House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Berthier—Maskinongé (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 29% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply February 8th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. The oil industry received a total of $3.2 billion in benefits in 2010. The international sustainable development industry estimates that each year, the oil companies receive $1.3 billion in direct and indirect subsidies. The banks made more than $20 billion in profits in 2010, an increase of $6 billion over the previous year. Statistics show that the banks' use of tax havens allowed them to save more than $1.3 billion in 2009.

And the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is telling us, here in this House, that the government is working to help families and the less fortunate in society. I do not believe my ears. Instead of giving tax cuts to these large companies that are making huge profits, could the Conservatives not do more to help the unemployed, seniors whose incomes border on the poverty line, and our farmers in Quebec who are experiencing serious financial difficulties?

What are the Conservatives waiting for to implement a real policy to truly support people in need and not oil industries and banks that are making huge profits?

What is more, with banks hiding income in tax havens we effectively have less tax revenue to support people in need.

Business of Supply February 8th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me.

Just recently, I was reading some statistics that showed that the annual profit of the six major banks in Canada totalled over $20 billion in 2010. That is an increase of $6 billion compared to the previous year.

This Conservative government is going after the middle class and the least fortunate. It continues to lower taxes for major corporations at the expense of funding and improving the employment insurance system for the unemployed, helping low-income seniors with the guaranteed income supplement and indexing funds for seniors. A number of measures to help the middle class and the least fortunate just are not there. The government is simply increasing the profits of the major banks and the oil industry.

I have a question for the member. When will we see a real change in these policies, knowing that the Liberals did the same thing in 2003 by supporting tax cuts for the oil industry?

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech and ask him a question.

In 2005, passage of the new veterans charter was fast-tracked. Today, we realize that the new veterans charter had some shortcomings, including the lump sum payment, which is being challenged by a number of veterans.

I believe it is important to take the time to study this bill and hear what certain witnesses have to say at committee meetings. I am not saying that we should simply mark time, but some target groups have some answers to our questions regarding this bill.

I feel the pressure being exerted by the Conservative government to fast-track passage of this bill. In fact, it is claiming that there will be an election. For its part, the Bloc Québécois believes that if the Conservatives do not want an election, three parties in this House can negotiate. The Bloc Québécois is interested in sales tax harmonization. The government should include sales tax harmonization in its budget, compensate Quebec for harmonizing its taxes, and then there will not be an election and we can take our time to properly study this bill. I believe that we must be vigilant and not adopt the bill too quickly. I am not saying that we should mark time, but the bill must be studied in committee, and certain witnesses must be heard—

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the excellent question. He has also been a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for several years and does a great job.

The lump sum payment could always be increased. Perhaps a certain sum could be calculated that could serve as a life-long monthly payment. But the lump sum payment poses another problem: even if it were increased to $1 million—as it is elsewhere, as he said—and it were given in a single payment, a young man of 22 or 23 might have a very hard time dealing with receiving such a large sum, especially when returning from a very difficult combat mission, and not spending ridiculous amounts of money. He could lose that money for the rest of his life. That is the Bloc Québécois's concern.

If the lump sum payment were larger and the percentage, say 20%, became $200,000, and it could be paid in several payments, I would not allow people to choose. People tend to think one way at 22 or 23, and another way at ages 30, 40 or 50. Furthermore, when a soldier returns from a difficult combat mission, he or she might have a hard time managing that. Then the family is left to deal with it and forced to help the person who spent all that money.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Etobicoke North for her question.

More and more studies talk about screening. We could look into that more. Some people may be more likely to develop post-traumatic stress than others, and techniques and scientific studies could help better identify these people.

Something I mentioned in my speech is the confidentiality issue. That is something very important that the Department of Veterans Affairs should be looking at in the coming months. There have been some scandals in recent months: the medical records of veterans were consulted over 1,000 times. These records seem to be like library books available to anyone who wants to open one up and look at someone's medical history. So that is something very important that we will be working on in the next few months. I urge the minister to also look into this situation. The media have exposed some rather troubling situations regarding management of the confidentiality of veterans' records.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Madam Speaker, as I said in my speech, this is a step forward and that is why we will vote in favour of this bill. However, the minister is giving us examples of people who can no longer return to the labour market because of a significant physical disability. I absolutely agree that it is also important to take care of those people. This bill clearly provides more generous support to these individuals. That is why we do not object to it.

However, as I clearly said in my speech, most of the people who are affected by a disability—I am talking about those for whom the extent of their disability has been evaluated at 20% to 25%—return to the labour market and receive lump sum payments of approximately $40,000 to $60,000. That is what this bill is proposing they be given.

The bill proposes to divide that amount into 3, 4, 5 or 6 payments. In the end, veterans will be receiving the equivalent of a car payment for two or three years. We are questioning this lump sum payment and we are not the only ones. We met with several witnesses. A number of petitions were sent to the minister's office. This bill does not meet the needs of these veterans. They are calling for a return to the former veterans charter, which included a lifetime monthly pension.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, introduced by the government to help veterans.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, as we have said repeatedly here today. I heard our Liberal colleague say that it is a step forward and will help improve things for our veterans. We are talking about people who sacrifice their lives or who live the rest of their lives with injuries suffered during a combat mission.

The Bloc Québécois has always been very concerned about the well-being of veterans. We parliamentarians can sometimes have serious disagreements about the validity of a mission, as was demonstrated by the debate we had on the mission in Afghanistan. But when it comes to supporting veterans, the Bloc Québécois is always there, and we firmly believe that veterans should not have to pay the political price of this debate. They have sacrificed much of their safety, their well-being and their health. Therefore, when it comes to veterans who are injured or have a disability, we cannot be tight-fisted or frugal; rather, we must be generous in compensating these individuals. We must express our gratitude and recognition by providing them with all the help and support they need, and whatever their families and children need.

The bill contains measures that we hope will help veterans considerably. We are disappointed, however, as I have repeatedly told the Minister of Veterans Affairs, that the Conservative government decided not to include a lifetime monthly pension, as many veterans in Quebec called for in petitions presented here in the House. That measure, which veterans were entitled to under the old veterans charter, should have been restored.

The minister said many times that there were not necessarily any changes and that the primary goal was to reintegrate veterans into the workforce. But that was always the goal; that is nothing new. We strongly believe that having a lump sum payment instead of a lifetime monthly pension, as we had before, is a considerable loss for our veterans.

Bill C-55 proposes legislative amendments to the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act. As I already said, this bill would amend the eligibility criteria for the long term disability plan and would provide an extra $1,000 per month to veterans who are receiving these disability benefits and who are unable to return to the workforce. This affects many people who, after participating in a military mission in a theatre of war, return nearly 100% disabled and unable to actively return to work.

This bill also offers veterans the choice between a single lump sum payment and the same amount spread out over a set period of time. A combination of these two options is also available.

Here is an example of the losses experienced by veterans. From our discussions with people working with veterans, we know that, in general, based on the cases handled, veterans are more likely to be 20% or 25% disabled than 100% disabled.

According to the previous veterans' charter, compensation was provided to a veteran at a rate of 20%, so he could receive $600, $700 or $800 per month for the rest of his life. When a young person received compensation for an accident in the theatre of war, he generally received compensation at a rate of 20% or 25%. If we are talking about $280,000, that means the person would receive approximately $50,000 from then on, at the age of 22 or 23. Before, that person could receive $600 to $800 a month for life, for physical or mental loss. As we mentioned earlier, post-traumatic stress disorder affects many military personnel.

The Bloc Québécois has the utmost respect for military personnel who carry out highly dangerous missions and risk their lives to express the will of the people. This profound respect justly implies that, since their lives are in danger, we have the responsibility not to expose them to further risk. Once their mission is complete, we have the collective responsibility to offer them all the necessary support when they return home.

Of course, this support must be given to veterans, but it must also be given to their spouses, families, loved ones and children. There is still a lot of work to do on that front.

And in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder, we heard many testimonies to the effect that the spouse of the person afflicted had not necessarily been informed about possible behaviours, or their reactions, or the potential help available to them.

I would ask the minister, who is present here, to listen to what I am about to say. A number of witnesses told us in committee that when they needed a psychologist or psychiatrist to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder and they contacted Veterans Affairs, it was often difficult to access those services. We heard it over and over again in committee: people told us that they did not feel that it was an easy task. There are members here from all parties who sit on the committee and can attest to that.

We have an idea of the dynamic of all those wanting psychological therapy, and often they are men. I worked in a CLSC network and men often have more difficulty than women recognizing their psychological weaknesses. It is difficult enough to ask for help, but when a person asks officials at Veterans Affairs and the request for help is not necessarily well received and it is difficult to receive compensation for the services the person needs, then there is a problem. I invite the minister to take a closer look at this as well. It is important.

The Bloc Québécois will always support any measure to help veterans. The Bloc Québécois has always defended the principle that we must not abandon our veterans when they return from difficult missions or when they end a career spent defending their fellow citizens.

For example, in budget 2009, the Conservatives announced various measures, as hon. members will recall. Budget 2009 maintains the $30 million annual investment included in budget 2007, for the period from 2007 to 2012. Budget 2009 also maintains the $302 million investment over five years announced in budget 2008. That amount will go to Veterans Affairs Canada in order to increase support for war veterans.

However, out of the $3.4 billion estimates, budget 2009 announced that $24 million would be saved by streamlining internal and administrative resources without affecting services.

We wondered about that and we met with certain stakeholders, because those savings worried us. I do not know how it is being carried out on the ground. The cuts are determined by executives or administrators and, often, they target the lower levels. It is important to be vigilant about service delivery. I do not want to go too far on this issue, but I am concerned about the cuts.

The Bloc Québécois will support maintaining past investments to help veterans. However, given the scope of the mission in Afghanistan and the number of Canadians wounded in this theatre of operations, the federal government could have increased its investment.

Bill C-55 is certainly a start and a step in the right direction. It is important to recognize that, although some of the measures improve the assistance provided to veterans with disabilities, there is still work to do. The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that the government could have done more, namely by returning to a lifetime monthly pension, which is not included in the bill.

Despite all the debate and the demonstrations that took place on November 11 in Quebec, people called for the return of the lifetime monthly pension. The minister seems to want to avoid the issue by saying that, despite everything, veterans receive a lump sum payment and a pension. However, when veterans return to the labour market, they no longer receive that pension. The only amount they receive for a disability resulting from an injury sustained in the theatre of operations is 20 to 25%. Most of these people return to the labour market and are able to return to society.

Bill C-55 is part of a legislative process that dates back to at least 2005. At that time, the new veterans charter was supposed to be a major reform designed to completely overhaul the veterans compensation system.

It was the Liberals who put forward the new veterans charter. In some cases, the compensation provisions for wounded veterans were covered by the Pension Act, the terms of which dated back to World War I. With the new veterans from the campaign in Afghanistan, it became urgent to review the process to adapt to the new reality and to provide help to those who needed it.

In committee, some people told us they had received, among other invoices, an $8 invoice for the cost of the sheet the soldier had been wrapped in. Fortunately, things have changed. That would have been rather traumatic.

The new veterans charter differentiates between financial benefits intended to compensate for the loss of revenue a veteran experiences when he or she can no longer work because of an injury sustained while serving in the Canadian Forces and the sums paid to compensate for pain and suffering associated with an injury sustained while on duty. That is why the veteran will lose the financial benefits but will continue to receive his or her disability benefits. Under the old system, the pension amount would diminish if the veteran's condition improved, which encouraged people to focus more on the deficiencies rather than on rehabilitation.

I would like to make my point by asking a question. What is the current situation of our veterans? This bill is supposedly going to help them. As we saw in committee, it is becoming increasingly clear that veterans need help.

During our many meetings, we learned that the suicide rate among veterans is higher than in the general population. Statistics show that one out of six people returning from a military theatre of operations will be afflicted with post-traumatic stress. These people, who are often very young, need psychological and social support, which is not always available in isolated, rural regions. Veterans returning home far from large urban centres had a hard time receiving the services they needed. Veterans have often said that in order to support them, people need to understand their reality. In isolated, rural regions, it might be difficult to find experts to help someone who is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

According to the Survey on Transition to Civilian Life: Report on Regular Force Veterans, dated January 4, 2011, clients of Veterans Affairs Canada reported complex states of health. The great majority, more than 90%, reported at least one physical health condition diagnosed by a health professional—that is a very high percentage—and about half reported at least one mental health condition. Two-thirds had four to six physical and mental health conditions, and a fifth had even larger numbers of comorbid conditions, that is, the presence of two or more conditions in the same individual.

Overall, 6% of veterans reported having thoughts of suicide in the previous 12 months. Of those covered by the new veterans charter, 57% had trouble reintegrating into society.

Therefore, a great deal of work remains to be done to provide services to those who return from military missions with psychological trauma. They return to Canada and must return to society. Fifty-seven per cent is more than half; almost 6 in 10 have serious problems with reintegration.

The state of health, the degree of disability and the determinants of health of regular force veterans released from military service between 1998 and 2007 were worse than those of the general Canadian public.

I have some more statistics. Seventy-three per cent of veterans are very satisfied with their financial situation. Once they leave the forces, the satisfaction rate falls to 50% for veterans covered by the new veterans charter. Thus, 57% are dissatisfied with their financial situation once they leave the forces. Veterans covered by the new charter have their average income reduced much more sharply. Their income may be reduced by up to 64%. The income of veterans on a disability pension may drop by 56%.

There is still a lot of work to be done. This bill introduces new measures. The minimum compensation for earnings loss for a veteran in rehabilitation has been increased to $40,000, and this will affect 2,300 veterans over the next five years. Access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance has been improved. This means that 3,500 more veterans will be eligible. There is an additional $1,000 per month being offered to veterans who receive the permanent impairment allowance and who cannot return to work. Five hundred veterans will benefit from this measure over the next five years.

That is a step in the right direction. However, there is the issue of the lump sum payment, which the veterans have requested. Replacing this amount and reinstating the lifetime monthly payment are major advances.

The minister is here, and I would like him to listen to this. We are talking about accessibility to services and services tailored to families, services that are close by, especially in rural areas such as my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé and other regions of Quebec.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act February 7th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her presentation. We are both members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and I have come to realize that she is very sensitive to what veterans go through.

On the one hand, this bill represents a step forward. In my speech, however, I will be presenting the Bloc's position on this bill. Although it is a step forward, there remains a great deal of work to be done, as the member said.

On the other hand, I would like to hear what the hon. member has to say, as she spoke about people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. A number of witnesses told us that with their first request for services, that is, when they apply the first time to Veterans Affairs for a disability pension, they are almost automatically refused. We spoke about statistics. Veterans Affairs refused 50%, 70% and up to 90% of first applications. The applicants were often desperate because they were very vulnerable and in distress. They asked people in the department to explain what they were experiencing and their initial applications were refused 70% to 90% of the time.

We wondered whether those assessing the applications were incompetent or whether the policy at Veterans Affairs was to refuse initial applications. We discovered that 40% to 50% of second applications were approved. Therefore, to obtain services, veterans always have to appeal.

I would like the hon. member to briefly explain how the Department of Veterans Affairs could be more open to providing services to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question. This worries the Bloc Québécois because, as I said earlier, this country is on the OECD's blacklist. It is difficult for the French to sign this type of agreement, and the U.S. Congress is no different. The Americans are very hesitant to sign an agreement with Panama for the reasons I gave in my speech.

We have a government right now that only seems to worry about the economic side. But this agreement will not produce huge economic spinoffs, and it will not create many jobs in Quebec and Canada. The government is not taking that into account. In any event, in the exercise of power, it is not concerned with environmental issues.

As everyone knows, we have tried many times to get the House to pass anti-scab legislation for the workers, to no avail. Look at employment insurance and it is clear what the government thinks of workers. There are still some issues there. So, with the support of the Liberals, unfortunately, the government is signing this type of agreement with Panama, but I do no feel that it is an agreement that respects the values of Quebec and Canada.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 3rd, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her excellent question. This is no different than Colombia. We know full well that neither environmental standards nor the workers are being respected there and that the workers are often exploited.

I am a member of Parliament with a background in the labour movement, community and the environment. I naturally believe that workers' rights are universal rights. What I am saying and what I am trying to say to the House is that Quebec and Canada should be setting an example for the world with fair and equitable working conditions and by meeting environmental standards in mining, for example, or other common activities where we are concerned about greenhouse gases and climate change.

We should be signing free trade agreements with countries that meet these standards and share these values. But we are signing agreements with quasi-delinquent countries. In this case we are talking about Panama, which is a tax haven where drug traffickers generally launder their money. It is a known fact recognized by the OECD.