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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was situation.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 30th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I am not here to explain the inexplicable or defend the indefensible.

However, I can understand certain aspects without getting into his criticism of the Liberals and the Conservatives. I do not want to compare the Canada-Colombia debate to another debate. Nonetheless, I would appreciate it if our NDP colleagues were as respectful of the principle of self-determination for the people of Quebec. That is also a principle worth fighting harder for.

I completely understand what my NDP colleague was saying. Self-determination for the people of Quebec should also be respected by all parliamentarians in this House.

It is indeed difficult to explain, but we see that it is like a system that protects a system. The Liberal-Conservative or Conservative-Liberal system—because in the end it amounts to the same thing—literally protects a system represented by investors. These same investors, regardless of where they are and where they want to invest, want things to be as deregulated as possible. That is precisely what the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement offers.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 30th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again to speak to this issue. Perhaps I will speak somewhat longer this time so I can add a little more to what the hon. members for Hochelaga, Abitibi—Témiscamingue and others have said on this subject.

The first questions I had upon seeing the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement file were the following: Who is it for? Why? What does it mean? It is much more easily understood from Canada's perspective. But, as for Colombia, it is a country that people rarely visit except to watch biking competitions or to attend conferences. Personally, I have never been to Colombia. I have heard about it, and I am well aware that it is a country in South America.

Recently, I read that Colombia has around 50 million inhabitants. So it is relatively populous. It is situated very close to the equator. It is quite mountainous and even has glaciers. A population of 50 million is fairly large. But, according to figures, that population is mostly poor. It is very unfortunate. The country is so poor that 48% of its people, according to statistics for 2006 or 2007, live below the poverty line. That shows just how rampant poverty is in Colombia.

What kind of trade do we have with Colombia? Our imports amount to $644 million, according to the 2008 figures, and our exports to $704 million. That gives us a better idea of our imports and exports. Canada exports mainly motor vehicles and automotive parts, as well as grain. These exports accounted respectively for 23% and 19% of the total in 2007.

Most Canadian investment in Colombia is in the mining sector. This is where we start to understand a little better what the agreement is all about. A country like Canada has an interest in signing a free trade agreement. We already have one with the United States and one with Mexico. We are busy negotiating another with Europe. I could come back to that another time. The Europeans lecture us about the seal hunt, but we overlook that entirely. They call us barbarians. That is more or less what they did last June by voting—not just at the Council of Europe but in the European Union—to ban all products derived from seals. This only shows that when we are considering doing business with someone, it is important that the other country involved be careful about expressing opinions on our way of doing things.

Getting back to the agreement between Canada and Colombia, this is not a mere hockey game or soccer match. Who will benefit? What interests do they want to protect? Why are they so interested in Colombia? Is it to help Colombians emerge from extreme poverty? Is it to ensure we get a military base there? That is not it at all. But there are Canadian interests in Colombia, and they have to do with mines. That is where the real interest lies. It all becomes obvious why they are suddenly so interested in Colombia and in doing business there. It is not really about doing business as such, because free trade agreements are generally intended to improve trade and to increase Canadian exports and Colombian imports. In this agreement, they want to protect investors, or actually those who invest in mines.

In view of the way in which these infamous mines are exploited, the word exploited is well chosen. The people who work there are exploited. That is why our colleagues in the Liberal Party, who are supposedly very concerned about workers’ rights, should take a closer look at the agreement.

That is not even mentioning human rights. The mere fact that children work in these mines and we are completely closing our eyes to the situation is reason enough to object to the free trade agreement. Colombia exploits children for purely speculative reasons and to serve a system in which more and more profits are made at the lowest possible cost. That is the real situation and it should lead us to refuse to sign agreements like this.

Other reasons that my colleagues raised during the recent debates explain quite eloquently why we object to this free trade agreement.

As a native pure laine Quebecker, I am interested in doing business with other countries in order to increase my wealth or to share the wealth. However, I want the parties to be equal and to treat each other with respect. There can be no doubt that foreign investors, some of them Canadian, exploit children in Colombian mines. That is crux of the matter. That is where problems can arise.

I am hearing some comments. I am well aware that my Liberal friends would rather talk about something else. Where I come from, folks would refer to the peanut gallery. Seems they have less to say now. They understand that it is easier to get a message across when it is relatively quiet than when every person in the peanut gallery wants to put in their two cents' worth.

When seriously considering a free trade agreement, we should be guided by respect. We have to assess trade volumes and make sure we have the numbers to back us up. Trade volumes could be higher, but it is not necessarily “le Pérou” as we say in French, it's not Peru, which is not far away, meaning that it is not very significant.

If the purpose of this agreement were to boost trade volumes, then fine. But when we dig a little deeper, we discover that the true purpose of this agreement is to enable unscrupulous investors to make money. One would have to be truly unscrupulous to invest in companies that do whatever they please. Fortunately, we live in a democracy, so we have access to that information. The more informed people are, the better they understand the consequences of making various decisions, such as this decision about the free trade agreement.

Canada buys only raw materials from Colombia. That is why a free trade agreement with Colombia just to benefit the mining sector is not justified.

In 2007, energy products accounted for 31% of imports and agricultural and agri-food products for 58%. In dollars, Canada buys $138 million worth of coal and related products, $115 million worth of coffee, $72 million worth of bananas and $62 million worth of cut flowers.

Regardless, we have to re-examine the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. As things stand, shame on Canada and parliamentarians if they support this agreement.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act March 30th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I will not dare to ask my learned colleague why lawyers feel obliged to say that they are lawyers. Every time we hear them, it seems that they feel some need to do so. So I will not ask him about the bicycle race he entered in Colombia either. We might like to know the results of the competition, but we can talk about them later between ourselves.

A little more seriously, Madam Speaker, I would like to hear what the hon. member has to say about workers' rights. I have been a union member, a trade unionist; I was proud to be one and am proud to declare it again. So when workers' rights are mentioned in the context of a trade agreement, we have to make sure that trade can take place, of course, but also that rights are respected in the country with which the trade is to take place.

The Budget March 9th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize the parliamentary secretary's work as a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. I enjoyed his speech because he was talking about fisheries, and I am always interested in hearing remarks on the subject.

We have an expression back home about putting a band-aid on a wooden leg, which is, of course, pointless. In my opinion, that philosophy sums up the government's plan for small craft harbours. An additional $200 million over two years is great. As a first step, this is somewhat encouraging. But the department calculated that it needs $600 million. The government is allocating $200 million to meet a $600 million need.

Clearly, things do not add up. It is likely that when the $200 million program ends in 2011, we will be back where we started with a bunch of harbours that will deteriorate every time they get hit by a storm. Climate change affects harbours too.

In that light, can the parliamentary secretary, who just talked about the small craft harbour file, comment on the fact that there will be only $200 million instead of $600 million, which is only one-third of the money needed?

Committees of the House December 7th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, that did surprise me because I had questions about it from the start, questions about whether the agreement in question, which was negotiated in 2007, might be a bad thing. In fact, I agreed that this organization, which I did not think had proven its worth, could be improved. I found that possibility interesting. When I first heard about those people's testimony, with all of their experience, I realized that something was up, that there was no smoke without fire and that we had to look into things.

I was really very interested in hearing what they had to say, and they were extremely convincing. Fishers from Newfoundland and Labrador, who told us the same thing, were also convincing. That is why, when people have worked in a department and held positions as senior as they did, nobody insists that they swear on the Bible. I think those people were all very sincere and convincing.

Committees of the House December 7th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for his question, because it gives me an opportunity to raise another point that I did not have a chance to mention in my speech.

I heard those comments. But at the same time, I did not necessarily hear everything about how people in the industry see what we have. I remember that I said I was willing to hear everyone who was involved in the issue. I felt that the people who appeared before the committee at the invitation of the NDP, the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party were their best argument. But we have to be careful when someone comes to testify and gives us their opinion, because it is only one opinion among many. Just because a group of industry representatives or a single industry member tells us that the document is fine or that they could live with it, that does not mean that we should automatically take it as gospel. There are questions that need to be asked of the people concerned, and we asked those questions. Unfortunately, the answers were somewhat evasive.

Did the people who testified have a vested interest? I am not doubting their sincerity, but I believe that the testimony we heard and especially the answers to our questions were unsatisfactory because they were not detailed enough.

Committees of the House December 7th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question and comments. I will add some myself for the people of Quebec. We did not see any grand gestures by Premier Jean Charest or even the minister responsible for fisheries when it comes to this file, but not because no one is interested.

As I was saying earlier, I represent a riding in Quebec and even though I might not represent the entire province of Quebec, when I appear before members of the committee or when I speak here, I am speaking on behalf of Quebeckers. What we have on the table is far from satisfactory and it may harm the fishing industry and Quebec fishers.

What is the Conservative government's interest in pressing the matter? It is simple common sense. How can a Conservative government renounce a former Conservative minister who says that what he did was well done, that the result is good and we have to ratify it? I believe that this is purely a matter of solidarity, but solidarity also has to rest on principles. We do not stand in solidarity for just anything. If we did, we would accept the new version just because people tell us it was relatively well done.

I recognize that a lot of work has been done, but it is time to go back to the drawing board.

Committees of the House December 7th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I can see that this issue has generated a lot of interest. Nobody seems to want to leave the room. They all want to hear my speech. I will try to give them their money's worth.

It might be a good idea to review the issue at hand. We are talking about a treaty, a nice little document that, in 2007, made it possible for the Fisheries and Oceans people and people from a dozen other countries to negotiate a comprehensive Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) agreement. Decisions needed to be made about how to proceed should problems arise and how to exploit the fisheries resource throughout such a vast territory. A lot of people, a lot of fishers have earned a good living off the area's plentiful resources, but those resources, cod in particular, disappeared quickly.

NAFO was in place, and the cod fishery enabled fishers and whole communities, particularly in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, to prosper. I represent Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, but members from other ridings know exactly what I am talking about.

However, foreign vessels—and I am sorry, but I have to name names—from Spain, Portugal and Russia, freely fished outside of our so-called protected zone, the 200-mile zone, and even inside that zone. NAFO tried to protect our resources, particularly cod, to prevent the resources from being ravaged and the seas from being pillaged. I will not go so far as to call it a massacre.

History finally repeated itself, in a way. For some 300 to 400 years, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Gaspé, the Magdalen Islands and other coastal areas made a good living fishing cod. That was a long time. But then all it took was 30 or 40 years of carelessness, and the resource nearly disappeared.

One of the harshest criticisms levelled against NAFO has been the virtual disappearance of cod in these fishing zones. People realized that the organization's performance was lacking, as the cod issue clearly shows.

A number of people started to wonder if it would be better to leave NAFO entirely and to have some kind of free-for-all. Canada could protect resources over this large area with the Canadian navy, or with the help of countries that share our vision. I said “large” area, but that hardly describes it. It is a huge area.

If the countries that are interested in this fishing zone do not work together or hold each other accountable, we will quickly lose control. It could even turn into a third world war over the marine resources in this fishing zone. If the countries do not work together to control things, there will be almost no other way to verify it all and to protect these resources. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador will likely be interested in what I am going to say. We must protect this area and offer a better future to the coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

NAFO was unfortunately a failure when it came to the cod fishery. Could we say that it was a big enough failure to justify getting rid of NAFO? Not necessarily, for the reasons I just mentioned, mainly that there is no other way.

Even if NAFO has proven to be very ineffective for managing cod resources, we are better off with an ineffective organization than with no organization at all, which would mean that any resources left in that fishing zone could be cleaned out, could disappear virtually overnight. We know very well that ships do not operate the way they did in the past. It is no longer the same situation. Logically, we need an organization that does its job and that has the tools to do so.

In recent years, 2007 in particular, some amendments to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries have been negotiated. The members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans have gone through this entire file and we finally realized that there had been negotiations with 12 or 13 member countries of the organization in question. Nonetheless, testimony from witnesses indicated that these negotiations resulted in third-rate agreements. What I mean by third-rate can be explained in a number of ways. I have a hard time accepting the fact that such poor agreements were negotiated in a matter as important as this one. I can see why there are days when it is tempting to be rid of NAFO. However, as I was saying, we need to have an organization, even if it is relatively weak. We need it to ensure that there is at least some management of the fisheries in this vast area.

Nonetheless, there is a big difference between that and showing up for negotiations, letting things slide and encroaching on the terrain of your neighbours, the Europeans, who, in recent years have not been very sympathetic when it comes to our affairs. I am referring to the seal hunt. We see that they did not listen very closely or productively. The European Union decided to boycott seal products. This was decided in the month of June, on the pretext that the hunt was a massacre. The seal hunt is far from being a massacre, the proof being that the seal population is on the rise. If it were a massacre, if the species were in danger, the numbers would prove it. I am certain that biologists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot be that wrong. What is more, they personally had the opportunity to be present at a seal hunt. It is as plain as day. The species is not in danger. The birth rate is on the rise and we will see that in the 2009 figures.

Regarding recent decisions, Europe taught us to be extremely vigilant. Was the negotiating team not vigilant? I would not go that far. I have no doubt these people wanted to act responsibly. However, that depends on the mandate they are given. The negotiating team's mandate was to negotiate, at nearly any cost, maintaining NAFO, however weak it may be. That is what I realized about the testimony we heard. That is what I realized when I read the documents. Upon careful examination of the documents, one might wonder if NAFO was strengthened in terms of what should be done when a country behaves improperly.

No, NAFO was in no way strengthened in relation to such situations. We are talking about a scientific council and procedures, but ultimately, while we are talking about procedures, when the damage is done, it is done. The resource disappears.

I am not necessarily a fan of Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am not one of his greatest admirers, but I must say, despite all his grandstanding, he is definitely a straight shooter. He was a straight shooter when it came to NAFO. He wrote to us, as well as to the premiers of all the provinces involved, and said right out that something suspicious was going on, that what was happening was not right and that we definitely needed to maintain our sovereignty. As a Quebec sovereignist, hon. members will understand my attachment to that word as well as my interest in sovereignty.

I believe strongly in maritime or Atlantic sovereignty. Not only do I believe in it, but I think it must be defended. It must also be promoted. Indeed, upon reading the documents, one might wonder if we are doing enough to defend it.

Furthermore, I am not just taking Danny Williams' word for it because, I will repeat, I am not really one of his admirers. Nevertheless, I think he did some good things. He is capable of good things as well as not-so-good things. In this case, I think he sounded the alarm. He also sounded the alarm because he was convinced by people with a great deal of experience in fisheries and negotiations, people who worked with the department at some point. I am thinking of Mr. Applebaum and others who testified before the committee. I think they were very convincing because they told us that, unfortunately, the results of the 2007 negotiations were far from satisfactory.

As for the gentlemen in question—I call them that because they deserve to be called that—they came to testify in order to give us all the facts in this matter and not because they take pleasure in criticizing people. I think they testified because they have a special interest in the matter.

When you have been a senior official in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, you do not take pleasure in appearing before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and stating that the agreement negotiated is not a good one and that it does not make much sense to accept them for such and such reasons.

I take my hat, my sealskin hat, off to them and thank them. Thank you for opening Danny Williams' eyes and thank you for opening the committee members' eyes. My hope is that my speech and those of others will bring the Conservatives to their senses and make them understand that it is very dangerous to let things get to the point where, as a result of negotiations, any amendments will require a two-thirds majority rather than 50% plus one. If it is already difficult to get 50% plus one of our partner's support, imagine what it will take to get two-thirds. That is also part of the problem. It is a magic number, one that may be difficult to obtain.

We may think that the Europeans will understand our intentions and that the resource will be well protected, but between you, me and the bedpost, I do not trust them that much. I can negotiate respectfully and I can discuss, argue and debate, but I am not prepared to trust them. We have already paid once, in the case of cod. We should not have to pay again for all the remaining resources, such as crab and especially shrimp.

That is why it is important that we agree to and adopt a motion that does not necessarily set everything aside, but that says that the results of the negotiation, with the proposed amendments, are not satisfactory. We could eventually put this issue in the hands of another negotiating team. The negotiations took place in 2007, and it is almost 2010. Another departmental negotiating team will certainly be taking part in the negotiations, with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs and other departments. There is nothing to keep us from putting a stop to this.

I believe that we have to learn from history and stop getting into situations where we close our eyes and, under a document written and signed by us, signed by the Government of Canada, we let things get to the point where the other marine resources are endangered. We have to think about our sovereignty, but we also have to think about the resource. The economy of our coastal communities is at stake. All the coastal communities are taking an interest in this issue. I understand that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are making a big deal about it, but with good reason. They are more than a little affected.

Should the other provinces be as concerned? Yes, in my opinion. On the other hand, are we not here also to defend the interests of each of our provinces? Members from New Brunswick even chair our meetings and proudly represent the people of New Brunswick. There are other members from New Brunswick on the committee as well. There are members from Nova Scotia, and even from Alberta, if you can believe it. It makes for a nice little group.

I believe that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is a department that operates from sea to sea, from coast to coast. That is why the results of the negotiations that we have in front of us are far from satisfactory. When I see that they are unsatisfactory and I am not convinced that conditions could improve in the future, I must speak up and vote accordingly, demanding that we halt proceedings and let those involved know that this makes no sense and that we need to stop it.

The documents in question, which we have received, talk about the presence of the 2007 team. The leader of this team, the former minister and member from Newfoundland and Labrador, Loyola Hearn, even appeared before us. He was rather convincing when he appeared before us, enthusiastically pushing us to sign and support the document.

At the same time, I understand that a minister who led the negotiations will not come and tell us that he failed or did not succeed, especially since he had promised. He had promised to improve the system. He realized, like me, that the system was limited and had many weaknesses.

Did we expect the former minister to candidly tell us that he had failed, that the negotiations were not successful and that he encouraged us to reconsider what was signed? No, I was expecting those kinds of comments, and that is what we heard.

The other committee members may have heard the same thing.

This concludes my speech; I invite all the committee members and all members of Parliament to pay close attention to the future of the fisheries in the northwest Atlantic.

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act December 7th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges with a great deal of interest. I would even say I hung on her every word. In my opinion, she did a marvellous job of putting the dilemma or the debate in context, because it is a bit of a hodgepodge.

I will not ask her to give me a laundry list of reasons why we disagree with the approach the government is proposing. I understand that we are defending the principle that before such measures are taken, we must at least be able to take the necessary time and act responsibly, even if some would have us believe the bill is urgent.

We feel that this bill is not urgent. But perhaps the member could tell us more about the principle that we must be able to act democratically.

Petitions November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to present several petitions regarding the issue of post office closures. I would first like to indicate why these petitions are necessary. The people who have signed them are from various municipalities in my riding.

They are calling on the Government of Canada to maintain the moratorium on rural post office closures. They are also calling on the government to allow Canada Post Corporation to maintain, enhance and improve postal services. These petitions have been signed by several hundred people in my riding who are rather dissatisfied and very concerned about the situation.