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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was colleague.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Beauport—Limoilou (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 26% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply September 29th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak in the House to support the motion from the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park. This motion is particularly important in this economic context, which is so difficult, dangerous and worrying for Canadians. Our fellow Canadians are overburdened with debt and are stuck in low-paying, precarious jobs that have limited prospects for the future. Unlike the rosy world this government repeatedly talks about, the reality is far different for most people. Prospects for the future are bleak for all of us. Here are some powerful examples.

The Conference Board of Canada says that the gap between the rich and the poor in this country has been widening for the past 15 years. And it is widening at a faster pace than it did in the United States over the same period, which threatens the fundamental Canadian values of justice and equality in our society.

In addition, Charles Sirois, chair of the CIBC board, and Stephen Jarislowsky, a major Montreal investor, are worried about how dependent the Canadian economy is on the development and export of our natural resources. These two men, who have decades of expertise in global economic issues, believe that our economy—with its lack of diversity—cannot handle the challenges we face from emerging countries.

In the wake of major American investor Warren Buffett's statement, highly respected businessman Jean Coutu also expressed his belief that there is a completely incomprehensible fiscal imbalance and, as a result, he pays too little in taxes as compared to the Canadian public. He is therefore calling on the government to make the tax system fairer and more equitable so that he can do his part.

Contrary to this government, the NDP is advocating an economic approach that has worked for a long time. For a long time, the state has had a key economic role to play; to deny this is to turn a blind eye to the truth. Historically, we can see that periods that were the most economically successful in the long term achieved that success through major state intervention. When the state sets a strong and clear common goal of development, with rules of good governance and fairness on the markets, growth is impressive and sustainable.

The thirty glorious years provide an excellent example of economic measures to adopt when the economy is going downhill. Let us remember that, during that period, taxpayers' dollars were used to rebuild Europe, develop infrastructure, strengthen companies in North America and implement universal social programs that, for a long time, guaranteed a solid education system, health benefits that were accessible to everyone and the opportunity for most to retire with dignity.

All this is threatened by the economic approach of this government, which is irrationally obsessed with its weight, to the detriment of overall economic health. To paraphrase the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith, if it were only money at stake, we would not necessarily have much to worry about, but the plight of the millions of people who will suffer as a result of the action taken by this government is a matter of very great concern. It must be the main focus of our concern. In other words, we see that there are two conflicting visions of the economy in this House: that of the government, where finance takes precedence over the individual, and that of the NDP, where the individual is the centre of the economy. This could boil down to a simple ideological debate but, even then, the inescapable reality supports the NDP's approach.

First of all, one of the founding fathers of economics, Adam Smith, after making a harsh observation about the reality of his time, condemned that reality by advocating a moral approach to economic issues, an approach that took human needs into account. But unfortunately, Adam Smith was taken hostage by a simplistic economic vision endorsed by the Chicago school, which underhandedly did away with Mr. Smith's conclusions, maintaining only the observation and establishing it as dogma.

This sectarian approach has been very costly for many countries, especially in Latin America. Consider the example of Argentina, which went through a many lean years after applying measures similar to those proposed by this government. In addition, many Conservative governments in Canada have gone down paths similar to the one this government is taking, with disappointing and sometimes even disastrous results. To refresh everyone's memories, consider the following examples: the budgetary and economic trials and tribulations of the Diefenbaker government led to his defeat in 1962, when the public deficit had ballooned after a series of tax cuts—what a surprise—and after the value of the Canadian dollar dropped considerably compared to the American dollar; the Mulroney government ended a nine-year reign with an abysmal deficit of $42 billion as the ugly result; some 20 years ago, the Grant Devine government in Saskatchewan left the province's finances in ruins. After that, an NDP government led by Roy Romanow took over and in the early 1990s, despite the burden it inherited, it accomplished the amazing feat of achieving the first balanced budget of any government in Canada, whether provincial or federal.

The damage to the Conservatives' reputation at that time and later was so great that they had to reinvent themselves under another name, the Saskatchewan Party.

But the best example is the Ontario government of Mike Harris, which dismantled social programs and Ontario Hydro to the ongoing and costly detriment of the province's taxpayers. If we heed the debates raging in the current Ontario election campaign, the Harris legacy is still strong. The question is: do we want that kind of legacy?

In another part of the world, in Denmark, where a social democratic government was recently elected after 10 years of a depressing coalition of the right obsessed with austerity and border security, the new left-leaning prime minister is going to invest more than $3 billion in her country's small, rich and egalitarian economy.

Despite the fact that it has few natural resources, and personal income taxes of up to 60% as well as a 25% sales tax, Denmark's per capita GDP is comparable to that of Canada. What is even more interesting is that employment rates for all age brackets are invariably higher in Denmark than in Canada. Denmark invests heavily in education, research and development, and in its workforce, whereas Canada relies too heavily on the abundance of its natural resources as justification for a laissez-faire attitude that puts us at the mercy of economic ups and downs.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the government must adopt an economic approach that concentrates on specialization, that is the processing of goods, in order to control a larger portion of what is called the distribution chain. In short, our country exports too many raw resources for processing abroad. We recently came to an astounding realization: employment in manufacturing, which was previously significant, is rapidly decreasing. This realization only reinforces the NDP position: Canada's competitiveness requires the diversification of activities and strategic support for sectors that create employment in order to ensure that the Canadian economy is not governed solely by the “invisible hand” of the market.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act September 19th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her wonderful speech, which allowed us to see the human side of the situation of refugees and immigrants. It is important to understand the possible consequences of implementing the arbitrary measures proposed in Bill C-4. This can have human, economic and social impacts since a traumatic experience can take a very long time to get over.

Since the government is always going on about security, does the hon. member believe that this bill, as proposed, will somehow improve national security?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act September 19th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, one rather surprising aspect of the bill is the powers that would potentially be granted to the minister. One of the goals we set when introducing a bill is to make one clear rule that applies to everyone.

I want to thank my colleague for his speech because it illustrated to what extent this could become a problem. Can the hon. member elaborate on the discretionary power the minister would have?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the members opposite have refused to explain the merits of Bill C-6.

In the last election campaign, I met one of my constituents with whom I exchanged tweets. He told me that he was disappointed with my position.

I would like to ask my colleague what he thinks about the current polarization of the members opposite, who refuse to talk about the dissenting opinions of their voters. They must receive them, just as I do.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I find my the hon. member's remarks particularly relevant. As the small business critic, I am also very concerned about what is happening now.

I find it truly deplorable that this government, in supporting the actions of Canada Post management and going even further, is taking the people hostage and creating sky-high costs for our small and medium-sized businesses. I demand that the government remove the padlocks immediately so that negotiations can be started again.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I think that is an excellent question which deserves our full attention and consideration.

Indeed, it is very troubling that bargaining rights are being denied for a group of workers who are members of a union where all the democratic operating mechanisms are functioning. We have had absolutely no evidence that there was a problem from that standpoint.

There have even been some virtual suggestions, though I would not want to draw any hasty conclusions. It has almost been suggested that it was necessary to limit, if not deny, the right to organize. Personally, I find that shocking.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for having provided us with a childhood memory and for rehashing a question that has already been asked dozens, if not hundreds of times already. It reminds me of those long car trips counting different coloured Volkswagen Beatles. It helped us wile away the time when we were children.

Sadly, as I explained previously, all the complaints being levelled at us are but a mere smokescreen. In any major union organization of tens of thousands of people, it is quite normal for there to be dissenting voices. There are limits to everything however; we need to focus more on the substance of the debate.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, from the outset, one of the Conservatives’ arguments has been that it was necessary to consider the economic stakes associated with the labour dispute at Canada Post. I am in complete agreement with them that this is something very important. What I deplore, on the other hand, is that in the context of the debate they have not taken the time to explain the full details of all the ins and outs of this economic damage. They have been content with generalities, with simply spouting slogans and constantly repeating the same questions. This is deplorable.

I will modestly attempt to put all the economic impacts of Canada Post’s activities and the stakes of this dispute into perspective. First, I must say that I have had a longstanding interest in economics. I have read some classics in the genre and particularly admire the work of the Canadian-born American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith. Mr. Galbraith began his career as a member of President Roosevelt’s team during the depression of the 1930s. He was on the team that created the New Deal, and made his contribution to correcting the problems arising from the Great Depression. Next, he took on certain responsibilities during World War II, and studied the effects of the Allied bombing on the German economy. He also looked into wage and price controls in the context of that conflict. So in the postwar era he was someone with the right experience to develop a highly articulate economic philosophy that could clarify the issues and the ins and outs of the decisions made by our governments, our companies and individuals themselves.

One of the conclusions he reached was that any very large consolidated company has almost total control over both its activities and its prices, and hence over its fate and its future, as is not the case for the small company or the single individual who is at the mercy of economic ups and downs. What is interesting is that it is clear that Canada Post has virtually total control over the price of its products, which are offered to all Canadians. This possibility does not prevent it from offering its products at prices which are very low relative to other countries in the world, even though it is a crown corporation. Clearly, the fact that it is a public, crown-owned corporation is an advantage.

Mr. Galbraith examined the role and the importance of the various economic players. He came to the conclusion that the state, in its interventions, had a place comparable to that of any company. Where he was much more far-sighted was in giving a central place to the human being as an economic player. It must be said that he was not the only expert to come to that conclusion.

Mr. Galbraith then wanted to understand what the effects of the major economic decisions made by the entire population of a country might be. He observed that, for every dollar given back to the wealthiest people in a country or an economic unit, through massive income tax cuts, for example, that dollar was unfortunately not reinvested in the economy. Those people did not need the extra dollar, and so they hoarded it; in other words, they took it out of economic activity, and eventually that can lead to stagnation. On the other hand, when that dollar was given to the middle class, and particularly to the most disadvantaged people in our economy, it was immediately reinvested in the economy, since those people could not hoard it or save it, because they had urgent need of it.

Mr. Galbraith then came to the conclusion that investing in the population was basically the best engine of economic development, as many countries in the world have in fact proved.

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, was a professor of moral philosophy, and his magnum opus has been widely quoted virtually everywhere. Unfortunately, it has been quoted wildly incorrectly. All Adam Smith did was observe the cruelty of life in his day. He did not make laws or principles to be applied from that; he simply observed that without safeguards and regulations, unfortunately, human beings were the playthings of the interests of the powerful.

The conclusion he reached was that it was very important to have economic ethics, to guide all the players and, ultimately, the state, should these players fail to behave properly.

It is rather unfortunate to see the ideas of such great men taken hostage to justify ideas and policies that may be harmful to all Canadians.

I am now going to change subjects. Let us come back to the present day and apply the ideas of great Canadians to the subject of current impacts and policies, Bill C-6 being basically one more step, one way of diminishing our quality of life.

Charles Sirois, whom I quoted earlier, said this a few months ago:

We can decide to dig holes in our subsoil and pump out all the natural resources we have. We can decide that this is what will secure the future of our children and grandchildren.

However, in his opinion, the consequences of that choice will be:

Perhaps we will not be in a state of complete poverty, but we will also not be wealthy; that much is obvious. And we will not be part of the movement that can be observed all over the world, where genuine value is created through creativity and innovation, and putting them to use.

I would note that Mr. Sirois is the chairman of the board of directors of CIBC and the former chairman and CEO of Teleglobe, a company with communications systems covering the entire world.

A few days later, Mr. Stephen Jarislowsky, the great Montrealer and renowned investor who founded his business in 1955, was concerned about the boom in company acquisitions in the natural resources sector. He saw nothing logical in this, on the contrary. He compared the situation to the real estate bubble in the United States. The $1300 price tag on an ounce of gold a few months prior was, in his opinion, an unfortunate harbinger of things to come. An ounce of gold now costs almost $1600. At the same time, the TSX plummeted. These were all signs that our economy was shrinking.

All the while, the government claimed that everything was fine and dandy. That attitude is bizarrely reminiscent of the Conservatives in the 2008 campaign. Blinded by their blinkers, they were alone in failing to acknowledge the threat of a looming recession.

A quality postal service is essential to support the creativity and innovation that Mr. Sirois was referring to. As I said earlier, it is vital for the millions of small and medium-sized businesses that rely on these postal services to run their operations.

Bill C-6 is further evidence of the Conservatives weakening our economy and refusing to acknowledge the fundamental role that human beings play in any healthy economy. Standing up for the general working conditions of workers is of paramount importance to ensuring a future for our children and our grandchildren. I make this statement unequivocally, with evidence to back it up.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 25th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, first of all let me thank my colleague from Jonquière—Alma for sharing his professional and life experience with the House.

On another note, a few months ago, Charles Sirois, chair of the board of CIBC, a major chartered bank in Canada that needs no introduction, spoke out against the heavy emphasis on natural resources in our economy. In his view, this is a sign of an economy that is at risk of stagnation.

Canada Post on the other hand is a crown corporation that adds a lot of value to our society, especially to the millions of small businesses that support our economy every day.

I would like to ask my colleague if he can explain why the Conservatives are so determined to reduce the quality of life of all Canadians.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act June 24th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the hon. member for Shefford for quoting the great poet and songwriter Georges Dor, who put into words the situation that was experienced by thousands of Quebec workers during the 1960s, on the remote jobsites of Manicouagan. That project is a great achievement. It is a major part of our heritage and also an expression of our culture.

Speaking about expression, let us not forget that, in this House, we can express our opinions and ideas freely. Members opposite are free to make up causes for this dispute, just as they have the right to say they believe in Santa Claus. However, they also have the responsibility to look at the reality, and the reality is that a lockout was imposed.

I want to ask my colleague what he thinks of the behaviour of this government, which prevents the two sides from negotiating in good faith and coming to an agreement.