. We saw that there are some serious needs and we were able to make a small announcement and start helping.

Can my colleague talk about this issue and what we can do in budget 2017-18 and what work we can do in general to improve things in these regions and these communities?

Laurentides—Labelle May 29th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, last week, I was pleased to make an announcement that will greatly benefit young people in my region.

Through the “Le réemploi sous toutes ses formes, on en fait notre affaire” project developed by Inter Action Travail, an organization based in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, 16 young people will have the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to better integrate into the labour market.

For 22 months, these youth will work at La Recyclerie and will help to preserve our environment by giving construction materials and other used objects a second life.

I am privileged to be part of a government that cares about young people, encourages people to integrate into the labour market, and is aware of rural realities in areas all across Canada, such as Laurentides—Labelle.

I am extremely proud to have announced a federal partnership of $365,000 under the skills link program to support Inter Action Travail's wonderful project.

Net Neutrality May 22nd, 2018

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to pick up where I left off on the important issue of net neutrality.

We have all experienced the message of “This content is not available in your country” when content distributors or creators have used various technologies to figure out where a user is and limit a user's access in order to drive a user to a different provider or place for that particular content, or to block a user from it altogether. Indeed, a lot of Canadian-produced content is virtually impossible to access in Canada while being available in much of the rest of the world. Try watching Canada's Mayday, for example, without a Bell account. It cannot legally be done. It makes me wonder on what grounds vertical integration of the media market is legal. The neutrality of the net is under threat from all sides already, and it will take a concerted effort to protect it.

Removing net neutrality gives companies that control over people's Internet access and control over their Internet content. Once they do that, companies can start shaping a consumer's opinion, tune marketing, and sell access to the consumer for a much reduced cost.

With the current Cambridge Analytica controversy surrounding Facebook, themselves the king of those who control what consumers do, see, think, and feel on the Internet, we can see that this is not just some kind of vague theory. It is important to remember that if one is not paying for a product, then one is the product. This data gathering and control is not conducted just for the fun of it. People's data is not being stored in a cloud. There is no cloud, just other people's computers, and they want your data for a reason.

Without mandated net neutrality, there is nothing to stop a company from paying someone's ISP to increase access to their own services or decrease access to their competitor's services. To my point the last time I spoke on this about overselling Internet connections, I do not have much sympathy for ISPs in that situation, and so the argument that net neutrality has to go because of capacity issues is spurious. In my view, ISPs should be required to market minimum, not maximum, sustained-speed capability to their first peer outside of their network at typical peak usage times.

Xplornet, for example, markets 25-megabit satellite service, but will not tell us that for most customers, this speed only applies at 3 a.m. on a clear night with no northern lights, and even then only during the full moon. I may be exaggerating, but only a bit. It is not that the satellites and ground stations cannot handle an individual connection at that speed most of the time, but that the connections are oversold, resulting in constant, bitter complaining in my riding from rural Internet users who are stuck between the Xplornet rock and the dial-up hard place.

It is not the service that bothers me, since it is essential to have companies like Xplornet provide service to remote regions that have no other options, and we need it. Rather, it is the honesty about what the customer is getting for their money, what is advertised to them versus what they actually get, that needs to be rectified. The company justifies all this very carefully, and in my years in politics as a staffer and in this role, it is the only company I have ever encountered that only lobbies with senior counsel present. I think that speaks for itself.

The highly profitable telecommunications giant Bell, which broke $3 billion in profit in 2016 and built most of its infrastructure on public money in the first place, and Rogers, which made $1.8 billion in net profit last year, are upping their Internet connection prices by as much as $8.00 per month per customer, but are not investing significantly in deep rural Canada unless they get gifts from various levels of government to do so. These companies and the other large Internet providers will not even look at investing in a project unless they can get a return on investment in less than three years. I know of no other legal business that operates on quite such an efficient return on investment.

This brings us to another important net neutrality issue that was recently brought to my attention by a professional digital rights advocate.

Net neutrality can, and perhaps should, be expanded further to encompass investment neutrality. It is not just access to Internet service that is important. Equal, or at least equivalent, access for Internet users is also vital.

Choosing to invest in a gigabit-speed network in a city and fobbing off the regions with five megabits is not neutral. Specific users are being limited instead of specific services, but the outcome is the same.

If we tell residents in the regions that we cannot give them access, it is not Netflix that is being limited, it is the entire Internet. It is their access to services. It is their access to the economy. It is their ability to participate in modern society. That is why we cannot say that we really have net neutrality until we also have neutrality in terms of Internet access, which will surely take billions more in investment from all levels of the private sector.

Let us imagine for a moment what would happen if access to electricity were viewed in the same way as Internet access is today. The regions would not always have full power, and remote communities would have no power whatsoever unless they had access to a river they could build a dam on.

As a society and as a nation, we have a responsibility to ensure neutral access, to invest in a neutral way, and to give every Canadian a chance to get connected. We will need the participation of government organizations to achieve that equality, as we did in my riding of Laurentides—Labelle with the Antoine-Labelle telecommunications co-operative.

If members would like to know what losing net neutrality looks like, try using an iPhone or an iPad, assuming that Apple has not slowed it down yet to coax people to buy a new one. If members have ever plugged an iPhone into a non-Apple laptop or wanted to copy pictures to a USB stick or watch something paid for through iTunes on an Android, Windows, or other non-Apple device, it is very difficult to do.

If one wants to use an application not approved by Apple, forget it. It is, by its very definition and design, not neutral. By giving itself the power to censor, Apple has found itself with the obligation to censor. In the words of Richard Stallman, the father of the free software movement, either the user controls the program or the program controls the user.

Apple, like many American corporations, strives not only to sell a product but to control what is done with it after purchase, just like region-encoded DVDs and players, which in my view should not even be legal. In essence, nothing that a person buys actually becomes theirs; rather, the person is paying for the dubious privilege of becoming a part of Apple's network.

John Deere, the tractor and farm equipment maker, is jumping on this bandwagon too, claiming that it is against copyright for farmers to fix their own equipment. The copyright issue and the DMCA and our equivalent Canadian Copyright Modernization Act's effects relating to technological protection measures, are a deeply worrying symptom of a wide-ranging offensive by corporate America against individual rights for people to use what they have bought and paid for.

If members think that has nothing to do with net neutrality, they would be mistaken. It is part of the same basic principle. If I buy a tractor, an iPhone, or an Internet connection, I expect to be able to use it where, when, and how I see fit, even if it was not part of the original design of the product.

Reverse engineering something one has bought and running a gopher server off their home Internet connection, if one feels like being that retro, are, at their core, the same right. Port or service blocking by ISPs is to me a violation of net neutrality, as is refusing to sell someone a static IP address or letting someone otherwise do what they want with the connection.

Ending rather than entrenching net neutrality would end the Internet as we know it, and we need to make a strong statement supporting the principle of net neutrality by supporting this motion.

Elections Modernization Act May 11th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I am not too worried on that score. Most of the recommendations have already been included in the bill, which is public. It should be passed more or less as is. We already have access to the information we need to implement it on time. I think we really can make the necessary changes before the next election.