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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was economy.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Vaudreuil—Soulanges (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 22% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply May 15th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member for Parkdale—High Park was standing up to ask a question.

Business of Supply May 15th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the CBC is Canadian stories. It is our voice. It is our sovereignty.

My first encounter with the CBC was in 1975 in Saint-Lazare, Quebec. As an anglophone Quebecer, the CBC and CTV were our two channels, other than the American channels we got. During the day, there would be game shows and soap operas on CTV, but on CBC, there was a funny man who drew pictures, dressed up, and talked to puppets. For a four-year-old kid, Ernie Coombs was the cat's meow.

Ernie Coombs fostered in me a love of art and a love of drama. He taught me things. He taught me good Canadian values. From that first encounter with that black and white TV set, I learned what it was to be Canadian and what it was to be an anglophone in Quebec. I learned the value of the CBC at that point.

In 1981, my grandfather St-Maurice's hotel in Quebec City burned down and he lost all his money and had to move in with my parents. Our TV programming underwent a shift at prime time. We were a family that liked sitcoms and American TV. We liked to laugh together. However, my grandfather liked les Canadiens de Montréal and les Expos de Montréal , so all of a sudden, we began watching CBC Hockey Night in Canada quite religiously. The transition took a bit of time, but I learned to love the theme song of Hockey Night in Canada and I learned to love the times we spent together as a family watching the games.

I am reminded that I went to my family last night and watched game seven of the Habs and the Bruins. There is a long tradition of matchups between these two teams. The Prime Minister can pretend that he is with the Habs, but he and his government, to me, act more like Boston. Here we have a team that is bullying, brutish, and, as we saw last night, desperate. When it is losing, it does not play a valiant game. It roughs up people against the boards.

While we are here, our party is defending the public broadcaster, and the Conservatives are piling up on our leader in this very House, pulling a Chara.

Hockey Night in Canada is a symbol of our cultural sovereignty. With budget cuts that have been made, the CBC could no longer compete for the contract for the NHL, because for a long time, at least 20 years, it had had challenges in its funding.

My colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor mentioned the 1990s and the $400 million in cuts the Liberals made, but I would like to mention something more recent. In 2003, Clifford Lincoln, the member for Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, prepared a report called “Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting”. This report recommended that the CBC get multiple-year stable funding. The Liberals had two years to do this. They had two full years to implement the recommendations in Mr. Lincoln's report. It was a parliamentary committee that prepared that report. However, we know the record of Paul Martin, and we know that he and his government had no understanding of the importance of the public broadcaster. Paul Martin, in the 1990s, cut $400 million at a time when the CBC faced the challenges of exploding channels and platforms. The Liberals could have prepared for the future, but instead, they cut the legs of the public broadcaster.

To return to my family and the 1990s, I remember sharing Radio One with my father. We would listen to the radio. We would listen to people like Rex Murphy , L. Ian MacDonald, and Bernie St-Laurent. We can agree or disagree with these political commentators, but there was public debate, ideas, and stories.

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that I was an anglophone. My father, William Nicholls, was an anglophone as well. He was not a man who watched sports games. He listened to the CBC. He listened to the radio, and he listened to the public broadcaster for information, because my father was a dropout. His father was a town planner for the town of Pointe-Claire. His father passed away when he was 17, so he had to take care of his mother and his mentally challenged brother and never finished high school. Yet this was the man who was my foil and my debating partner.

My father, who was a Tory, with a disdain for Pierre Trudeau, and who was from a family of Tories, loved the CBC, because it was public debate. It was political ideas. He could shout at the radio about something he did not agree with, but we were talking about these issues. He was a critical thinker, and when he did not agree with something, he debated it. He debated, he spoke about it, and we would talk as a family about ideas. We would argue ideas. He did not shut down debate. He was not afraid of debate. He was not afraid of being challenged. He would never have identified with the party across the way. He would have been like Flora MacDonald. He would be supporting our party these days, seeing that the NDP is the only reliable one left standing to protect our public broadcaster, the only one reliable and trustworthy enough to defend our cultural sovereignty and the right to tell Canadian stories.

We are not just paying lip service here. This is not just a market-oriented decision being made. This is changing the fabric of Canadian sovereignty by crippling what has built our identity for generations. We are not just saving money or making economies of scale here; we are actually destroying institutions that have built for generations our Canadian identity.

I know that some members of the government party believe that the CBC is biased. This has always been an argument. I mentioned that my father would sometimes argue with what people said on the radio or television. My grandfather did as well. He was from a different political persuasion as well. However, we had discussions about politics and ideas.

I know the current government's position with respect to the CBC and its feeling about it, because I listened to the member for New Brunswick Southwest at the official languages committee. He had questions for Mr. Hubert Lacroix. He asked Mr. Lacroix about political bias in reporting and what he was going to do about it. Mr. Lacroix was talking about making efficiencies in his organization and budget cuts, yet the member for New Brunswick Southwest questioned him on political bias. Right there it became clear why these budget cuts were being made to the CBC. It was not because the CBC was not effective in its role. It was not because it was not effective in telling Canadian stories. It was simply because the CBC often runs stories that are embarrassing to the government.

Let us not beat around the bush. The current government does not like the news reporting service of the public broadcaster. It is so focused on its partisan agenda that it cannot see the wider picture of what this public broadcaster does. It cannot see the wider picture of how it goes beyond these nine years of Conservative governance or the 13 years of Liberal governance before. It goes beyond that. It skips generations and brings generations together by telling our stories and sharing our stories and ideas.

The CBC is our Canadian stories, our voice, and our sovereignty. I ask all members of this House to vote for this motion in order to save this institution for generations to come.

Fair Elections Act May 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was excellent.

I have a question. My colleague was a teacher before becoming an MP. This bill would prevent the Chief Electoral Officer from implementing public education programs.

Does she think that the government should reconsider its partnership approach with youth groups? She mentioned Apathy is Boring. Other groups would like to partner with Elections Canada to teach young people about voting. Perhaps she could comment on that?

Fair Elections Act May 12th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent speech. He talked about the charter and the right to vote. Could he tell the House and the other members how this electoral “deform” will negatively impact the right to vote in Canada?

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, one major surprise about the bill is that the government consulted the provinces. We know that the modus operandi of the Prime Minister and his entourage is not to consult the provinces, whether we are talking about the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, the federal-provincial agreement on health care, the Canada health transfer, employment insurance reform, temporary foreign workers, the Canada job grant, old age security, and the list goes on.

Can my colleague describe the difference between the NDP and Conservative approaches when it comes to relations with the provinces and Canadians in general?

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend this member for the wise words he has uttered in this place. He has served this Parliament for 17 years, and so he has an amassed wisdom of knowledge and also compassion. I have to underline his compassion. He talks to people in his riding constantly. He talks to them here. He is in constant contact with them and he has compassion for these people. When he talks about feeling the grief of someone who has lost a loved one, he knows what he is talking about because he spends time with them, looks at them eye to eye, and he is honest and compassionate in his approach.

The current government could learn quite a bit from this member, who is also the parliamentarian of the year, in terms of talking to Canadians and talking to the provinces. We know the record of the current government. Whether it be the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women or the federal-provincial health accord, the Canadian health transfer, employment insurance reform, temporary foreign workers, Canada job grant, OAS, search and rescue, infrastructure, or police officer recruitment fund, we know that the Conservatives do not collaborate with the provinces and they do not talk to them face to face.

Can this member elaborate on how an NDP government would approach collaborating with the provinces?

Offshore Health and Safety Act May 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, this bill is an example of what can be done when the government properly consults and works with the provinces. Could the member speak to this issue and perhaps mention how the NDP would approach legislation such as this going forward?

Supreme Court Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to express my support for Bill C-208.

This bill would amend the Supreme Court Act to require that only judges who can communicate well in French and English without the assistance of an interpreter be appointed to the Supreme Court.

I would like to begin by congratulating my hon. colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, who is the NDP's official languages critic, for the remarkable diligence he demonstrated in introducing this bill.

I mention his remarkable diligence because, despite the Conservative government's opposition to this bill, my colleague never gave up. He kept fighting to ensure respect for linguistic equality before the courts for all Canadians, especially those who live in minority francophone communities.

This is my colleague's third attempt since 2008 to get this bill passed. Let us not forget that, four years ago, this same bill, known then as C-232, passed third reading. Despite the opposition of all Conservative members, including francophone Conservative members, my colleague managed to get Bill C-232 passed in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the bill was blocked in the Senate by Conservative senators, some of whom were francophone, as incredible as that might seem.

The Senate and unelected senators blocked Bill C-232 until the March 2011 election was called. The bill would have protected the interests of Canada's linguistic minorities, but they let it die on the order paper. That is both shameful and an insult to democracy.

Fortunately, my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst will continue to work tirelessly to protect the rights of linguistic minorities. I can guarantee that he has the support of all NDP MPs and that, together, we will continue to fight to ensure respect for our two official languages from coast to coast.

The NDP is not alone in this fight. My colleague's bill has been praised and supported by many non-partisan stakeholders. For instance, the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, has said several times that he believes that Supreme Court judges should be bilingual; he also supported Bill C-232 in the previous Parliament.

According to the commissioner, any litigant appearing before the Supreme Court should have the right to be heard and understood by all the judges in either official language without the aid of an interpreter. The Barreau du Québec, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law, and a number of law professors also support the NDP's position on having bilingual Supreme Court judges.

However, the Conservative government has used every possible obstructive measure to undermine the NDP's efforts to have this bill passed, while claiming that they are looking after the language rights of French-language minority Canadians.

The simple fact that an issue of paramount importance like equality before the law is being raised in a private member's bill instead of in a government bill is an indication of how little importance the Conservative government attaches to the language rights of francophones.

In addition to appointing a unilingual anglophone Auditor General to Parliament, this government appointed two unilingual anglophone judges to the Supreme Court, Justice Rothstein and Justice Moldaver. In fact, there is a pool of highly qualified and fully bilingual judges, but the Conservative government pays no heed to that for partisan reasons.

The Conservatives seem to be forgetting that Canada was founded as a result of the hard work of two linguistic and cultural groups. Ignoring the right of francophones to have access to justice in their own language is betraying one of Canada's founding principles that is based on co-operation between the two linguistic communities.

Bilingualism and Canada go hand in hand, just like the traditions of British common law and French civil law go hand in hand. Denying the full equality of French in our courts is ignoring a fundamental principle of our nation. Our country's highest court must reflect Canada's bilingualism.

In addition to these matters of principle, there are also technical considerations with respect to the limitations of translation, which also point to the importance of having bilingual Supreme Court judges.

Surely it goes without saying that there are numerous nuances and subtleties in every language that can and often do get lost in translation. This is of crucial importance when matters of law and justice are concerned, especially at the Supreme Court level, the final court of appeal for all Canadians.

One significant problem lies in what Professor Ruth King, a member of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University, refers to as code switches. Professor King defines code switches as sentences that use verbs to communicate opinions or belief. Statements such as “I think”, “I guess”, or “I believe” all work to underscore the speaker's stance or truth of the proposition and in some cases to indicate a degree of uncertainty.

King argues that terms such as these can be translated in French using words that can either enhance or diminish the degree to which the proposition is true. Based on her research, one can conclude that translators who translate between the French and English languages are likely to face problems in accurately conveying the meaning of a statement, not because those translators are bad at their job but because there are simply too many nuances and subtleties in both of our official languages to rely solely on translation when it comes to legal matters. Therefore, Canadians who have to rely on translation to make their case for justice are at an automatic disadvantage. The same applies to many other situations.

For example, if a test written in French is given to one who only speaks English, it is unlikely that person would be able to perform to the best of his or her ability, as relying on a translator would stand as an impediment. In 1998, Professor R.K. Hambleton performed a number of studies on the reliability and validity of tests administered across language and cultures. His research concluded that language did, in fact, play a significant factor in one's ability to perform well on a test. Hambleton suggests that despite the use of translators, when one is tested in a language that is not his or her own, the results are not an accurate representation of the person's knowledge.

Hambleton concludes that it is imperative for tests to be administered in one's native language in order to gain truly reflective results. Much like taking a test, trials rely on the interpretation of questions, by which judgments are based on one's response. If a question is answered incorrectly due to its interpretation, this poses a fundamental risk to the reliability and validity of a verdict. Simply requiring all judges to be fluent in both English and French can reduce such problems. By removing the language barrier, all Canadians, both English and French, will receive equal opportunities to a fair and reliable trial.

Therefore, the inherent limitations of translation requires judges to be able to communicate in both English and French in order to avoid any misinterpretations of vital information. Given the responsibilities and integrity of the Supreme Court of Canada, it is absolutely essential that any room for error be eliminated. If judges are required to speak both English and French as it is being proposed in this bill, the chance for misinterpretation might not be eliminated, but it would certainly be greatly reduced and go toward improving our trial process in the Supreme Court.

It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that the Supreme Court of Canada provides sound and equal treatment to all citizens of Canada. What is more, it is inexcusable to risk a Superior Court that cannot discern testimony with utmost accuracy and precision and fails to offer the optimal conditions for all those who seek justice.

In closing, I ask my colleagues from all political parties to rise above polarizing partisan divisions and make good use of this opportunity to restore the faith and respect Canadians once had for this great Parliament. As this House did with Bill C-419, let us work together to support this motion that seeks to uphold two of our most cherished, fundamental constitutional rights: equality before the law and equality of our two official languages.

I call on all members of the House, especially my Conservative colleagues across the way, to vote in favour of this motion and send the right message to all Canadians that we have respect for both official languages groups, that we have respect for those who are in minority situations to be understood in the highest court of law. I ask them to work with us to send this bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further deliberation.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 3rd, 2014

She is your constituent.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1 April 3rd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the member asked what a decade will do. If we look, we see that the health care accord has expired after 10 years, with nothing in its place. The member's constituents are asking questions about this situation. Mary Straus of Walton, one of his constituents, is asking about it. With the absence of a health care accord, she is concerned that there will be increased privatization.

She cannot receive an answer from the member because she says he toes the party line. Therefore, I am asking for her, in her place, in the House of Commons, what the government will do about health care. Will our children be better off 10 years down the road without a health care accord that has guaranteed funding to health care for the past 10 years?