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Track Francis

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is professor.

Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 64% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act December 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I have been witness to that special relationship. I believe that the member was a member of this House when a former Ukrainian president came to speak to this House. That was one of the most eloquent forms of testimony to that special relationship.

Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act December 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the government is pulling back. There is a measure of continuity in what the government is doing. I refer to Canadian government sanctions related to Ukraine. As the member knows, they were enacted under the Special Economic Measures Act to respond to violations of Ukraine's constitution, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This was done on March 17, 2014, under the previous government. Amendments have been made since then, including in 2014 and 2015, under the previous government, but also on March 18 and November 28, 2016, by this government.

It is quite clear where the government stands with respect to the situation in Crimea and that it has acted in continuity with what the previous government did.

Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act December 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, we were at questions and comments.

Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act December 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, there is a wide range of areas in which we can co-operate fruitfully with Ukraine, but the subject of today's debate is really focused on international trade. Of course international trade is one component of the whole series of relationships in which two countries can engage. Usually we start with trade and we expand those relationships. Trade brings countries together around commerce and trade, but those relationships can spawn so many other areas of co-operation.

Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act December 13th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak today on the topic of Canada's progressive approach to trade.

Globally, there are trends of growing populist backlash against international trade and globalization more broadly, while at the same time increasing protectionism. In addition to what we have seen in recent months from political campaigns in the U.S. or the Brexit referendum result in the UK, the World Trade Organization and other international institutions published a report in November that noted that G20 economies introduced 85 new trade-restrictive measures between mid-May and mid-October 2016.

At an average of 17 new measures a month, this is a slight decline over the average of the previous review period. However, this number remains high and coupled with the slow rollback of existing trade-restrictive measures means that we are seeing a steady accumulation of such measures.

This growing protectionism is an issue of global concern, and it is especially problematic for a trade-dependent country such as Canada. Canada is a medium-sized economy competing in the global marketplace. As such, free and open trade is integral to our economic success.

The Government of Canada is determined to ensure that Canada is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities of international trade that are so important for Canada's continued economic prosperity. Implementing the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is an important step in that regard, because free trade agreements, or FTAs, are important tools to access the benefits of trade. FTAs provide transparent and predictable rules for Canadian companies doing business abroad, and ways to deal with problems when they arise. They create and maintain level playing fields in foreign markets, and they reduce or eliminate tariffs or other barriers.

While trade is crucial to the Canadian economy, however, it is also important to Canada and Canadians that trade is inclusive and is not conducted at the expense of important values. That is why the Minister of International Trade is working with Canadian and international partners on the development of a progressive approach to trade to address the concerns of citizens and organizations regarding trade and globalization more generally.

Trade, immigration, and international openness are more and more commonly identified as the cause of economic hardships and inequality. Globally, people are feeling powerless and anxious in the face of unceasing change. The issues are not just about trade. Globalization and the technology revolution have created wealth and opportunities for many, but parts of the middle class and those working hard to join it feel they are falling behind.

These apprehensions are not entirely unfounded. For example, Credit Suisse found that the top 1% of wealth holders owned just over half of the world's wealth; the bottom 50% combined owned less than the top 1%. Furthermore, 71% of world's adult population has a net worth of less than U.S. $10,000.

Our government believes we cannot turn back the clock on globalization and that we should not turn our backs on trade. Increased trade can actually raise living standards, create more jobs, increase prosperity and help to strengthen the middle class, when it is done with the right overall objectives in mind. If Canada and other countries start closing borders, we will find ourselves in a less prosperous and more insular, fearful world.

This is one of the reasons that our government is pursuing a progressive approach to trade in collaboration with our like-minded partners around the world.

A progressive approach to trade seeks to advance higher standards of living and foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It includes an emphasis on transparent and inclusive approaches whereby the government is committed to a consultative process on international trade that allows all segments of our society to contribute and be heard. It also ensures government can pursue broad, societal objectives without facing obstacles imposed by trade agreements. The government firmly believes that governments should defend the best interests of their citizens, particularly the most vulnerable.

In addition, a progressive approach to trade also ensures government's continued right to regulate for strong rules on food safety and consumer protection, in addition to world-class, publicly funded health care and other public services. This approach will more effectively promote labour rights and result in stronger environmental protection. It will also include a more progressive approach to investment dispute resolution that is widely recognized as fair, open and impartial, including exploring the establishment of a multilateral approach.

The government is still in the early stages of developing this new progressive approach to trade, but we can already see some real results. This includes advancing the Canada-European Union comprehensive and economic trade agreement, CETA, toward ratification and implementation, on which the Minister of International Trade has worked tirelessly with her EU and member states counterparts. These results also include the work before us in the House today to implement and help bring into force Bill C-31 to implement the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement.

The Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is a modern, high-standard agreement that once fully implemented will provide new opportunities for Canadian businesses, deepen trade linkages, provide for increased transparency in regulatory matters and help reduce transaction costs for businesses.

This agreement will provide Canadian companies preferential market access for exports of goods, as well as preferential access to procurement opportunities in Ukraine at the central level. It also includes commitments on non-tariff measures that will help to ensure that market access gains are not undermined by unjustified trade barriers; trade facilitation designed to reduce red tape at the border; and protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, which will allow Canadian IP right-holders to do business in the Ukrainian market with increased confidence.

The Canada-Ukraine FTA also includes provisions to address the needs of 21st century economies. An electronic commerce chapter obliges both Canada and Ukraine to not levy customs duties or other charges on digital products that are transmitted electronically, for example. In addition, the Canada-Ukraine FTA incorporates several key progressive trade elements to help ensure the economic gains are not achieved at the expense of important Canadian values and priorities.

The agreement contains robust provisions in the areas of labour, environment, transparency and anti-corruption, as well as protections for the government's right to regulate in the public interest. It also supports our foreign policy objectives by strengthening Ukraine's commercial ties to western nations and supporting Ukraine's economic reform efforts. This will complement the support we have committed through bilateral assistance and low interest loans to help Ukraine stabilize its economy.

I support the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement and all the benefits it would bring to Canadians and Ukrainians. I urge all hon. members to support the bill. I heard in the House this morning that all major parties seemed to support it, which is good news for both Canada and Ukraine.

Committees of the House December 8th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, when I said that most of the participants wanted a proportional system with no referendum, I was not referring to the experts or the stakeholders at the table; I was referring rather to the people in attendance in the room, some of whom went up to the microphone.

With regard to the specific questions, as I mentioned at the outset, the minister’s questionnaire aims to identify the values Canadians associate with their democracy. While the questions on values are sometimes vague, they are fundamental to anything that may follow, whether an assembly of citizens, a referendum or whatever else. We must start from these general values.

Committees of the House December 8th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to salute the work of the hon. member. He was extremely engaged in the process.

As chair of the committee, I did not approach the hearings with bias. However, I really enjoyed it when witnesses were properly grilled, whatever the point of view of the questioner. I thought it was very important to have a rigorous process, and all members of the committee did that process proud.

I understand the hon. member has political scientist friends, and they may tend to agree with him on some positions. However, it is true that all the questions in the survey were reviewed by an academic advisory panel. These questions were, in a sense, peer reviewed.

Academics are professionals and they have a code of ethics. I prefer not to impugn their motives. I believe this academic advisory panel provided sound and objective advice on the issue when asked its opinions.

Committees of the House December 8th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to discuss this topic. I am very familiar with it, as are the other committee members. I will be sharing my time with another committee member, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Like all members of the committee, I am very proud of this report. It is really an excellent piece of work. It moves the ball forward on what is a complex and oftentimes technical issue. It is today's most up-to-date and comprehensive compendium of analysis and insight on electoral reform from a Canadian perspective. It is a wonderful piece of work.

If it is a wonderful piece of work, it is because the committee did a fairly thorough job within obviously some constraints. We had to report by December 1, which gave us about five months to do our work. We heard from 196 witnesses during that time.

The committee held 57 meetings between the beginning of July and the end of November. A total of 567 people participated in the open mic sessions on electoral reform, and the committee heard from 763 witnesses and received 574 briefs in all.

Many MPs chose to consult their constituents. In fact, 174 MPs responded to the call to consult their constituents. Some members did so by holding a town hall meeting, or even several such meetings. Others sent out questionnaires to find out what their constituents thought about the subject.

The committee travelled across Canada, stopping in each of the 10 provinces and three territories.

We visited 18 cities or municipalities, including three cities in Quebec. On Vancouver Island, we met with first nations representatives, and we also held meetings in Victoria. We travelled 31,000 km. All that to say, we did a very thorough job.

I would like to salute the work of the committee members, some of whom have been in and out today, obviously the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, who is extremely knowledgeable about the issue of electoral reform. He has a very high level of technical understanding of the issue. I would like to give the House an example.

Witnesses who are experts on electoral reform were piped in from Germany. One of the witnesses, Professor Pukelsheim, developed a system called the Double Pukelsheim, which is some kind of electoral system. The member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston had actually heard about that system before the witness even appeared.

Let me read something to highlight how complex the topic of electoral reform can be. We think it is quite easy. We think it is a choice between first past the post and list PR like we find in Israel and Italy, but it is a much more complex subject matter than that. I will read a press release from the Parti Vert'Libéral du canton de Fribourg:

The Vert'Libéral party of the Canton of Fribourg, the PVL, adopted a position with respect to the complementary consultations on the new voting system for the Grand Council. The PVL is pleased to note that the appointed expert, Professor Jacques Dubey, is of the opinion that the bi-proportional system proposed earlier this year, the “double Pukelsheim”, rectifies the problems with Fribourg's voting system identified by the cantonal court.

I read that to highlight how complicated the issue can be, and it was further highlighted in the report by the invocation of the Gallagher Index.

In my life, I have taken mathematics courses. I am no mathematical genius by any stretch, but I took some university-level math courses and nonetheless I even found the Gallagher index formula a bit daunting. Electoral reform is complex issue, but the Special Committee on Electoral Reform embraced the issue in all its complexities and did a marvellous job.

Any electoral reform has to be based on the foundation of citizen values. Why? We heard from committee witnesses that there was no perfect electoral system. In a sense, there is a relativistic element to electoral systems. In other words, the electoral system that suits a particular nation is a function of the democratic values of that nation. Those democratic values are shaped by national identity and experience.

What the minister is seeking to accomplish through her survey questionnaire is something that was not really in the committee's mandate to accomplish. Nor was it within the committee's means. It was preoccupied with the technical aspects of electoral reform. If Canadians look at the report, they will see we detailed a number of systems and variations on each system.

Coming into this exercise, I thought there were majoritarian systems and proportional systems, but there are mixed systems. Within a system, there can be variations that attempt to adapt to the geographic realities of a particular country. We were focused on that. However, ultimately electoral reform has to be based on what Canadians want, and what they want in an electoral system will always be a function of values. That is the point of the minister's exercise through the questionnaire.

It has been a little disingenuous of some members of the opposition to suggest that the questions in the questionnaire are not relevant. Anyone who knows anything about sampling or creating surveys of the public knows that in order to eliminate bias, some questions must be proxies for the issue we are trying to get at. Otherwise, it is very easy for the individuals answering the questionnaire to essentially answer it in a biased way that they think maybe provides the answers expected of them. Therefore, a lot of these questions are essentially proxies.

Opposition members have also asked why we do not take some of the questions the special committee had in its survey questionnaire, which were fundamentally more complicated and more technical, and cut and paste them onto the minister's questionnaire. That is a bit disingenuous. Anyone who prepares surveys knows that a survey has its own integrity, that it has its own core methodology. We just cannot borrow here, there, and everywhere for political reasons because we will get a mishmash that, at the end of the day, will tell us nothing and will not be particularly useful to our purposes.

Committees of the House December 8th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned that all four opposition parties agreed with the two main recommendations; namely, for a referendum and for proportional representation that meets the Gallagher index 5 quotient. I was quite surprised to learn that the Conservative Party was in favour of proportional representation, and I am wondering if the member could tell us where along the road the conversion took place.

Committees of the House December 8th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I was on the committee, along with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

We travelled across the country. We held hearings. What I noticed, and I am sure my colleagues would agree, is that many people came to the committee hearings seeking proportional representation. In some cases, it almost seemed unanimous. However, those same people were also against the idea of a referendum.

The majority report, which is really the opposition party report, called for a high level of proportional representation with a referendum.

Does the member think that is testimony to the opposition party's flexibility and ability to compromise with each other? Is that to the opposition party's credit?