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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was community.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Manicouagan (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 18% of the vote.

Statements in the House

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I believe that she provided two options. Under the circumstances, I think it is the second option. What I would say is that the government should have done it the other way, that is, it should have given the money first and then it should have looked at what to call it and how to frame all of this. At this time, the pressing needs concern the chronic underfunding that affects the quality of teaching, bearing in mind the additional challenges that the communities have to deal with. For example, they have to hire employees who often live in urban centres and have to move to isolated areas. These things have to be taken into consideration and are strong arguments for the massive injection of funds prior to the enactment of such measures.

In this case, they have done the opposite. The government has promised and announced funds for 2016, as though this government will still be in power in 2016. I submit this respectfully.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I met with Chief Whiteduck from his riding just a couple of days ago. Chief Whiteduck holds a PhD in education. He is therefore well equipped to determine not only the relevance of the funding but also the relevance of the upgrading and the implementation of culturally appropriate programs in his own community.

This government interference and the idea of going back to a government agency that would supervise the schools and the quality of education could be counterproductive and raise hackles under the circumstances. That is the reason for this opposition and the assertive action that will be brought forward, and rightly so, based on my own experience.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

At times, funding is the best way to address a desperate situation. In this case, it has been clearly demonstrated that underfunding is the cause of education problems in these communities, particularly the ones that are remote and that have to deal with somewhat challenging conditions and the added challenge of recruiting qualified teachers and stakeholders.

When I went to Pakuashipi, I realized that they are in desperate need of a visit from a psychiatrist, someone who can talk with the youth about fetal alcohol syndrome and many other things. However, that would require massive funding. Those are excess costs that schools in downtown Montreal, for example, would not have to deal with, but that would be shouldered by stakeholders and local institutions.

Sometimes, it is easy to solve the puzzle. Funding levels should reflect the funding provided for all Canadian students. Students across the country should all have matching funding.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

One person cannot be responsible for or represent the opinions of an entire people. The stakeholders who have come to meet with us so far have told a different story. It is up to Mr. Atleo to address that.

However, the lack of support is noticeable across the country, and the chiefs who came on behalf of the AFNQL two or three days ago said that they will oppose this bill as it stands, as it has been drafted and introduced in the House.

That is what we are going to have to contend with.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, let us resume where we left off a few minutes ago.

Following consideration of Bill C-33, as well as the study I did with my colleagues and the meeting that took place two days ago with representatives from APTN and the Assembly of First Nations, in the office of the Leader of the Opposition, I have been telling my colleagues that we need to stand back when first nations take assertive action. They want to be heard and they will very likely mobilize in the upcoming months because of this draft bill on first nations education. By that, I mean let us not try to score political points.

In my last few years in the House, all too often I have noticed that some politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, usually try to score political points at public gatherings. Given the identity issue that is primarily at stake in this bill, namely first nations education, we must act judiciously. That is why first nations must be front and centre and their assertive action, their own arguments and their own points must take precedence.

It is also important to recognize that education is chronically underfunded, which naturally affects the quality of education offered in remote first nations communities. Unlike what has been claimed, it is the chronic under-funding that has affected the delivery of education services in most of the remote regions. This contradicts the claims we have heard here and what the bill is trying to imply in a roundabout way, namely that the first nations are responsible for overseeing and maintaining the quality of education and that they should shoulder the blame for their lax approach to integrating and applying the recognized education principles.

Statistics and interventions show that the chronic underfunding has been primarily responsible for the adversity in these communities. My chief said that communities can receive up to 35% less funding than the rest of the Canadian public might receive.

Therefore, the first nations members, teachers, principals and staff who are responsible for education have had to make do with less funding and under less-than-ideal conditions. The very fact that I am here today and that there has been an increase in the level of education in these communities is evidence of the resilience of first nations members.

The government must also try to get the consent and support of community members when it enacts public policy, which has not been done or has not been done often enough. With this bill and with many others, the Conservatives have shown a rather narrow view of the concept of consultation, research and consent. I have witnessed this in my few years in the House.

That is why members of first nations, who are the primary stakeholders, were only somewhat involved. In fact, their degree of involvement remains unclear to this day. The AFNQL told us that it had not been consulted, and the vast majority of first nations members said the same. That is deeply deplorable considering the nature of the issue, the education of first nations people, which is closely linked to their identity and will ultimately lead to self-determination, a basic principle of our justice system and our parliamentary system. Self-determination of peoples can be achieved only by emancipation through education. That is why primary stakeholders must be involved in the drafting and enactment of this particular kind of bill.

It is important to keep in mind that the honour of the Crown and the responsibility of the state are inextricably linked to the enactment of public policies that affect matters relating to the quiddity of being Indian. Identity and quiddity are synonyms, but there are differences. The term “quiddity” is used primarily in a legal and “aboriginal law” context.

The education of first nations is also covered by the fiduciary responsibility that must be observed between the Crown and first nations. That is my understanding, and I think that many jurists in the country would agree. As such, attempting to attribute all of the blame for the questionable outcomes of education in these communities to teachers and first nations is quite inappropriate.

Canada is currently in an uncomfortable international spotlight. UN representatives, auditors and rapporteurs have come here over the past two years because our reputation has gone beyond our borders.

Europeans, who know a thing or two about this, decided to come take a look at what is going on with respect to education, housing and food.

I met two of those rapporteurs, so I know that Canada's human rights reputation is suffering worldwide. That is the subject of another debate.

Education is covered by this fiduciary relationship. The honour of the Crown and the Government of Canada are involved every time that appalling situations come to light. Just six days ago, I was in an Innu community in Pakuashipi where members mentioned that educational adaptation is necessary, given the distance, remoteness and cultural subtleties of aboriginal communities. Teachers had to adapt out of necessity. Sometimes, children are simply brought into the forest because it is nearby. It is culturally relevant and part of the nomadic cycle and life cycle of these communities. Therefore, adjustments need to be made.

The Government of Canada must consider these specific characteristics when it drafts bills like this. Moreover, when this kind of reform is put forward, stakeholders in the community must truly be involved. Otherwise, it remains an empty shell. In this case, I would go so far as to say that authoritarianism is at play here. I will come back to that later.

The substance of the bill submitted for our consideration today shows this desire to control and interfere that is oftentimes selective. The Conservative government is trying to intervene selectively in the things that might cast an unfavourable light on the situation internationally and on education. Given that the government was exposed, it is trying to intervene in a draconian way, just as it did in many other areas in recent years. I was able to gauge this desire to intervene. The Conservatives are cherry picking, meaning that they intervene in matters that expose them and that are somewhat comfortable to them.

Therefore, the legislative instrument submitted for the consideration of the House was to outline the obligations and responsibilities of the federal government in the provision of education services on reserves, rather than to exonerate the government of its obligations by transferring the horrible consequences of the chronic underfunding of educational institutions to the institutions' local administration.

The narrative presented so far by stakeholders, who are most often Conservative stakeholders, is that the communities and stakeholders are responsible for the quality of education, even though the chronic underfunding has now been calculated. Indeed, the chronic underfunding has been calculated at a rate of 35%. My boss, the Leader of the Opposition, announced that.

I would point out in passing that, under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, the Government of Canada is responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. That is the first building block in our institution.

The government must provide education from kindergarten to grade 12 on reserve, and it must provide measures for post-secondary education. This must involve financial investments wherever they are needed. So far, this dynamic has received the most exposure.

There was tacit recognition in rather oblique language when the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced recently, with a great deal of hype, that there would be a huge financial investment in either 2016 or 2017. Those funds are needed now, not in 2016, because there is a dire need.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that this is a step forward. There had been no such recognition up until now. The government therefore took a step forward and indicated that if $2.4 billion—if memory serves—needs to be invested in 2016, that means that this area is now drastically underfunded. Now the question is what other areas will it pilfer from to come up with that money, but that is not my problem.

The selective interventionism and punitive nature of the Conservative government's initiatives clearly illustrate the inadequacy of the “my way or the highway” approach to providing services to the public and meeting government obligations regarding basic rights. I am talking about the punitive nature and selective interventionism because I have seen them first-hand, since I travel around to communities that have asserted their rights and have taken a stand, and are now being punished for it.

This is punishment. The government is simply making cuts. The government finds that the number of students does not correspond to the list that dates back to who knows when, and for that reason it is cutting $460,000 from the budget. For a remote community, that is a lot of money. These are punitive measures. Make no mistake.

Now I will say a few words about the moves the Conservatives keep making to off-load their obligations and their responsibility for government inaction on education for first nations youth by shifting the blame onto local stakeholders who have to deal with difficult conditions and limited resources.

The current government is trying to off-load its obligations not only to Canada's aboriginal peoples, but also in terms of providing services. We saw that with Canada Post. It is trying to off-load its obligations. Service delivery is more or less favourable, more or less on this government's agenda. In any case, the government will have to change its position, what with the general election just around the corner. Soon we will likely see the government handing out goodies, if I may put it that way.

Let me read a subclause that was brought to my attention; it belongs to a different time. The last time I had to analyze a section of legislation that reads a contrario goes back at least 13 or 14 years, when I got into law school. That is certainly a different time, but here it is still: clause 41 of the bill before us today reads as follows:

41. (1) The director of education, the principal, the teachers and the other staff of a school must provide all reasonable assistance to enable the temporary administrator of the school to exercise their powers and perform their functions and must provide any information relevant to the administration of the school that the temporary administrator requires. They must also comply with any direction given by the temporary administrator relating to the administration of the school.

Subclause 2 is where the harm lies:

No proceedings lie against any person referred to in subsection (1) for having in good faith provided the temporary administrator with assistance or information or complied with their directions.

Strangely enough, the title of the subclause is “Immunity”. We know, of course, that the Conservatives often use a word to mean the opposite—they talk of transparency and the Fair Elections Act, even though there is actually nothing very fair about it—and this subclause is no exception. If you read it a contrario, it means that the director of education, the principal, the teachers and the other staff members of a school can be sued if they do not provide the administrator with assistance in good faith.

It remains to be seen what good faith is and what level of cooperation is adequate in the eyes of the Conservatives and the minister. Ultimately, I very much doubt that the minister will be the one making the assessment. This kind of not-so-veiled threat is really disgraceful. Circumstances will make the Conservatives see that they are not the only ones able to make threats like that. They may have to put up with some heat this summer.

I submit this respectfully.

First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act May 1st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have tried to remain consistent since I started my term nearly three years ago to the day, so in today's debate I will focus on the bastions of identity associated with providing education services adapted to the realities of first nations youth.

The bastions of identity are a notion I have discussed in the past, and I think that this notion is crucial when it comes to the bill we are discussing today. When we talk about the emancipation and governance of first nations, the first bastion is education, since increased intelligence, economic development and the emancipation of peoples are closely related to it. It is very much a matter of identity. These are the concepts I will be talking about today.

I must stress how important it is to take a practical approach that is free of electioneering tactics. This outdated political approach is responsible for making the public disinterested in and distanced from the process of enacting public policy.

As for the bastions of identity, it is essential to get front-line players and members of first nations involved. That is one of the issues I mentioned yesterday when the bill was introduced.

When I made recommendations to my colleagues, I made sure that I encouraged my colleagues to keep a low profile during the big demonstrations that will be held in the coming months—that is a scoop—since in 2014, the Canadian public and all members of first nations are cynical when people use contentious issues and aboriginal identity issues to win votes and serve their own ends.

That is why we need to focus on the work on the ground. I invited my colleagues to start by visiting the communities in their own ridings and to do grassroots work, instead of trying to monopolize the microphone and cameras, as we have seen in the past. These kinds of methods were used by other parties and a political elite whose day has come and gone.

In 2014, the power needs to be given to members of first nations, since these issues are important to them now, and that is the problem with the bill.

I will talk more about that over the next few minutes, but first nations involvement in the drafting and implementation of this bill has been rather minimal. This needs to change in the future.

Based on those observations, the NDP would like to see an education system that is culturally relevant, that includes the people affected and that is effective for students, teachers and communities. This ideal will only be attained by taking an approach that places members of the community at the forefront. The Canadian government's role should be limited to co-operating fully with those who want a modern system to be created.

In that regard, the NDP would like to see education standards developed in partnership with first nations educators, and at their initiative, in order to achieve that goal. We recognize that standards are needed, but they cannot be imposed by Ottawa. Provincial standards may not suit the needs of first nations communities.

The first way to demonstrate the progressive nature of any proposed approach is to recognize the chronic underfunding of first nations education. That is precisely the problem. The government admitted this indirectly in recent months with the announcement of a massive infusion of money, which will begin in 2016 or 2017—basically, who knows when. The government announced considerable investments. This does constitute tacit recognition of the underfunding, which was always denied by previous successive governments.

The consent of first nations members must also be obtained before any new public policies are adopted that aim to control, manage or hem in first nations members.

I will continue my speech later.

National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day Act April 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, during my speech on Bill C-501, An Act respecting a National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day, I will explore the ethical side of the practices that have shaped our identity and that are the focus of the bill before us.

When I talk about practices that have shaped our identity, I am talking about hunting, trapping and fishing, which are a significant part of our identity as Canadians. These activities helped ensure the survival of the first settlers and colonizers who, out of necessity, had to adapt to a sometimes hostile climate and to unexplored territory. These activities are a significant part of our identity as a nation, and it is important to acknowledge that here today.

When I heard about the topic at hand, I had some reservations at first. Given this government's fairly pronounced authoritarian streak, I assumed that the Conservatives would attempt to control the elements and the wildlife. However, I was quite surprised to see that there is an unstated recognition of the impact that human activity has on preserving our resources and the ecosystem. That indicates that the Conservatives are making some progress, and I must give them credit for their change in mentality, their evolving concerns and their shift in position.

I was apprehensive because what I have learned from others and what I was told growing up in my community was that humans are meant to have little impact on and control over animals, the fauna and the elements.

Upon reading the content of this bill, I could see that it was designed to change human behaviour. Humans really only have control over their own destiny. It is always possible to change the way of thinking of Canadian society as a whole. This is already happening.

I think that all groups that represent hunters and groups that were consulted in the drafting of this bill agreed that it was necessary to protect the resource and to develop ethical and ecologically sensitive practices with respect to animals. That is something positive and that is what I want to talk about today.

The evolution of how Canadians interact with nature covers a wide range of activities that can be categorized by the terms “hunting, trapping and fishing.” These terms cover elements of recreation, culture and tradition, and the economy, as well as scientific and environmental research.

I just wanted to mention that in passing for your information. I often venture into obiter dictum territory, but I still want to point these things out.

I want to reiterate that the study and the bill before us can in no way create guidelines for, limit or govern the traditional activities carried out by the aboriginal peoples of Canada. This very specific bill could not in any way limit or even interfere with the traditional activities—including hunting, trapping and fishing—practised in their communities, because those activities are enshrined in the Constitution and are protected. Therefore, the bottom line is that this could not have any effect on those activities. Since the bill states and recognizes the primacy of these activities, I wanted to bring it up today. That is another step in the right direction.

I want to stress that the measures set out in the bill are non-binding with respect to the traditional practices of aboriginal peoples. These traditional activities are virtually immutable because it is almost impossible to regulate them or create guidelines either through this bill or any others.

Following the stream of thought prevailing in lands occupied by aboriginal communities in this country, hunters, anglers and trappers acknowledge the importance of the ethical treatment of animals and environmentally sustainable activities, all from the standpoint of perpetuating the identity-building practices that have forged Canada's social, economic and cultural history. I have already substantiated those words over the past few minutes.

For example, in Innu communities—I will rely on my own personal experience—from a very young age, when young people are called upon to go out into the forest and follow the group and clan, we make sure they have the information and ancestral knowledge they need to adopt behaviour that, of necessity, is ethical towards animals.

From a very young age, I already knew that we do not shoot wolves, because, in any case, they cannot be eaten. Although you sometimes do see wolf pelts for sale, my community is rather reluctant about that and does not approve.

There are some practices that are said to be “emulative”, that is, when someone from Uashat or Maliotenam displays questionable or unethical behaviour regarding hunting or the use of pelts, bones or antlers, elders will make sure that person understands that his behaviour is inappropriate and he will be ostracized by the community. This kind of informal regulation has been used by members of the community for thousands of years. It is about maintaining the reputation and the pure, unwavering character of these actions.

It would be unreasonable of me to expect all Canadians to know this information, especially since I come from a predominantly oral culture and, as one might expect, this information is passed down from one generation to the next.

The bill before us reiterates the same imperative, but that imperative will be shared by all Canadians. Some benefit can be drawn from these teachings that are almost innate or automatic in my home community.

It is beneficial to reiterate the ideals and imperatives regarding the ethical treatment of animals in sport hunting. For the purposes of this study, it is important to point out that the “emulatory” principles that prevail in aboriginal clans most often act as informal ways of regulating traditional practices, particularly through the attachment to animal spirits as a way of self-identifying, which we also try to share with the entire Canadian population for the common good. It would be good if everyone had the same foundation and knew that there is no use shooting a wolf because it is hard to eat the meat.

With the gradual loss and disappearance of the traditional teachings among the population in general, given the millions of Canadians, it might be hard to ensure that this information is passed on to every hunter and every fisher. That is why we need regulation and the enactment of a legislative tool that would reiterate these imperatives, as is being proposed today, and the establishment of national and international standards of practice to ensure that animals are not subjected to such unethical treatment.

The groups that were consulted and spoke to this issue agreed on the need for ethical and respectful behaviour toward animals because we all know that this resource will have to be available if the next generation wants to follow in our footsteps. Humans can change their own behaviour and their own destiny. We have to wonder when we see a moose head on the hood of a 4x4, something we very rarely see. In any case, I have never seen that in my community. Such a gesture is disrespectful of the animal, and that is why we so rarely see that on an Indian reserve.

Lastly, I would note that the very text of the legislative instrument constitutes an attempt on the part of the Conservatives to make amends by recognizing the vital importance of measures to protect our fragile ecosystems. Every now and then, they almost impress me by demonstrating a degree of openness at variance with their usual stance.

In the interest of consistency, the Conservatives should also reconsider their economic agenda, which continues to undermine environmental regulations in favour of rapid development in ecologically sensitive regions and areas. The greatest threat to wildlife and human resources, the greatest destructive force, is industrial activity and its impact in terms of the environment and pollution. Hunting and hunters have a negligible impact on the number of animals in a given population.

Democratic Reform April 4th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, across the country, first nations communities run into serious problems when it comes time to vote. As we heard in committee, it is hard for many members of these communities to obtain the type of ID card that will be required under Bill C-23.

Why is the minister refusing to amend his bill to prevent thousands of Canadians from losing their right to vote?

Youth Employment Strategy March 25th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to impress upon the House the necessity of reviving Service Canada's skills link program, which is part of the youth employment strategy.

In my riding, an organization called Action-Emploi Sept-Îles submitted a project designed to support young school drop-outs through a social and occupational integration program and by helping them get back to school. In addition to training workshops that are designed to address the pressing needs of local organizations—such as workshops on cooking for seniors' residences and community organizations—the measures proposed by Action-Emploi Sept-Îles cover other topics such as informed budget management, computer skills and job search strategies.

The promised funding is slow in coming. Repeated requests for an explanation from the department have led nowhere. Public servants indicate that there is a Canada-wide freeze, with delays of several months. All of the projects have been on hold since November 2013, and the funding is not accessible. We are calling for the Minister of Employment and Social Development to get directly involved so that the money is awarded in accordance with the agreements signed with the organizations and program participants and without further delay.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns March 24th, 2014

With regard to Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, specifically the Sept-îles regional office: (a) what are the existing standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to funding requests; (b) what changes have been made to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to funding requests in the past 10 years; (c) in which months of which years were the changes to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to funding requests implemented; (d) what are the existing standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to meeting requests from MPs’ offices; (e) what changes have been made to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to meeting requests from MPs’ offices in the past 10 years; (f) in which months of which years were the changes to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to meeting requests from MPs’ offices implemented; (g) what is the complete list of meetings between MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs; (h) what is the complete list of meetings between representatives of MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs’ representatives; (i) what is the complete list of meetings between former MPs and employees and directors of the regional office on a subject other than a former MP’s business, in the past 10 years, broken down by year; (j) what are the existing standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by phone from MPs’ offices; (k) what changes have been made to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by phone from MPs’ offices in the past 10 years; (l) in which month of which years were the changes to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by phone from MPs’ offices implemented; (m) what is the complete list of phone communications between MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs; (n) what is the complete list of phone communications between representatives of MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs’ representatives; (o) what is the complete list of phone communications between former MPs and employees and directors of the regional office on a subject other than a former MP’s business, in the past 10 years, broken down by year; (p) what are the existing standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by email from MPs’ offices; (q) what changes have been made to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by email from MPs’ offices in the past 10 years; (r) in which month of which years were the changes to the standards and procedures to be followed by employees and directors of the regional office to respond to requests for information by email from MPs’ offices implemented; (s) what is the complete list of email communications between MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs; (t) what is the complete list of email communications between representatives of MPs and employees and directors of the regional office in the past 10 years, broken down by year and political affiliation of MPs’ representatives; and (u) what is the complete list of email communications between former MPs and employees and directors of the regional office on a subject other than a former MP’s business, in the past 10 years, broken down by year?