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NDP MP for Beloeil—Chambly (Québec)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 31% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Main Estimates 2016-17 June 14th, 2016
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments and his question.
In fact, I will take this opportunity to talk about the bilateral agreement, more specifically, the one with Quebec. Naturally, it affects my riding. I appreciate and respect both the government's and the minister's goodwill. However, at the end of the day, it is important to hear what is being said right now.
The Government of Quebec is telling us that this is taking far too long, that we must act now or we will miss another construction season, as was too often the case under the previous government. We must act now; I cannot say it enough. Projects worth billions of dollars are ready to go. The minister must show some goodwill. I think the goodwill is there, but we need to act now.
Main Estimates 2016-17 June 14th, 2016
Madam Speaker, the fight against climate change, as far as municipalities are concerned—and we, as federal MPs, in terms of what the federal government can do to help municipalities—is happening on two fronts.
On the one hand, there is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the obvious direct fight against climate change and protecting the environment. On the other hand, unfortunately, we find ourselves in a position where, as my colleague highlighted, municipalities also have to deal with the consequences.
The two, unfortunately, are not mutually exclusive. Municipalities need to adapt. I have heard about adaptation, resilience, and mitigation. These are three words that come back very often from municipal leaders, as well as from experts in the field of infrastructure. These are things that are very important going forward.
When we look at the challenge of the environment and climate change, we need to make sure that municipalities and provinces have the tools they need to combat climate change, and also, unfortunately, to adapt to it. New Democrats share that priority. We are looking at the permafrost melting and drought in parts of British Columbia. These are very serious issues that we need to take on, and the federal government needs to play a lead role.
Main Estimates 2016-17 June 14th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. As I said in my speech, he is one of the members of this House who understands how important infrastructure is, since he is a former municipal mayor.
To answer his question, as I said many times in my speech, the minister is not immune to having to answer legitimate questions from the opposition regarding taxpayers' money. Let us be clear: what we are debating today is votes that the Conservative Party opposes.
The more than $800,000 that was spent was probably excessive. My colleague and I agree on that. However, at the end of the day, the department's operating budget is $110 million. Should we ask the minister questions about how money is spent? Certainly, but there are also some objectives to be achieved. For now, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
He spoke about doing politics differently. We still share some priorities. I can say that the mayors in my riding, and certainly in other ridings across Canada, at least want to know that we are working with the government to try to achieve these objectives. We will talk again to determine whether the objectives were achieved, and we can certainly ask questions. That is our job as opposition members.
Main Estimates 2016-17 June 14th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his question.
I am old enough to have a certain appreciation for Jerry Maguire and the famous phrase, “Show me the money”. That is what provinces and municipalities are thinking now.
We certainly appreciate the interest in investing more in these different infrastructures. As I said in my speech and I will say again, the priorities that the minister just listed are certainly priorities that we share. What is really going to be important is that we have agreements with the provinces to make sure we can actually deliver those dollars.
At the end of the day, we can promise any amount of money that we want to the provinces and municipalities, but if there is not an agreement to let that money flow in the appropriate fashion, it is for nought. So let us ensure we get it right, and let us recognize the urgency of getting that money to those who need it.
Main Estimates 2016-17 June 14th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate.
When I was first elected, I sat on the public accounts committee, so I could speak for a long time about gazebos and all the fun we had at that committee with that story. However, irony has rolled in its grave enough for one debate.
It is important to indicate what it is we are debating before getting into the details. We are talking about votes and also about the total operating budget of the Department of Infrastructure, which is $110 million. When the Conservatives talk about the astronomical amount of $825,000, we can understand that there are questions to be asked. That is legitimate. That is what happens when one is in government. We must answer these questions. However, we must nevertheless realize that we are talking about the operating budget of a department with ambitious projects.
Despite the political differences that we in the NDP may have with the government and the Liberal Party, we are very aware of the importance of infrastructure projects and the gaps that must be addressed in the coming years, and we agree with them on that. Therefore, it goes without saying that there must be an appropriate operating budget in order to have a robust department that will be capable of implementing the programs that we will be working on as parliamentarians in the next few years.
Once again, this is worth elaborating on. Even if we move forward with this operating budget, it is no less legitimate for the Conservatives to ask questions. However, the facts are the same, as I joked when talking about the time I spent on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. Whether we are talking about gazebos or other things, I would venture to say that the Conservatives' memory is a bit short when we consider the problems we faced and the questions we had to ask in the last Parliament, in which I sat, and the preceding Parliaments.
It is important to make this clear, and with all due respect to our interpreters, I will say this in both official languages. We are talking here about the operating budget of an entire department. While the government does have to answer questions from the opposition about spending and different line items and we do accept that, at the end of the day, New Democrats do recognize how it is important to get our cities moving and how it is important that we bridge the infrastructure gap that has been created unfortunately over the last couple of years. While we do certainly share differences with our colleagues in the Liberal Party and the government, at the end of the day, we do not feel that these issues amount to the kind of issue that requires us to say no to an entire $110-million operating budget of a department.
Once again, I will point out the irony of that coming from my Conservative colleagues. Perhaps there are questions to ask the minister about the $800,000 in spending, but there certainly were questions that were posed to the Conservative government at the time. Therefore, we find ourselves once again in perhaps the “Liberal, Tory, same old story” conundrum.
That said, I would like to take this opportunity to get to the bottom of things and talk about the topic at hand. We are talking about the infrastructure department's operating budget, and I would like to talk about infrastructure.
First, I want to thank the minister. Since I became the NDP's infrastructure critic, we have had a very good working relationship. We have had discussions. That speaks to his passion for infrastructure issues.
As many of my colleagues in all parties can attest, having a municipal background helps you understand the challenges facing municipal officials. After all, they have a lot of responsibilities and, unfortunately, very few fiscal tools, or at least not as many as the federal government has. We recognize this, and I acknowledge the work that the minister has done.
At the same time, I heard my Conservative colleague who preceded me wading into the weeds of the minister's life as a municipal councillor, and all these ideas of what he may or may not have received for his time as a municipal councillor. I do not want to do that. I do not think it is appropriate for this debate.
I was at the FCM, and again, our policy differences aside, I know that the minister is greatly respected among municipal leaders. I know that my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona, among others, worked with him when he was in municipal politics.
I do not want to get into that more personal aspect of the debate. I do not think that is entirely appropriate for what we are facing here today, again, notwithstanding any questions that the opposition can legitimately pose. I think it is important to put that on the record.
That said, we still have questions on substance. Although the minister and I have an excellent relationship, I want to take this opportunity to raise some of these questions and perhaps review how we got where we are today when it comes to infrastructure. Fortunately, I have the time to do so.
There have been some problems with the building Canada plan in recent years. This is worth pointing out, since there were some challenges to overcome to get the money to the right place, into the pockets of municipalities, for projects to reduce traffic congestion, develop good public transit systems that meet people's expectations, and have access to water management systems that meet people's expectations. Obviously, some examples are more well known that others.
In my riding, there is the Champlain Bridge. As we know, this example attracted a lot of attention during the 2011 election campaign. We can give the previous government some credit, but not too much, since there was talk about the lack of transparency and the lack of a concrete plan for truly working with the Government of Quebec and municipal officials.
We also need to talk about the toll on the Champlain Bridge, which the NDP opposed. The toll would have been detrimental to the communities on the south shore, communities like mine. I am thinking, for example, of the municipalities along Highway 10. The people who have to travel to Montreal for work would pay the price. I am also thinking of the lack of co-operation with the former minister.
Expectations of the new government are high. It is facing the same challenge of ensuring that the money makes it to the municipalities and the provincial governments so that we get good results.
It has been a challenge for at least the last 10 years and probably before that, I would argue. We have certainly wanted to find ourselves in a situation where the federal government was able to get the money to those who need it, particularly municipalities but also provincial governments. We want these projects and agreements to respect different jurisdictions and different levels of government.
However, we recognize that if we want to get our cities moving and make sure that we have an infrastructure that is meeting the expectations of our constituents that we represent, whether it is in urban communities, suburban communities like mine, or rural communities, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure that we are making the most of those federal dollars.
At the end of the day, the federal government has a very big purse, but very limited expertise on what it means to really succeed in getting these projects off the ground and making sure we are maximizing the impact these projects have. It needs to make sure that our communities have the resources they need, so that we have less traffic on the roads and so that we are not losing that economic productivity that comes when these work crews get stuck in traffic.
It is kind of interesting when we consider that my drive to Ottawa, twice a week, means that I am spending less time in my car than my constituents spend in traffic on a daily basis going to Montreal from the south shore of Montreal. That is a situation, and whether the solution is public transport, which is certainly important if we are looking to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, or making sure that we have the appropriate infrastructure with the Champlain Bridge, to use a local example, that situation is completely unacceptable.
There is a cost on productivity, and a cost on morale, I daresay, if I can put it that way. At the end of the day, when we consider that our constituents who we represent spend so much time traffic, time away from their families, time they are not actually at work, time that their blood pressure is rising as they sit in their cars, trying to cross the bridge, listening to the same radio show they listen to every day, and I say that with all due respect to the talk radio hosts, that is having an impact on our economy. It is certainly something that needs federal dollars.
We know the government has committed a lot in that sense. New Democrats share that commitment, share that priority, but we need to make sure that the results are actually there. On that front, it certainly remains to be seen. We know it is still early, so I will give the benefit of the doubt to the government, but that is why it is important that it certainly at least have the operating budget necessary to achieve these ambitious goals. New Democrats will be there every step of the way to make sure that we can accomplish these goals, because that is certainly what our municipalities and, most important, our constituents need in order to be more productive and have a higher quality of life. It is certainly something that would benefit us all.
The provincial governments have an important role to play in achieving those goals. That is important in the spirit of bilateral agreements. In that regard, we have questions for the government, but I know that it is a very complex process. Canada is a vast country, and I understand very well the importance of the uniqueness of all the provinces. After all, I am from Quebec. If anyone understands the importance of respecting the uniqueness of a province, it is a Quebec MP.
Having said that, we must take action immediately. Since we are talking about Quebec, I would like to mention once again that I attended the annual meeting of the Union des municipalités du Québec a few weeks ago in Quebec City. We had the opportunity to attend several workshops and hear a speech by the Minister of Finance. We also had the opportunity to have discussions with municipal officials.
I was pleased to speak to municipal officials from my riding and also a number of municipal officials from across Quebec. That is important because I represent a suburban riding. We must listen to the officials of major urban centres and rural communities as well.
Their biggest concern had to do with the urgent need to sign a bilateral agreement. I always hesitate to point a finger at previous governments. We need to look forward, and I think the current government is taking responsibility. However, we cannot deny the fact that part of the blame lies with the previous government.
As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, we missed a number of construction seasons in Quebec, and this created a deficit of several billion dollars in terms of infrastructure projects, which are still on hold. Our dynamic and innovative municipalities are waiting for that money.
Under this new government, everyone is still waiting. I know its members are acting in good faith and it is still much too early in their mandate to accuse them of bad faith. However, there is an urgent need for action, and I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that that is what the Union des municipalités du Québec, the members from Quebec, and the people we represent are calling for. We must act now in order to begin these projects before the 2016 construction season is over.
This issue is not just an issue facing Quebec. I had the opportunity to go to Winnipeg for the first time. The member for Winnipeg North will be happy to hear that I certainly enjoyed my first visit to his city. It was an opportunity to go to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' convention and to meet municipal leaders from across Canada. It was a great opportunity because, as I mentioned a bit earlier in my speech in French, Canada is a large country. We are dreaming if we think that we could find a one-size-fits-all solution. There is no way that is ever going to happen, and we accept that. I think the Conservatives, when they were power, accepted that. I certainly know that the Liberals accept that, as well. That is why it is so important that we get it right, and that we get it right quickly. At the end of the day, suburban communities, urban centres, and rural communities all have specific issues that they need taken care of. That is why these bilateral agreements with provinces are so important.
I know the minister is working hard and again, at the risk of repeating myself and with all due respect to our interpreters, I really think it bears repeating and mentioning again in both of our official languages that it is so important that when we are negotiating these bilateral agreements that the government recognize that there is urgency.
I think it is far too early in the Liberals' mandate to accuse them any sort of any sort of bad faith, but we cannot afford to miss the construction seasons. It is a challenge that we face in Canada. Winters are long. We all suffer through the temperatures that we go through in winter. Perhaps my colleagues from B.C. have a different reality, that is fair enough. We need to make sure that we are maximizing the opportunities that we have to get these projects going.
Municipalities are ready. We have very dynamic municipalities that have projects that they want to accomplish. We have provinces that have their priorities as well. It is so important that we get this right and get it right quickly. I cannot emphasize enough that speed and urgency is of the essence here.
In particular, when I look at the budget and the phase one program, that is the essence of what the government has committed to. We are talking about refurbishing infrastructure. We are talking about repairing infrastructure. We are talking about bridging that gap so that they can bring in phase two. If we really want to accomplish those objectives, we need to get these bilateral agreements signed quickly so that we can maximize what we are doing with the phase one program, so that by the time we reach the next phase of the infrastructure program, at least the provinces and municipalities have had the opportunity to bridge that gap. That is so important. That is certainly a priority going forward. As New Democrats, we are going to holding the government's feet to the fire and make sure that it keeps the negotiation of these agreements as a priority.
We talked about the short term, but we also have to think about the long term. What does the future hold for us when it comes to infrastructure? There are a number of aspects to that, and the Conservatives raised a very important point.
I dare say that I am asking the government a question by way of my speech, and it is about the way the different types of infrastructure are defined. There has been a lot of talk about social infrastructure, and I have to admit that we find that problematic.
At the end of the day, we agree with the government's priorities, indeed all of them. I am thinking about affordable housing, public transit, and infrastructure for early child care, even though I also wonder what exactly this means.
Our concern when it comes to social infrastructure is that we must not lose sight of the different priorities because everything is being put into one big basket.
It is easy for a government member to turn around and say that there is such and such an amount for social housing, such and such an amount for public transit, and such and such an amount for green infrastructure, but the problem at the end of the day is that it is the same money in every case because it all comes out of the same big basket.
It is very important to know that, and we should pay close attention because the government has promises to keep when it comes to the different aspects of infrastructure. It is very important that the government keep those promises and that it understand that the situation is urgent. I am repeating myself, but urgent action needs to be taken given the importance of the various files.
Much to my colleagues' chagrin, I could probably talk about this issue for a long time yet, but my time is running out.
As the leader of the NDP, the member for Outremont, said at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, we appreciate the government's change of tone.
We certainly appreciate a renewed relationship between municipalities and provinces, but at the end of the day, it does not substitute for results. For New Democrats it will certainly not be enough to keep us off our feet, standing in the House and making sure that the government is living up to the very large expectations that have been set on the infrastructure file.
An example of a sector in which expectations are very high is green infrastructure. I know that is also one of the government's objectives. There are high expectations, and the municipalities are on the front lines working to combat climate change.
Municipalities are certainly key partners in fighting climate change and New Democrats recognize that. We like to hope and I have certainly heard that the government agrees on that point, but now the devil will be in the details. The results we have yet to see will be something that we will be waiting for.
I would like to close by saying that we respect the commitments that the government has made and we share its priorities. I appreciate the work that I have been able to do with the minister and the working relationship that we have established.
However, as an opposition party, we are now going to stand up and ensure that the Liberals fulfill their mandate and live up to the high expectations that municipalities have of them.
Municipalities, provinces, and our constituents depend on our delivering these results. While we appreciate what the government is doing, we are going to be standing up to make sure the government lives up to these very high expectations that have been set on the infrastructure file.
Privilege June 6th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I simply wanted to thank my colleague for her speech and say that everyone in the House recognizes the importance of protecting the rights of members so that they can do their job properly and represent their constituents and all Canadians effectively.
I also recall the same issue being raised in the previous Parliament, during similar debates.
That being said, Mr. Speaker, I ask for your indulgence to allow the NDP team to reply at a later date.
Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 1 June 6th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech, but every time I thought of a question for him, he moved to another topic and then I had a new question for him. He touched on many things that are connected to the Liberal government's broken promises.
The first broken promise is, of course, about small and medium-sized businesses and the tax cut that the Liberal Party promised during the campaign. The Liberals have backtracked on that promise.
The second broken promise is the government's more caring approach to veterans, which my colleague mentioned. The Liberals took veterans to court, even though they had promised to put an end to the proceedings undertaken by the previous government. I have to wonder how the Liberals justify that.
At the end of his speech, my colleague talked a lot about infrastructure and all of the infrastructure money. I have to wonder how this money can be used for something when the government cannot even manage to sign agreements with the Government of Quebec. We are going to miss out on the 2016 construction season and it will be 2017 before we see any benefit from that money.
How does my colleague justify all of these broken promises, not to mention the fact that this is an omnibus bill?
Infrastructure June 2nd, 2016
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are incapable of making funding available for infrastructure projects in Quebec.
The Quebec minister responsible for Canadian relations is complaining that federal officials are constantly imposing new conditions for project approval, to the point where the Government of Quebec does not think it will get any federal funding before 2017. This is so problematic that the first ministers now must get involved.
Why is it taking so long for funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in Quebec to be approved?
Business of Supply June 2nd, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
We certainly hope that the membership of that committee will allow for a consensus to be reached so that Canadians will be prepared to accept what is proposed. Nevertheless, the question of whether to go ahead with a referendum or not would be an excellent thing for the committee to examine and determine whether that is the best way forward.
Although, to start with, we hope that the consensus reached by the committee will justify not choosing that way forward, we are nevertheless open to anything.
What matters today is that a committee be able to study these questions, that a decision be made with the consent of at least one opposition party, and that his party have the right to vote along with his colleague from the Green Party.
Business of Supply June 2nd, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to bring workers' ability to seek union representation into this. It has nothing to do with the motion before us today; it is like saying that we vote by secret ballot during an election. We are talking about a different situation here. The member is really clouding the issue and that is unfortunate.
The important thing is to ensure that the composition of the committee is such that a consensus can be reached, that all members from all parties in the House of Commons can be heard, and that the Liberal Party has the support of another party.
In my opinion, that is at the very heart of democracy, and I would even venture to say that the right of workers to seek union representation is too.