House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was conservatives.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 33% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply April 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very interesting speech. The situation on the west coast is rather worrisome and the people on the east coast are also concerned.

The government has repeatedly said there is no cause for concern, since shipping companies will be held responsible for potential spills and will have to pay for damages. However, these oil spills kill wildlife and fish, which has an adverse effect on the tourism industry. Beaches have to close, for example.

Is having an insurance policy the same as having equipment on site and a marine traffic services centre?

2015 Desjardins Cup April 1st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, our regional hockey championship, the Coupe Desjardins, gets under way officially tomorrow in the Magdalen Islands.

I look forward to attending the 39th edition of the competition, which is chaired this year by Alexis Loiseau, a young Magdalen Islander who is also captain of the Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec major junior hockey league.

This major sporting event will bring together 225 players and 65 coaches from the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands. Over the next four days, 14 teams at the atom, peewee, bantam and midget levels will do their best to win the treasured cup. No fewer than 34 hockey games are scheduled during the tournament, which ends on Sunday.

I would like to congratulate and thank all the players, coaches, fans and volunteers for making the 2015 Coupe Desjardins possible.

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her presentation. Her riding is a major rail transportation centre in eastern Canada, so we would do well to listen to what she has to say.

Recently, people in the House have raised concerns about the speed of trains in urban and rural areas. I would like to remind everyone that the tank cars involved in the most recent derailments, which took place in northern Ontario and the United States, were travelling at just 24 miles per hour. That did not prevent major oil spills from happening. That is very worrisome.

When it takes six days to put out a fire in a remote part of northern Ontario and we are presented with new criteria allowing municipalities to report safety problems, that is obviously worrisome.

I would like my colleague to comment on derailments in urban areas. Are the new standards reassuring? Does this bill go far enough?

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 31st, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her presentation. She raised some very important points.

I would like to comment on the DOT-111 standards. We now have the new CPC-1232 standard. As the member pointed out, there have already been two derailments in northern Ontario. Since last year's announcement, there have also been three derailments in the United States with the new CPC-1232 standard. I think that people are right to worry.

Does this bill do anything at all to protect the public when it comes to the quality of the tank cars that pass by their homes? Can this bill offer any hope of a standard that will actually work?

Safe and Accountable Rail Act March 30th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. There are certainly aspects that we should examine.

I think my colleague is dreaming about the era of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who said that he wanted to double the number of railway tracks in western Canada in order to improve the transportation network.

Has my colleague calculated how much it would cost to double the tracks in Canada? How much time would that take? I think he is living in a dreamworld, especially since the Liberal Party has not introduced any plans in that regard. I hope that they will introduce a plan and not just criticize the other parties' plans, which have been tabled and costed.

If he does not support increased oversight by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, then what exactly is the member proposing to do? If the Liberals are instead proposing to spend billions on other railway lines, have they found the means to pay for that dream?

Business of Supply March 10th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we ask that the vote be deferred until tomorrow, Wednesday, March 11, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member, and I do appreciate the work the member has put into this as well.

Let us be clear that there are communities in the country that would benefit directly through more investment in VIA Rail, Thunder Bay being one and La Pocatière, Quebec, being the other. Those are places where the capacity is already in place to build all of the rolling stock that we need to get this train moving again.

The Bombardier corporation has the technology, but what does it do with that technology? It sells the rolling stock to the United States. It knows to invest in the passenger rail system. Unfortunately, the government seems to have missed the track completely.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, first, VIA is a crown corporation. We do not need to renationalize something that already belongs to the Crown.

Second, regarding the subsidy that is paid through the U.S. for passenger rail, it has 10 times more passengers on its network than we do. Therefore, the actual amount paid per passenger is significantly less in the United States than it is here.

If our country were to start investing in passenger rail, we would have the domino effect of creating wealth across the country in so many communities that need it. We need to start investing, and we need to start investing now.

VIA Rail Canada Act February 20th, 2015

moved that Bill C-640, An Act respecting VIA Rail Canada and making consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to begin the debate today on Bill C-640, the VIA Rail Canada Act. This bill, which is long overdue, directly addresses the cause of many of the problems that have been facing our public passenger rail service ever since it was created in 1977. The bill provides the main, most crucial measure needed to resolve those problems.

When VIA Rail was created with the goal of taking charge of the declining passenger rail service, which was then provided by CN and CP, it was given very few of the tools needed to carry out that enormous task. One of the fundamental tools was legislation that clearly and fully explained the rights, powers, obligations and mandate of the new crown corporation. VIA Rail was never given that. Instead, it was created in a rather ad hoc, ill-considered manner. In the end, it was basically like a rudderless ship, without any navigational aids or even an engine.

We saw the sad result. The management of VIA Rail has been unstable for nearly four decades. Its funding varies considerably. The company has barely been modernized. The fees for accessing the freight network are excessive. Passengers are made to wait for hours to give priority to freight trains. The worst part is that the public interest has been set aside countless times when, instead of providing support, governments have said that the only solution to VIA Rail's problems is radical cuts rather than rational changes.

This contrasts sharply with the U.S., where Amtrak, under similar circumstances, was founded to perform the same role as VIA. Before it ever turned its first wheel, in 1971, Amtrak was given the strong legislative foundation required to restore passenger rail. Its enabling act set the course for its growth into the useful, efficient, and cost-effective public transit service it is today. While it has not always been smooth sailing, Amtrak has weathered many financial and legislative storms because of its comprehensive legislation.

My member's bill is intended to do the same for Canadians. Like the act that launched Amtrak, it spells out what VIA must do to deliver nationwide rail passenger service that will play a strategic role in the economic, social, and environmental life of Canada. It would delineate a basic national network. It would set realistic and attainable performance standards. It would establish a mechanism to adjust VIA services, when necessary, here in the House of Commons. It would specifically end the backroom decision-making that has on several occasions wiped Canadian communities off the rail passenger map.

Many communities across this great nation depend on the services offered by VIA Rail to attract trade and commerce. In my riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, passenger rail service was suspended beginning in 2011.

Many people come to my riding to experience its natural beauty and especially to reach destinations such as Percé Rock and Forillon National Park. I have known many an individual who has come to visit these landmarks, with the train trip being an integral part of the excursion. However, declining train frequency has led to a gradual decline in the number of passengers. Reduced track speed due to deferred track maintenance has further led to declines in use. More recently, VIA has closed or sold a number of train stations. There is no joy in waiting for a train in the dead of night in a rural region without the shelter of a train station. Fighting winter storms often leads to scheduling delays, while passengers wait on unsheltered platforms. This is no way to increase ridership.

Passenger rail is important to keep local economies moving. It also performs a basic public service.

Seniors and people with mobility challenges depend on passenger rail to reach destinations, such as clinics and hospitals. For many, such as in my riding, with public services such as hospitals so very far apart, the bus is simply not an option, and a flight is prohibitively expensive. The train is their best and sometimes only possible solution.

I have heard from people across this country about the need to improve passenger service. I have gone to train stops to ask people what they would like to see in passenger rail. I mainly hear that they seek a reliable, on-time, frequent service.

Rural regions with less than daily service typically see a gradual decline in the number of passengers. A recent example would be the Ocean, the Montreal to Halifax train. This route, the longest-running continuous train service in this country, having recently celebrated 110 years of continuous service, was cut from six trains a week to three. The effect was almost instantaneous. The passenger load dropped by nearly 40%. The route was even further threatened by the closure of its very rails in New Brunswick. After significant public pressure, the government did come up with a funding solution to keep the track open for the next 15 years.

As a member of the official opposition, I do not have a lot of opportunities to congratulate the government, but in this case, I will make an exception. The track, for now, is safe, but were it not for the public pressure that so many people in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick performed, the government surely would have let that track go.

Bill C-640 would also give VIA the fair and logistical rights it requires to operate effectively in the real world of competitive, multi-modal transportation. It proposes a cost-sharing basis by which VIA could partner with provincial or regional governments to add service to the basic national network. It would reaffirm the need for passenger trains to have reasonable priority over freight. It would also provide for the development of a fee schedule that would grant VIA access to the freight railway lines on terms that would be fair to all parties.

Around the globe, modern passenger trains are vital elements of the mobility strategies of nations with which we compete. If Canada is to be a part of this worldwide rail passenger renaissance, we must finally put VIA on a proper footing. That it has survived this long without a legislative mandate is a tribute to the inherent strength of the very concept of passenger railroads.

I have the opportunity to right a historic transportation wrong with this legislation, and I encourage others to support this bill. I certainly encourage the government to look at it again and consider sending this to committee for more debate.

I want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of many people who have helped me draft this bill and who have also accompanied me in our passionate resistance to the decline of passenger rail in this country.

I would like to start with Greg Gormick, an expert in passenger rail, an expert who has worked tirelessly all his life to bring the issue of passenger rail to the forefront. He has been speaking in many communities bringing the issue of passenger rail forward. Without his clear and honest work, we never would have made it as far as we have.

The people who live in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick are especially to be applauded for the amount of energy they have expended trying to save not only their passenger rail but the very rail system on which they depend.

The passenger rail service in our part of the world has decayed substantially, and we need to see the government show that it is willing to support our remote communities with one of the vital links we have to the outside world.

We do not have an exemplary bus transportation system. We do not have an affordable airline system. What we do have is the potential for daily rail service. We have had it in the past. If a train were to run as often as it should, we would be able to get that ridership back up again.

The interest is there, the capacity is there, and the freight that is the very backbone of the sustenance to keep that rail system going in eastern Canada is also present. We have all of the tools required. The only element that is missing is the government's unconditional support.

Some may wring their hands over the so-called subsidy required by our passenger rail system while, ironically, they regard much more massive spending on highways and air traffic as investments. Every modern country with passenger rail has operating costs. Imagine if Canada decided to eliminate everything from our lives that requires public investment. We would scrap schools and libraries. The parks would be gone, as well as hospitals and firefighters and anything we could name. We need to invest in public infrastructure if we want this country to work.

Trains are solid public investments. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that every dollar spent on passenger rail service generates three to four times that amount back into the economy. That logic has simply not taken hold here. While VIA languishes and we debate its legislative future, Canadian-built passenger trains are thundering over steel rails of America, some of them at 250 kilometres an hour. American politicians of all stripes realize the issue is not whether America can afford to have passenger trains but whether it can afford not to have them.

The contrasts and contradictions between VIA and its expanding publicly owned American cousin Amtrak are shocking. The most fundamental difference between the two railways is legislation. Amtrak has it; VIA does not.

Bill C-640 would address this glaring legislative gap by providing a sort of bill of rights for passenger trains. It would give VIA the mandate it requires to deliver a large portion of the sustainable intercity mobility needed in 21st century Canada.

Visionary legislation set Amtrak rolling in 1971, and Bill C-640 could establish the mechanism to restore service to all communities that lost their trains through political expediencies here in Ottawa. Northwestern Ontario has had good news. After 104 years of continuous service, Thunder Bay lost its passenger service, the Canadian, back in January 1990 ,as a result of the Mulroney government's slashing of VIA's financing by 50%. In 2012, the current government cut $41 million from VIA's annual subsidy, which had been previously cut and frozen at $166 million by the Liberal government in 1988, with no provision for inflation.

I would like to make it clear that this legislation is the next step in VIA's evolution. VIA needs to know that there is a legislative framework that is going to keep this company rolling and that passenger rail has a future in this country. We have capacity in Thunder Bay and La Pocatière, Quebec, to build the rolling stock that we need. This bill would create jobs in areas that really need that support, and passenger rail has been proven to be a shot in the arm for the economies of the communities where trains pass through.

We need VIA Rail in our communities. It is a fundamental choice that Canadians must make. This bill is the first step. The government needs to take the next.

Petitions February 20th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition today signed by hundreds of people from my area in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick who are calling for better VIA Rail service in our region.

The railway is in terrible condition. Service is declining and the frequency is diminishing. A lot of improvements are needed. We hope the federal government will listen.