House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was transport.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Trois-Rivières (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 17% of the vote.

Statements in the House

The Environment June 3rd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, according to the latest IPCC report, we have less than 12 years left to reverse the results of global warming.

Last Friday, the Leader of the NDP announced a bold plan for energy transition that does not abandon workers, but helps them throughout the process. The success of this plan will rely mainly on developing green public transit.

If the government is serious, will it finally follow the NDP's lead and commit to implementing the high-frequency rail project?

Transportation May 29th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, in a 2013 report on an accident between a bus and a VIA Rail train, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada called for Transport Canada to examine the creation of crashworthiness standards for buses.

Since then, there have been several of these types of accidents, including the sad accident involving the Humboldt Broncos. We are now at 19 people dead and 33 injured. However, Transport Canada has not yet done anything to change the crashworthiness standard.

Can the Prime Minister explain why his minister has failed to act on this matter, even though his government has been in power for almost four years?

Extension of Sitting Hours May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, while I have the utmost respect for what my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable has to say, I cannot help but smile as I watch the Liberals and Conservatives bickering over procedure, when both parties are beating the record for time allocation and extension of sitting hours.

However, I agree with the hon. member on some aspects, including the Liberal government's inability to advance a proper legislative agenda.

My question for the hon. member has more to do with political acumen. Normally, this is part of the process in the House. It usually covers the last two sitting weeks of the House, during which it is possible to extend the sitting hours to try to get through as many bills as possible. The government is proposing twice as much time. The word “propose” is a euphemism. The government is imposing twice as many weeks.

Does the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable really believe that the Liberals need twice as much time to advance a rather light legislative agenda, or does he think they want to end the Parliamentary session two weeks early?

Air Transportation May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the passengers' bill of rights has so many exemptions that it looks more like a list of official excuses than an actual travellers' bill of rights. For more than four years travellers have been promised that their rights will be respected, but instead they get over-bookings, unreasonable delays, and cancelled flights. Last Friday, the minister told them that they could wait another six months, something about satisfying the airline industry lobbyists yet again.

When the minister is done with his industry's bill of rights, does he plan to come up with one for passengers as well?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns. May 27th, 2019

With regard to VIA Rail’s high-frequency rail proposal for the Toronto–Quebec City corridor: (a) did the Canada Infrastructure Bank have meetings with (i) Transport Canada, (ii) Department of Finance Canada, (iii) Infrastructure Canada, and, if so, for each of the meetings in (a), what were the (i) date of the meeting, (ii) location of the meeting, (iii) meeting participants, (iv) topics of discussion, (v) names of potential investors; and (b) was a public-private partnership or public-public partnership option assessed or is one being assessed, and, if so, what delivery model options for the public-private partnership were discussed or assessed?

The Environment May 16th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Cusson, president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, had a message for federal leaders: “We will ask them to choose effective ways to fight climate change”.

The Liberals have responded with a motion devoid of commitments, whereas the NDP is proposing to stop the expansion of Trans Mountain, eliminate subsidies to oil companies and bring back Jack Layton's climate change accountability act, among other things.

Will the Liberals recognize the merits of our position and vote for the NDP motion?

Officers of Parliament May 15th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, it is an immense pleasure to speak to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, whom I have admired immensely since arriving here in 2011.

I will quickly remind members of the motion, which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.

On October 21, Canadians and Quebeckers will vote in the next Parliament. The first and perhaps most important distinction to make is that, when people go to the polls, they will not only elect a government, they will elect 338 men and women who will represent them in the House and form the next Parliament.

Naturally, every member of every party works hard to ensure that theirs has the largest number of seats and forms the government because that is the system we have. However, we could very well find ourselves in a situation where, to keep the government going, several parties could be called on to collaborate if the people, in their infinite wisdom, decided to elect a minority government.

That speaks to the primordial importance of parliamentarians. First and foremost, Canadians will elect a Parliament; then, there will be a government, which will form a cabinet. We all know how it works. I just want to make it clear, because we hear so much nonsense about the role of opposition members. By the way, for anyone that follows my podcasts, that will be the subject of my next one.

The role of opposition members is different, but just as important as the role of government members. Again, in their infinite wisdom, Canadians want their government, regardless of political stripe, to be responsible and to allow all different perspectives to be expressed in the House.

When we talk about officers of the House, we are talking about parliamentarians' staff. For those who do not really know what is meant by “officers of Parliament”, I will give a few examples that should sound familiar.

First there is the Auditor General. If there is one report that people look forward to every year, it is the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General has the team and resources needed to keep tabs on the government's actions. He or she raises any issues of concern.

The Chief Electoral Officer is another example. Thank God we have a Chief Electoral Officer who ensures that our voting system is impartial, neutral and functional and that it operates without interference from foreign countries.

We could talk about the Commissioner of Official Languages. We could talk about the Privacy Commissioner, especially now, when personal information is such a sensitive topic. We could also talk about the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

I would like to make one very important point. We have been saying this all along, but it is still just as true, that in all situations, these officers of Parliament must not be associated with a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest, so that they can do their jobs and also be perceived as having no ties to the executive.

What is happening right now with the appointment process? The whole process, or nearly all of it, falls entirely to the executive. It is all very well to say that the process is legitimate and fine, that there is no influence, that it is truly a coincidence that appointees are also on the Liberal Party donor list and that no one saw that coming. There is, at the very least, an appearance of conflict of interest there, which undermines the very credibility of these officers of Parliament, whose work is generally impeccable.

Before they can get to work, however, we need to make sure the appointment is impeccable. The existing process only requires the executive branch to consult the opposition parties. The word “consult” is open to interpretation. We recently saw that consulting can be as simple as sending the opposition party leaders a letter stating the name of the proposed candidate, not even a shortlist.

There is already a problem here, and there is an even bigger problem with the voting system, which needs to change. As we saw with the Conservatives, and again with the Liberals, a government is getting elected with 39% of the popular vote. That, however, is 39% of a total turnout of about 50%. That government suddenly ends up with 100% of the power and the responsibility of appointing 100% of the officers of Parliament. This is a clear procedural flaw that needs to be addressed.

Thank God we have this extremely simple proposal. Notwithstanding the member for Hamilton Centre's indisputable talent, his motion does not reinvent the wheel. We are not the first to notice this problem with potential conflicts of interest or apparent lack of neutrality. New Zealand and other parliaments have already taken steps toward what the member for Hamilton Centre is proposing, in order to give full authority back to elected officials via a multi-party committee.

We got a taste of how this could look when a committee made up of members from all parties was created to study electoral reform. Thanks to the NDP, this bill went a bit further to allow members of political parties that are not officially recognized in the House to serve on this committee. This brings all parliamentarians together and ensures that a single party is never making the final decision, which is instead based on a broader consensus among parliamentarians. This is, after all, about their employees.

These are our employees. When the government introduces a bill at 3 p.m. and I have to comment to the media at 3:45 p.m., it is difficult for me to analyze a 200-page document. Fortunately, the Parliamentary Budget Officer works full time, 365 days a year, minus vacation, on this and many other budget issues, to give us credible, objective and partisan-free information. We want more emphasis on ensuring that this information is free from any appearance of political involvement. This is truly a step in the right direction.

The member, in his infinite wisdom, particularly thanks to his experience in parliamentary procedure, and because time is running out as the session comes to an end, was not sure what the outcome of the motion would be, even if we all voted in favour of it. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think this is not a good idea. I tried to find a reason, just to play devil's advocate. Perhaps someone would want to yield power to the executive in the hope of winning the election and getting that power to make choices. This would be a bad idea, since it would undermine nearly all of the principles I have been talking about today.

We could say that this is how it has always been, that it must be a British tradition and that we will not rock the boat. Well, no, we must move things along and go further. I believe that this motion is a step in the right direction. We could tell ourselves that we do not have the structure to do it. That is exactly what this motion does: it gives us the structure to do it, and it is up to us to find the means to move forward. I would like to point out that this costs nothing. All it takes is an ounce of common sense to recognize the merits of the proposal we are debating.

In my research, I could find no reason for voting against this motion. I look forward to hearing different points of view. What I am hearing so far already suggests that we seem to be headed for a broad consensus. However, I would like to present an amendment to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, who saw that time was passing and thought that perhaps we should move beyond the issue of principle and set up a pilot project that would take us further.

This is what the amendment says:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the opinion of the House,” and substituting the following: “during this Parliament, a special joint committee co-chaired by the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament should be created as a pilot project to begin undertaking the selection process for the vacant Auditor General of Canada position”.

Note the term “Parliament” rather than “government”.

This is a golden opportunity to take the first steps towards this new arrangement and open the door wide for the next legislature.

Fraud Against Seniors May 14th, 2019

Madam Speaker, it is with special interest that I rise to speak to Motion No. 203 regarding fraud against seniors. The reason I say that is because my riding, Trois-Rivières, has a unique feature. It is one of the rare ridings, if not the only riding in Quebec and Canada, where people stay young at heart longer than the national average.

If you look at the Quebec averages for people aged 65 and older, the riding of Trois-Rivières is a whole six or seven points above the national average. This issue, this population and my constituents aged 65 and older are near and dear to my heart. I am quite anxious to speak to this motion because it affects them directly, for a number of reasons. I will expand on that later in my speech.

I hate to date myself, but back in the day, when we had mail instead of emails, it was pretty easy to see that some things were too good to be true. My parents subscribed to Reader's Digest, which could be found in every possible waiting room, including at the doctor, at the dentist, and in many private residences. I suspect that, even back then, they were selling subscription lists to all kinds of companies. We therefore often received tickets for sweepstakes, giving us a chance to win ridiculous sums of money if we returned all the necessary documents, which my parents and I never did.

These types of schemes have gone digital. Today, there are many offers on the Internet. You can win astronomical amounts of money, trips abroad, computers or all kinds of goods. We know that this can be questionable advertising or even fraud, which we must protect ourselves against.

I would like to give you an idea of the extent of Internet fraud, which affects seniors in particular. In fact, that is why we are discussing the issue. We are talking about $10 billion a year, which is an astronomical sum. On a per capita basis this amounts to $300 per person. Every Canadian could potentially be defrauded to the tune of $300 a year. We know that is not the case. Fraudsters always target the most vulnerable people. The amount of $300 per Canadian is not accurate. The amount is much higher for those who are victims of a well-organized fraud ring.

Statistics show that 44% of the people interviewed by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre were directly defrauded or a member of their family was. Everyone is aware of the problem. That said, when discussing such statistics, it bears remembering that statistics can be misleading.

People who are ripped off can feel naive or simple-minded. It is important to remember that the strategies used by fraudsters are increasingly sophisticated. They elicit feelings of concern in their targets, who fall for the scam because they think they are doing the right thing. When people realize that they have been scammed, they do not boast about it. Very few people admit that they did not pay enough attention and failed to identify all of the telltale signs of fraud. On this information alone, it is safe to assume that the actual figure is probably much higher than what the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is reporting.

Today, seniors make up 13% of the population. In 2036, they will make up 25% of the population. At the rate things are going, 2036 might as well be tomorrow.

I would like to mention another statistic before approaching this captivating subject from another angle. Earlier, I was saying that fraudsters target the most vulnerable individuals.

Often, people with low incomes are among the most affected, for all sorts of reasons I will explain later. Let us look at our $300 per Canadian, a figure that does not make sense, because not everyone is targeted equally. Moreover, the people who are most often scammed are those who are the most vulnerable and who have the lowest incomes. It is a big problem.

In 1995, low-income seniors made up 3.9% of the population, so say almost 4%. In 2000, they made up 7.6% of the population, or almost 8%. According to the most recent figures, they made up 11% of the population in 2013. I see absolutely no indication that the situation has gotten any better in 2019. We can see it. The wealth we create in our country is always very poorly distributed. The rich become richer while those who struggle to make ends meet continue to bear the burden, unable to live the dream that our consumer society urges us to pursue.

Oftentimes, this aging population—or rather, as I said earlier, those who stay young at heart longer—is subject to a number of factors that make it increasingly vulnerable. In practical terms, we call these the social determinants of health. What are the social determinants of health? There is a person’s economic situation, which I mentioned earlier. There are also health problems. We know that we are living longer, but not necessarily in good health. Dementia-related diseases are on the rise. We see the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and others that are more likely to affect seniors and that make them more susceptible to potential Internet fraud.

Illiteracy is also a very serious problem. We often hear about functional illiteracy. This relates to people who went to school, sometimes to the end of primary school or high school. They sometimes even have a high school or college diploma, but they might not necessarily grasp all the subtleties of a text in their daily lives. Believe me, fraudsters are masters at writing up offers and putting the right images on websites that look entirely credible, if one does not have the resources needed to look further than the image presented and do the necessary comparisons. For instance, we often use the connection rate to claim that, since 80% of Canadians have Internet access, that means almost everyone in Canada can be reached online.

Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have counted on the fact that, since the government is online, every Canadian can find answers to their questions on government websites. I am sure that, like me, many members have had the experience of navigating various government websites on behalf of their constituents. As many will have seen, just because the site exists and the answer is there somewhere, does not mean it is easy to find. It takes skills that go well beyond simply having Internet access.

We are being told that the Canada Revenue Agency has plenty of online resources to help prevent fraud. Once again, the solutions being provided fail to meet the needs of the vulnerable populations we are seeking to protect. We could also talk about proficiency in English.

I will conclude by saying that, for a long time now, the NDP has been advocating for a national strategy on seniors that does more to protect seniors against fraud.

I will certainly support this motion in the hopes that we will eventually go even further.

Rail Transportation May 14th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, climate change has become a climate emergency. It is hard to take the Liberals seriously when they adopt ridiculously low targets, buy a pipeline, and create marine protected areas where oil development is permitted.

Knowing that 41% of Quebec's emissions come from the transportation sector, announcing a high-frequency train in the most densely populated corridor in Canada would be part of the solution to the climate emergency.

When will there be real action?

Petitions May 13th, 2019

Madam Speaker, it does not surprise me in the least that, week after week, dozens of residents of Trois-Rivières ask me to present a petition on their behalf calling on the government to take action on the high-frequency train file. They believe it would be an excellent way to fight greenhouse gases, develop the local economy, promote tourism and create a more seamless intercity transit system.

I am pleased to present another batch of petitions.