House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was region.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 29% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Madam Speaker, the case that the member just presented could be considered plausible. It is not fair. I think that this transaction was grossly mismanaged. The minister at the time should have fixed undertakings and conditions for the company prior to the transaction. There should have been conditions—for example, a certain number of jobs—or else the transaction would have been cancelled.

That is what we are calling for. The motion also calls for a minimum amount of transparency so that the public can be informed. The minister must pay attention. The Investment Canada Act allows the minister to listen to what the Quebec and provincial governments, the community and the workers are calling for and to fix undertakings and conditions before the transaction takes place. That is what we need. The minister must defend the public.

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member; the Conservatives and the Liberals are like two peas in a pod. The member also said that Potash Corporation was a crown corporation before it was privatized in 1989.

The Bloc Québécois respects the responsibilities of the provinces and Quebec, and it is up to each province and Quebec to choose how such corporations are managed. Quebec has Hydro-Québec, a crown corporation which is considered a jewel and of which I am proud. It is a crown corporation that manages a natural resource.

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I find that the Liberals and the Conservatives are all the same. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

In the past 25 years, the government has intervened very few times. Yesterday's decision to reject the transaction is an exception. In my region, people believe that the Conservative government adopted a laissez-faire attitude and did not set conditions for the 2007 Rio Tinto acquisition of Alcan.

I have been in this House since 2004, and that takeover happened on my watch. This Conservative government was negligent, the Conservative members from my region were also negligent, and the member for Jonquière—Alma was negligent. He went along with his party and toed the line.

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, every time I have the opportunity to speak in the House of Commons, I try to find out whether the bill, the motion or the debate directly affects the people of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, the riding I represent in the House.

Although this matter is unfolding far from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we recently went through something very similar. When I read the text of the NDP motion, it struck a chord with me. Three years ago, on October 18, 2007, I condemned the then industry minister's lack of forethought in the Rio Tinto takeover of the Alcan Group.

Before going any further, I would like to spend a few minutes on the text of the motion before us. There are some similarities between the Potash Corporation takeover, the subject of today's motion, and the Alcan file. The length of the motion no doubt is representative of the many problems with the Investment Canada Act.

The Investment Canada Act, which covers the review of foreign investment, is complex but has some shortcomings. At present, the act gives too much latitude to the Minister of Industry and is too complacent with respect to foreign corporations. We must establish a more transparent process.

I will present the Bloc Québécois's position right away. On the very eve of the debate on the motion—yesterday, November 3, 2010 at 6 p.m.—the Conservative government finally decided to block the current transaction by declaring that there was no net benefit to Canada. However, rather than slamming the door shut, the Minister of Industry left it open a crack by giving BHP Billiton the opportunity to submit a better offer within 30 days. In short, the matter is not settled and the Conservative government may still allow the foreign takeover of Potash Corporation.

Even though, this time, public outcry and the Saskatchewan premier's opposition forced the Conservative government to use the Investment Canada Act to block the transaction, it is the exception to the rule. In general, the Conservatives pay little heed to foreign takeovers of Quebec and Canadian corporations. Even worse, the Conservative government makes a point of making decisions in a vacuum, without respecting the positions of the major players: the representatives of workers and the industry and, above all, the governments of Quebec and the provinces.

Do we need to remind the government that natural resources, as in the case of Potash Corporation, come under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces? The Conservative government's position is quite worrisome because the flow of foreign investment has been increasing internationally for years, particularly in the natural resources sector. Natural resources have a strategic significance that foreign countries crave, and Quebec and Canada need to make sure that they do not lose control of those resources. The international business environment is in favour of international trade and foreign takeovers of Quebec's industry icons.

The importance of these industries for Quebec goes beyond trade and encompasses the total economic and social development of our society. Foreign takeovers have often resulted in job losses and a loss of control over business decisions.

Many trade agreements include a dispute settlement mechanism allowing foreign investors to contest legislative measures unfavourable to their financial interests.

In the March 2010 Speech from the Throne, the Conservative government expressed its intention to facilitate foreign takeovers in a number of our key sectors including satellites, telecommunications and mines. Foreign investment should be synonymous with new capital, economic growth and job creation, instead of just foreign takeovers of our well-established industries.

The current wording of the Investment Canada Act already allows the Minister of Industry to consult representatives from industry, the labour market, provincial and local governments and any other interested parties. The motion aims to make these consultations mandatory.

The Conservative government has already quietly amended the Investment Canada Act through the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which made it possible to raise the threshold for review by Industry Canada to $1 billion simply by an order in council.

The Conservative government's approach does not promote transparency or inspire the confidence of the House in its actions with respect to this kind of transaction. The federal government should respect decisions that Quebec and the provinces make about foreign takeovers, particularly since Potash Corporation operates in the natural resources sector, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

The Bloc Québécois supports the NDP motion we are debating today.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks about today's NDP motion, we all know how important Alcan is to Quebec. In my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the news that Rio Tinto was buying Alcan was like a bomb going off. There were a lot of unknowns surrounding the transaction. Things were going to change. Would plans change? Alcan became foreign-owned. Our dams and our rivers became, in part, foreign property. That is worrisome.

Before the Alcan-Rio Tinto transaction, the company had its headquarters in Quebec. The resources were Quebec's property and the capital was mostly in Quebec and Canadian hands. Today, the company is headquartered abroad. Our resources are foreign property and most of the capital is elsewhere. Alcan's Montreal headquarters are now a Rio Tinto administrative office.

Because the company's decision-making hub is no longer in Quebec, the shareholders' meeting on Rio Tinto's business activities in North America is now held in London.

For the past three years, I have crossed the Atlantic with other elected representatives or people representing employees at Rio Tinto plants in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean to ask the London-based Rio Tinto executives some questions. These issues are so important to the region that it wants to make sure its message gets heard where decisions get made.

Before Rio Tinto acquired the company, shareholders' meetings were held in Montreal. Company leaders were nearby. When people talked about Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean in Montreal, the issues were well known. Now, in London, in a huge room full of groups from dozens of countries, each with their own issues, it is harder to get the message through. Also, in Montreal, people could express themselves in French because some of the top brass were our own. In London, it is a whole different story.

I am not trying to prevent the sale of Canadian businesses to foreign companies. I simply believe that the Canadian government has the tools needed to ensure that the transaction will have a positive, significant impact on our economy, our workers and our communities.

In fact, the Investment Canada Act allows the federal government to impose conditions when a Canadian company or business is being bought by a foreign investor. For instance, that legislation allows the government to authorize or refuse a transaction after examining whether it will benefit Canada. For me, the case that comes to mind is Rio Tinto and Alcan. The Minister of Industry did not express any objections or impose any conditions on Rio Tinto in 2007. To this day, I have a hard time really understanding how a company as large as Alcan, which was the pride and joy of the Quebec economy, could have been sold without anyone really taking a close look at the impact of such a decision.

The Bloc Québécois and a number of stakeholders in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean called for conditions, but the minister at the time ignored those demands. He pulled the rug right out from under our feet. He rushed to make a decision and hastily accepted the transaction. Unfortunately, Rio Tinto has since acquired Alcan. The minister did not demand any commitments from Rio Tinto concerning the number of jobs to be preserved, although that should have been a priority in the process. Nor did he demand any commitments regarding secondary and tertiary aluminum processing activities in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean or even in Quebec. As a result, an entire legacy built by people in my region ended up being sold off in just a few days. It seems logical to me that in such a situation, someone should ask some questions and impose certain conditions on the new owners.

Since the NDP motion mentions Potash Corporation, I would like to talk about this saga. Potash Corporation extracts potash, which is a rare mineral that is used in fertilizers. Potash Corporation used to be state-owned but it was privatized in 1989 and now owns nearly 20% of the world's potash reserves. In mid-August 2010, BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian mining company, made a hostile takeover bid to the shareholders of Potash Corporation for a total sum of $28.5 billion, or $130 a share. This hostile bid sparked an immediate reaction from Potash Corporation's management, who essentially called it robbery. BHP Billiton also repeated its promise to keep the company's headquarters in Saskatchewan and to transfer the management team from its potash division to the province and maintain the same number of jobs there. Potash Corporation responded by taking legal action in American courts.

Potash Corporation is special to the people of Saskatchewan and is a source of pride for the province. This explains the hostile reaction that this takeover bid sparked from the people of Saskatchewan. The premier even spoke out publicly against this transaction, which he deemed to be strategically unacceptable for the economic future of his province. He also felt that this transaction did not offer any net benefit for the country, as is required by the Investment Canada Act. From a financial point of view, Saskatchewan could stand to lose up to $3 billion a year in royalties if Potash Corporation were sold to foreign investors.

I would like to take this opportunity to present the Bloc's requests regarding this motion.

Considering the fact that there is a dispute settlement regime favourable to foreign investments on the international scene, and that a limit of $1 billion could make it possible for many outstanding assets of Quebec's economy to be sold to foreign investors without the government even having an opportunity to determine whether the takeover would be of net benefit to the local economy, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that these provisions be abandoned and that the threshold be set at $300 million.

This amount would allow foreign investments in Canada without unnecessarily putting a stop to them, but major investments above this threshold would be reviewed before being approved. Thus, the government would have a right to review the nature of major foreign takeovers and the risks associated with them and would be able to determine the foreign investors' intentions regarding the management of their Canadian assets.

It is up to the Minister of Industry to decide whether the proposed investment is of net benefit to Canada. Unfortunately, when a foreign company and the government negotiate an agreement, it is classified as confidential. I can understand that a private company does not want to show its hand. However, I sincerely believe that certain terms and conditions must be established and made public.

As my speech has indicated, there is no doubt that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the NDP motion. I repeat, we are not against the foreign acquisition of Canadian companies, but I believe it is important to set more transparent standards and require commitments that will help ensure the future of the company. That is what I would have liked to see in the 2007 transaction when Rio Tinto acquired Alcan. The minister at the time had not set any conditions. The regional community called for two conditions: that a certain number of jobs be created and that the aluminum be processed in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.

In closing, in comparing yesterday's decision to the one made in 2007, we see that there is a double standard when it comes to Quebec. For strategic reasons, the Conservative government intervened yesterday to say that the sale of this company would not go through, but in the case of Alcan, the government did not intervene and was negligent in not setting any conditions. Does the Conservative government think that natural resources are less important in Quebec?

The Conservative government did not intervene for political reasons. This issue mobilized people, governments and the industry in Saskatchewan. In my region, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma did nothing to pressure the Minister of Industry. The then minister, the current minister and hon. member for Jonquière—Alma, and the Conservative government have all demonstrated gross negligence.

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, in 2007, the government and the then Industry minister allowed the transaction—and this is the question I asked the minister—in which Rio Tinto acquired Alcan. No conditions were imposed despite the fact that the community called for two conditions: they wanted jobs and they wanted Rio Tinto to be required to undertake secondary and tertiary aluminum transformation in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. The government and the minister demonstrated extreme negligence by failing to impose those two conditions.

Will the minister acknowledge that the minister of the day made a serious mistake by failing to impose conditions before allowing Rio Tinto to acquire Alcan?

Business of Supply November 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister a question. In 2007, the Conservative government allowed Rio Tinto to acquire Alcan. The Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region and all of Quebec called for conditions relating to employment levels and secondary and tertiary transformation.

The minister at the time blindsided us, pulled the rug out from under us and made the decision far too quickly. I think that yesterday's decision could be called strategic. I think they made that decision because of political pressure from Saskatchewan.

It seems to me that there is a double standard. Does the minister think that Quebec's natural resources are less important than Saskatchewan's?

Saguenay Fjord November 3rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, today, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion that it officially support the proposal to inscribe the Saguenay Fjord site on Canada's tentative list for 2014, in anticipation of a recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The unanimous adoption of this motion is a strong endorsement of the process I initiated with the help of Dr. Jules Dufour and my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, in order to get the Saguenay Fjord on this list of world wonders. Representatives from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and Haute-Côte-Nord regions strongly support this proposal and are working together to promote it.

Quebec recognizes the unique and exceptional value of the Saguenay Fjord as a natural site and believes that it is important to have it recognized by UNESCO. Now it is up to the Canadian government to lend its support.

Fairness at the Pumps Act October 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Québécois industry critic, I had an opportunity to follow progress on Bill C-14 in the spring and to hear testimony at the committee meetings.

Bill C-14 amends the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

Although the bill has not generated a lot of controversy, nonetheless, overall, it could have gone a lot farther.

In fact, that is why my colleague from Shefford introduced Bill C-452. That bill is particularly important given that Bill C-14 still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative.

My colleague therefore introduced Bill C-452 to give the Competition Bureau more teeth, so it can initiate inquiries on its own initiative.

It still has to wait for a complaint before undertaking an inquiry. This is a classic response from the Competition Bureau: a complaint has to be filed in order for an inquiry to be started. As a result, Bill C-14 still does not address one of the major issues, the appearance of collusion in the oil industry.

Although the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the bill, as I said in my last speech in the spring, that does not mean that it is sufficient. Moreover, the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill did not result in many amendments. The amendments that were made related more to secondary issues. Personally, I think that even though the bill does not have as many teeth as we would have liked, it is hard to be against motherhood, particularly when we are trying to provide better protection for the public.

Even though we think it is in fact high time to make changes to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, Bill C-452 could give the Competition Bureau tools for battling companies that might want to profit from their dominant position in the market to rip off consumers.

The good thing about Bill C-14 is that from now on, the onus will be on the trader to prove they are not guilty. As well, there may be additional penalties if the trader continues to operate in violation of the law.

But what is more important, to my mind, is that the law will allow the names of offending businesses to be posted and announced publicly. In an area like gasoline sales, if a trader is convicted, we can bet that the retailer will want to remedy the situation quickly. Information moves fast in social media and neighbourhoods, and there are also service stations in various locations, on almost every corner, and so it will be easy for consumers to switch from one business to another when they see that the retail price of gas is higher in one location.

In addition, the amendment to the Weights and Measures Act will allow for much higher fines for offenders. Under the new provisions of the act, inspectors appointed by the government will be authorized to enter premises that they have reasonable grounds to examine and to seize or detain anything in the place, to use any computer or communication system in the place and to prepare a document based on the data. They may also prohibit access to the place and require that faulty equipment be shut down.

Bill C-14 is not intended to instill fear in traders, but rather to make improvements to legislation that no longer meets modern standards. It is quite appropriate in 2010 for inspectors to ensure that consumers are not being shortchanged.

In my last speech in this House on Bill C-14, I remarked that in committee certain questions would be asked regarding things that we would like to see included in this bill.

It is a tremendous opportunity for us as parliamentarians to give the bill some teeth and allow the Competition Bureau to launch inquiries of its own accord.

For a number of years, we have also been calling for a petroleum monitoring agency, which would closely monitor gas prices and tackle any attempts at collusion or unjustified price hikes. The Bloc Québécois is not coming up with anything new here. For years now, we have cited the recommendations in the November 2003 report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

The federal government has never done anything to assist consumers in this area, and it has to some extent let the opportunity to institute a petroleum monitoring system slip by. In spite of this, I reiterate that this is a step in the right direction.

Setting aside Bill C-452, the Bloc is convinced more than ever that the industry must contribute its fair share. With the skyrocketing rise in energy prices and oil companies’ profits, we are witnessing a real across-the-board economic bloodletting for the benefit of the oil companies. The overly generous tax benefits for oil companies must end.

We need to be prepared because by 2012, 11 car manufacturers intend to put about 30 fully electric or rechargeable hybrid models on the market. These cars will be more reliable and fuel-efficient and cost much less to operate than gasoline-powered cars.

I do not want to stray from the objectives of Bill C-14, but for the Bloc Québécois, any discussion on oil consumption absolutely must include a genuine plan and restructuring of the sector that focuses on achieving the following three things.

So once again, here are the three steps that must be taken in order to have legislation that truly has more teeth: first, the oil industry needs disciplining, and this can be achieved by way of a tougher Competition Act. Second, the oil industry must contribute by being made to pay its fair share in taxes. Lastly, we need to reduce our reliance on oil by, for instance, providing incentives to consumers to encourage them to buy electric cars.

We must be prepared, because electric cars will be available soon enough. So we should offer assistance for municipalities to install charging stations. We should also do further research on the batteries of these future vehicles so that they keep their charge longer.

We must implement better measures to prevent fraud, as proposed in Bill C-14. Having measures like these and a comprehensive action plan will enable us to come out on top.

In conclusion, I will briefly present the position of the Bloc Québécois.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle. However, this bill does not directly address the problems of collusion, such as the problems that recently came to light in Quebec, nor does it provide ways to effectively predict sudden increases in gas prices.

Therefore, the Bloc Québécois believes that we still need to look at ways to effectively address rising gas prices through Bill C-452, which we introduced.

In addition, the Competition Act still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative. A complaint must be filed, because if there is no complaint, the Competition Bureau does not take action, does not do anything.

The Bloc Québécois is also calling for the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency to closely monitor gas prices and to deal with attempts to collude and with unjustified price hikes.

That is the Bloc's position. I want to repeat that in principle, we support Bill C-14, which we are debating today.

Highway 175 October 25th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, on August 22, 2002, the Government of Quebec entered into a historic agreement with the Government of Canada regarding the twinning of Highway 175 between Quebec City and Saguenay. The announcement clearly stated that the cost of the work would be split 50-50.

Now the Conservative government is reneging on that agreement and categorically refusing to pay its share of the cost overruns. For no good reason, the Government of Quebec is being stuck with two-thirds of the bill. This represents quite a windfall for the federal government, which, on top of everything, will collect taxes on the last phase of work on Highway 175.

Not only have Quebec and my region been duped, but the hon. members for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma seem quite comfortable with the situation. I wish they would stop their kowtowing and start defending Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean more vigorously.

Transportation October 21st, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Quebec is trying to reach an agreement with the federal government on the necessary additional costs involved in completing highway 175. The Minister of Veterans Affairs himself recognized that work of this scale could see some cost overruns. The Conservative government has even agreed to cover the first cost overrun.

Will the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities answer the call of the National Assembly and commit to covering half the total construction cost of highway 175?