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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

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Madam Speaker, I do not see a problem. When a system is modernized or upgraded and there is continuity of people, it seems perfectly reasonable to continue using them. If the processes need to be modernized, which was a good part of the speeches, how do we make sure the whole system is flexible enough to keep up with the times? It seems perfectly appropriate. I do not see the issue that the member is bringing forward.

Statistics Act June 20th, 2017

Madam Speaker, it would be good to have a bit more French in the House. Therefore I will be giving my speech on Bill C-36, an act to amend the Statistics Act, in French.

The main purpose of this bill is to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada. At the same time, it proposes to modernize certain key provisions of the Statistics Act, in accordance with the expectations of Canadians. One of these provisions is the part of the act that deals with imprisonment.

The government recognizes the importance of high-quality statistical data and the need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to encourage Canadians to provide information to Statistics Canada. However, the government also recognizes that Canadians should not be threatened with jail time if they fail to complete a mandatory survey, including the census.

We are not alone in thinking that this is excessive in the current context. Generally, Canadians agree that prison time for refusing to complete a mandatory survey or grant access to information is a penalty disproportionate to the offence. This is excessively heavy handed and inappropriate. That is why Bill C-36 would abolish imprisonment as a penalty for those who refuse or fail to provide the information requested as part of a mandatory survey.

The bill also abolishes imprisonment as a penalty for those who wilfully obstruct the collection of this information. In other words, once this legislation is passed, no Canadian citizen will be threatened with jail under the Statistics Act for failing to complete a mandatory survey. As a general rule, people complete the census questionnaire and all other mandatory survey questionnaires well before legal action is taken.

Statistics Canada has a thorough process that it follows before sending cases to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. First, Statistics Canada sends a letter to the individual and has someone visit their home. Statistics Canada does everything in its power to remind people of their civic duty before referring their case to the justice system.

Typically, with each census, approximately 50 cases are referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the Department of Justice. Of those cases that proceed to court, the majority are resolved with the person agreeing to complete their census form when ordered by the judge. Among those cases that go to trial and where the accused is found guilty, the vast majority result in a fine.

Only once has a person ever been sentenced to jail; this occurred in 2013, after one individual refused to complete the 2011 census of population and refused other offered penalties such as community service.

The only household survey that Statistics Canada conducts on a mandatory basis is the monthly labour force survey. Statistics Canada has never referred a case to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for this survey.

All of Statistics Canada's core business surveys are conducted on a mandatory basis. Since the 1970s, Statistics Canada has not referred a single case to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for a business that has refused to comply with the act. The only time a census of agriculture case was referred to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada was in conjunction with failure to comply on the census of population.

Since 2010, a number of bills have been introduced in Parliament to remove imprisonment for such offences. Some may argue that removing the threat of imprisonment would increase the risk that more Canadians would choose not to respond to an information request from Statistics Canada, thereby affecting the quality of the data. However, it is important to note that the current fines will remain. The fines are fully consistent with the provisions of the Act. Also, Canadians are aware of the importance of the data produced by Statistics Canada.

We are of the view that the threat of imprisonment is not required to convince Canadians of the importance of providing information for mandatory surveys. Canadians also know and understand that Statistics Canada is a highly regarded institution, one of the best in the world, and that it values and protects the confidentiality of all data collected. With the changes we are proposing to the legislation to strengthen the agency’s independence, Canadians can be further reassured that their data will continue to be treated with the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, and confidentiality.

That brings me to another point. In the past, some people have said that, since we rarely use the provisions regarding imprisonment, it does not matter if they are removed from the act or not. We disagree. It is important that the penalties set out in the Statistics Act are in keeping with the collective vision of Canadians. Prison sentences should be reserved for more serious crimes. I think the House will agree with me on that. Let us be responsible, fair, and reasonable and eliminate that threat. That is what Bill C-36 seeks to do.

I would also like to talk a little about the rest of the bill. In 2010, the government's decision to replace the mandatory long form census with the voluntary national household survey gave rise to public criticism. Concerns were raised about the quality of the national household survey data and about Statistics Canada's independence.

In reaction to this decision, a number of private members' bills were introduced in the House that would require the collection of information by means of a mandatory long form census questionnaire that was equal in length and scope to the 1971 census.

We seriously considered that option. Instead of focusing only on protecting the census, we chose to amend the Statistics Act in order to give Statistics Canada more independence over its statistical activities. To that end, we gave the chief statistician decision-making power over statistical operations and methods. The bill also seeks to add provisions on transparency to ensure greater accountability on decisions.

This approach aligns with the United Nations’ Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the recommendation of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on best practices. Some might still be wondering why we would not enshrine the content of the census in law to prevent future governments from replacing the mandatory long form census with a voluntary questionnaire, as was the case during the 2011 campaign. The answer is simple: no legal provision can prevent a government from changing the content of the census.

Governments have the power to make and change laws, but more importantly, we must remember that official statistics are a public good and that Statistics Canada is a publicly funded institution. It is ultimately the government's responsibility to determine the scope of the statistical system, specifically, the country's data priorities, or in other words, the data that is collected. This responsibility ensures that the statistical information collected is sensitive to the burdens placed on citizens as respondents, that it is sensitive to the costs they bear as taxpayers, and that the information that is produced is responsive to their needs as data users.

Stastitical data must also be responsive to the government's need to make evidence-based decisions about the programs and services that affect the daily lives of Canadians, such as affordable housing, public transportation, and skills training for employment. Rather than entrench the content of the long form census questionnaire in the Statistics Act, Bill C-36 addresses the fundamental issues of Statistics Canada's independence. Let me explain why.

First, the previous government's decision about the 2011 census was not about the questions to be asked, but rather about removing the mandatory requirement to respond. The voluntary national household survey, as it was called, asked the same questions that would have been asked in the planned mandatory long form questionnaire that it replaced.

Consistent with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision making, one of our first acts as a government was to reinstate the mandatory long form census in time for the 2016 census of population to ensure that the census produces high-quality data. We also committed to strengthening Statistics Canada's independence and ensuring that the methods of operations are based on professional principles. Bill C-36 meets this commitment.

Second, entrenching the content of the census in law could reduce the government's flexibility to ensure that the data collected continuously meets the needs of an ever-evolving Canadian society and economy. We just have to look at the history of census content.

It has changed numerous times to reflect emerging issues, evolving data needs, and the development of alternative ways of collecting the information.

The first national census of Canada was taken in 1871 and contained 211 questions, including those regarding age, sex, religion, education, race, occupation, and ancestral origins.

Subject matter and questions have been added and dropped ever since. In 1931, questions on unemployment were added. In 1941, questions on fertility and housing were introduced. In 1986, questions were introduced on functional limitations. In 1991, questions about common-law relationships were introduced, and questions on same-sex couples were added in 2006. In 1996, questions on unpaid work were introduced. These were removed in 2011.

These examples signal the need for flexibility and prioritization in determining the content of a census. Entrenching census content in legislation would limit this flexibility. Amending the act every time the census needs to change would be highly impractical.

Our current approach to determining census content works. It is based on extensive user consultations and the testing of potential questions to reflect the changing needs of society and to ensure the census is the appropriate vehicle to respond to them.

Then Statistics Canada makes a recommendation to the government on the content that should be included in the upcoming census. General questions are then prescribed by order by the Governor in Council and published in the Canada Gazette for transparency purposes.

Lastly, defining the long form census content in law could potentially reduce the incentives to find alternative means to gathering census information at a lower cost and with less respondent burden.

Statistical agencies must also think about the burden that they impose on citizens and businesses to provide information, and they must do so within the fiscal resources allocated by the government.

The data world is evolving rapidly. We read and hear the words “big data”, “open data”, and “administrative data” every day.

More and more statistical offices around the world are integrating these alternative and complementary sources of information into their statistical programs.

They offer the potential to collect and publish high quality statistical information more frequently, at lower cost, and at lower response burden.

For example, for the 2016 census, Statistics Canada obtained detailed income information for all census respondents from administrative records provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. This approach will ensure that higher quality income data will be produced at a lower cost and with reduced burden on Canadians.

Entrenching the scope and content of the census in the Statistics Act may not serve Canadians well moving forward. It would tie us to one way of doing business that may not be the way of the future.

The act should remain flexible to meet the evolving data needs of Canadians and their governments. It should retain the flexibility to encourage innovation so as to take advantage of the evolving means of collecting statistical information.

Some have suggested that the census content should be the same as it was over 40 years ago and that the sample size for the long form should be entrenched in law.

The rapidly evolving world of data suggests that we should retain the flexibility to build the foundation of a statistical system of the future rather than restricting ourselves to continue to do what has been done in the past.

We think our approach to Bill C-36 strikes the right balance and will stand the test of time.

Amendments to Standing Orders June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, that is an easy one. If the opposition came to the table as honest brokers and came to the government to discuss this, which is what we were looking for, we would have had a much more productive discussion and it would have resulted in a motion. If they did not agree with it, they could have filibustered at that point. However, at least we would have had the discussion.

The best way of going forward is by having everybody come to the table and being honest with their opinions.

Amendments to Standing Orders June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what pals he is talking about.

Bill C-44 was introduced as part of the budget. We made it very clear in the budget that we were going to create the infrastructure bank. Our plans to do that were clear. The infrastructure bank is a way of investing and creating a good fund that will make it possible to invest in infrastructure across the country.

In my riding of Laurentides—Labelle, there is a significant need for infrastructure. In many cases, the money for infrastructure just is not there. The infrastructure bank will help in such cases, and that is why it is extremely important for the development of infrastructure and of the country.

Amendments to Standing Orders June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we hoped to have a discussion to build on the ideas, to perhaps invite witnesses to discuss how it was done in other countries, and to see what other people did.

What ended up coming out of this was a few things committed to in the platform, rather than the very wide range of things coming out of Standing Order 51 debate. There were things the opposition members themselves wanted to discuss but did not actually want to discuss.

The process did not work as I would have liked. However, this is where we are. We have a motion that will improve the rights of members in the House. It is very worthwhile and very important to proceed with this.

Amendments to Standing Orders June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, they were in our platform and we committed to do them.

I would like to discuss the other items, and we did in fact propose a discussion. The motion was to create a discussion. I was there for it. I co-wrote the motion with the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame. It was very important to have a discussion on how to do these very things, but we never did get to that. We had a filibuster.

Amendments to Standing Orders June 20th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Scarborough—Agincourt for sharing his time with me. It is emblematic of the duties we have been sharing over the past year as I have been working with him to back him up in his deputy House leadership duties.

While my dream of fixing the clocks in this place to be digital remains unfulfilled, there are a number of more serious Standing Order issues that need to be addressed. While the opposition has often accused Liberal members in this place of wanting to change the Standing Orders to government advantage, I would argue that the opposite is true.

Many of us on this side were here when we were in opposition. A few of us survived the decimation to third party. I started as a staffer, working for Frank Valeriote, the previous member for Guelph, in his constituency office early in the 40th Parliament. I eventually found myself working here for the member for Ottawa South, where I worked when the government was found to be in contempt of Parliament and an election was forced in early 2011. I subsequently worked for both those members as well as the current members for Halifax West, whom I take great pride in calling Mr. Speaker today, and the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, all, for a short period, at the same time.

Working for four excellent members of Parliament, with different personalities and areas of interest, I gained a great breadth of experience and perspective, which has been a key part of learning how to do this job. It also gave me an up-close perspective on the abuses of power, on a daily basis, by the previous government. That is the perspective from which this motion has been written, that of the third party. To make the point, I want to go over Motion No. 18 one piece at a time.

In 2008, most of us will remember that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc got together in an effort to take down the freshly re-elected Harper government. Whatever one thinks of the details of that agreement, a majority of members intended to vote no confidence in a sitting minority government. To avoid this, Harper visited then governor general Michaëlle Jean and asked her to prorogue Parliament, a request she granted after a couple of hours of deliberation.

Parliament is often prorogued between dissolutions. Of the past seven Parliaments, only one did not have at least one prorogation, that being Paul Martin's minority 38th Parliament. Proroguing itself is definitely legitimate. In the 2008 instance, however, it was used as a tool to avoid a confidence vote. We all know how history played out after that, and it was a tactical success for Prime Minister Harper.

The first clause of Motion No. 18 would not prevent a prime minister from proroguing, but it would require the executive to explain why they felt it was necessary and would mandate the procedure and House affairs committee to revisit the matter. It would not prevent abuse, but it would raise the bar on prorogation.

It is a bit of a marvel to me that, in my experience, no one has tried to do a massive private member's bill that rethinks the role of government from one end to the other. It would be a pretty interesting two-hour debate and is only currently prevented by convention, not rule.

In the last Parliament, the government had some impressively scattered omnibus bills. The standard here is not about how many laws a bill amends but rather if those various and sundry changes all serve the overall purpose of the bill. For example, Bill C-49, which passed at second reading here only yesterday, was cited by many in the opposition as an omnibus bill because it intends to modify 13 existing acts. However, this is spurious, because all the changes legitimately and clearly fall under the concept of the name of the act, the transportation modernization act, and some of those 13 existing-act changes are both relevant and miniscule.

For example, clause 91 of Bill C-49 is the section that would amend the Budget Implementation Act, 2009. This change reads, in whole, “Parts 14 and 15 of the Budget Implementation Act, 2009 are repealed.” A quick investigation will reveal that Part 14 is amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and Part 15 is amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act, both well within the purview of the Minister of Transport to modernize within his mandate. Both sets of amendments from that Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which was called Bill C-10 in the second session of the 40th Parliament, came with a coming into force clause that read, in part, “come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council made on the recommendation of the Minister”. The most remarkable part of this eight-year-old piece of legislation is that the Governor in Council never brought these changes into force.

Getting rid of obsolete, never implemented bits of transportation law is clearly within the frame of transportation modernization.

In 2012, the Conservative government brought in a wide-ranging budget bill that implemented much of what it called Canada's economic action plan, but it also went after environmental legislation that had nothing to do with the budget. Among other things, it stripped legal protection for Canada's millions of lakes and waterways. This was slowed down, but not stopped, by more than 1,000 amendments to the bill at the finance committee, resulting in an around-the-clock filibuster-by-vote at clause-by-clause. I was there as staff for the final shift of that marathon vote.

The second section of Motion No. 18 would attempt to address these problems. Any bill presented in the House that did not focus on a single theme or overarching purpose could be split by the Speaker. While there would be an exception for budgets, the phrasing of that section, which would be standing order 69.1(2), would only seek to clarify that the objectives outlined in the budget would in their own right define the purpose. Attempting to change environmental law in a budget implementation act, without having defined it in the budget itself, for example, would permit a point of order to be raised and accepted by the Speaker to carve that section out of the BIA. This change is important and is something we committed to doing.

The third change is a little more arcane.

I was a staff member on the public accounts committee for a short period in the 41st Parliament and was a member of government operation and estimates early on in the 42nd Parliament for about the same length of time. I do not pretend to have any great understanding of the minutiae of the estimates process and defer to those who do. That is a big part of the point here. I welcome anything that can help bring clarity to the estimates process.

The fourth change in the Standing Orders in this motion is a particularly interesting one, covering sections 4 to 6 of Motion No. 18.

In the last Parliament, I believe most of us who were around had the same experience. Committees were run by parliamentary secretaries. They sat next to the chair, moved motions, voted, and otherwise controlled the committees. This utterly and totally defeats the point of parliamentary committees. The parliamentary secretary is, by definition, the representative of the minister. In this capacity, parliamentary secretaries serve a critical role in liaising between the committee and the department the committee oversees.

Being able to answer questions about intent and plans from the committee on a timely basis or bringing concerns or issues for study that ministers would like feedback on in the course of their duties are completely appropriate. However, when parliamentary secretaries run the committees, these oversight bodies cease to oversee much of anything and simply become extensions of the executive branch of government. If that is what we are to have, the committees serve little purpose. Including parliamentary secretaries on committees as liaisons with their departments instead of as the planners and executors of the work of those committees is the right balance.

This is really important. During the Reform Act debate in the last Parliament, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, for whom I have great respect and have for many years, commented to me that as a backbencher, he was not government. “Like you,” he said to me, “my role is to keep the government to account. The difference is”, he concluded, “I have confidence in the government.”

This critical bit of political philosophy has stuck with me since that day. Our role as backbenchers is indeed to keep government to account whether we are on the government or opposition benches. One of the most critical tools to achieve that is committees, and when this government talks about restoring independence to committees, it is not a meaningless catchphrase or sound bite; it is legitimate. I have seen the transition on committee function from last Parliament to this Parliament and it is truly something. Keeping parliamentary secretaries in a participatory, but not controlling, role on committees is a critical element of this.

The last change, section 7 of the motion, is particularly interesting. The one place where the opposition has immense power, even in a majority government, is in the power of the filibuster at committee. An opposition member determined to prevent a vote from taking place or a report from being written at a committee has the absolute power to do so, as long as he or she is willing to talk out the clock and stay reasonably on point. Our colleague from Hamilton Centre is an expert at this task, often joking that after half an hour of talking he has not yet finished clearing his throat.

When we had the debate on reforming the Standing Orders that went sideways at PROC a few weeks ago, we were accused of trying to kill the filibuster. This could not be further from the truth.

In that debate, we sought to have a conversation about how to change the Standing Orders. The government House Leader had written a letter with her ideas of what changes she hoped we would discuss on top of the numerous ideas already before us on account of the Standing Order 51 debate from last fall. However, but if we refer back to the previous elements of this speech, where we landed was up to us as a committee. An idea floated was that members at committee be limited to an unlimited number of 10-minute speaking slots rather than a single slot with no end.

The way I understand this would work in practice is that any member can speak for as long as he or she wishes at committee, but when another member signals his or her interest in speaking, the member would have 10 minutes to cede the floor before the other member would take over, before giving it back again if the first member so chose. The effect of this would be to ensure that every member on a committee would have an opportunity to speak in any debate, but would not limit anyone from tying up committee and would not kill the filibuster either in the instance or in principle. It certainly would make it easier to negotiate our way out of one by giving others a chance to get a word in edgewise.

However, the change proposed here is not about that. It is about getting rid of one of the most absurd abuses of committee procedure we saw in previous parliaments: that a member of the committee majority would take the floor, even on a point of order, and say to the chair something like, “I move that we call the question.” The chair would correctly say that it was out of order and reject the request for the vote. The member would then move to challenge the chair, the majority would vote that the chair was wrong and the question could be called, and the motion to debate, study, report draft, or whatever was happening, would come to an abrupt, unceremonious, and totally acrimonious end. That was the only effective, if not exactly legitimate, way of ending a filibuster.

In Motion No. 18, we are defending the right to filibuster.

As I said, Motion No. 18 is about defending the rights of the opposition, informed by our experience in the third party. Not one line of this motion benefits a majority government. All, however, benefit the improved functioning of this place. I look forward to its passage.

Changes to the Standing Orders June 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria and the opposition House leader have talked a great deal about the need for consensus to change the Standing Orders. However, only six days ago, the NDP opposition day motion sought to change the Standing Orders on a majority vote.

In the last Parliament, Motion No. 489, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, did change the Standing Orders of the House on about 58% of the vote.

There is a bit of sanctimony and hypocrisy in what the opposition members say on an ongoing basis. I was at PROC for almost the entire 80 hours of that rather long meeting on March 21. What happened was we brought forward a motion to have a discussion on the Standing Orders. It was a request for discussion. There were no changes to the Standing Orders. The motion did not even refer to the minister's letter. It was a request for an ongoing conversation with the opposition. I was hoping we would all have this conversation. If the opposition members did not like what came out of it, they could have filibustered at that point and stopped the report. It still would not have come back to the House.

Why are opposition members not interested in having any kind of actual meaningful discussion on changing the rules of this place?

Changes to the Standing Orders June 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the minister and I both served as staff in previous parliaments and I think we have all been around to see some of the very interesting things that have happened here over the years. When I read this motion, I see a whole lot of things that would have helped us when we were in opposition and not a lot that would help us here in government. I wonder if the minister would agree with that assessment: this would help this place function by empowering opposition parties to do their jobs better.

Transportation Modernization Act June 16th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am wondering if you might find the consent of the House to see the clock at 1:30.