House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was workers.

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 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Montcalm, on his remarks concerning this motion.

He made what I would consider a magnificent speech in terms of the welfare of our veterans, and their quality of life.

One point in particular drew my attention, concerning the ombudsman.

My colleague told us that the ombudsman should report directly to the House of Commons, in order to deal with complaints and to find equitable solutions for those who call on his services.

My question is as follows: why should the ombudsman report to the House of Commons? We know that there is an ombudsman in the Department of National Defence and that he reports to the minister. The member suggested that the ombudsman should report to the House of Commons. I ask him why.

Business of Supply November 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the member on his speech and his effort to stand up for veterans.

My riding is home to many veterans. We are planning to hold an event with them on Saturday, November 11, Remembrance Day. As my colleague said, what he is asking on behalf of veterans would not cost a fortune. He is not trying to make veterans rich with this bill. He wants some respect and dignity for them. I understand that, and I think that is what veterans want. My colleague also mentioned that during the last election campaign, the Conservative government made a commitment to help veterans and treat them fairly.

My question is short and simple. In his speech, the member mentioned that he was hoping for support from the Conservative government. What would keep the government from supporting this motion?

Petitions November 2nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today. The first is an initiative of the Maison d'accueil pour les sans-abri, and it concerns the SCPI program.

Approximately 1,025 people have signed this petition. I would also like to take this opportunity to say that the petition was put together by Sylvain Plourde, who obtained the signatures in support of this initiative.

It is unacceptable that we cannot help the homeless. I therefore ask the government, with this petition, to make permanent the SCPI program, which is due to end in March 2007.

The second petition concerns the organization of street workers and runs along the same lines. It asks the government to reinstate the SCPI program in order to help people who are homeless and need shelter.

Income Tax Act November 1st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to a subject of ever-increasing concern here in Ottawa and in the eyes of the population. Post-secondary education, and particularly its accessibility, is a very topical issue.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill because it is an improvement over the current provisions of the Income Tax Act, which governs the registered education savings plan—RESP—program.

To summarize the bill briefly, a registered education savings plan is created from contributions out of after-tax income. Such contributions do not entitle contributors to a tax deduction, as is the case for contributions to a registered retirement savings plan or RRSP, but the investment income that is earned on the contributions accumulates in the RESP and is tax-free. The investment income is taxed only when it is withdrawn from the RESP. If the savings are withdrawn to finance the beneficiary’s post-secondary education, the investment income will end up in the hands of this beneficiary.

The problem is that not everyone can afford to make contributions to a registered education savings plan, since a substantial income is necessary in order to do so. People prefer to contribute to an RRSP rather than an RESP.

This bill, if passed, will make it possible for parents and families to benefit from a tax deduction, as they do with an RRSP.

Putting such a measure in place would come with a cost, of course, but it would foster the growth of our society and have an undeniably positive impact on its development.

Bill C-253 has numerous shortcomings. It nevertheless remains that it is an improvement as far as the RESP program is concerned.

During the first reading of this bill, my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber identified the bill’s chief shortcomings in his speech. I would like to do a quick review of the RESP program and the advantages for society of passing such a bill.

Although the registered education savings plan program has been around for 30 years, the federal government has given it special attention of late. In 1998, the federal government created the Canada Education Savings Grant, the CESG. This is a grant of a maximum of 20% of the contribution made, which provides the beneficiary with an extra $400. This means that, when a parent or grandparent contributes $2000, $400 will be added to the RESP of a child under the age of 18.

Bill C-253 is a continuation of the improvements that began a few years ago. According to the statistics for 2002, the participation rate for the registered education savings plan was only 6% in Quebec; that is right, I said 6%, while it was about 10% in Ontario and in British Columbia.

At present, a large number of parents and grandparents do not contribute to a registered education savings plan because it does not constitute a deduction from an individual’s taxable income. In addition, some people do not have the financial resources to do so.

Therefore, people prefer to put their money into registered retirement savings plans. However, it is a good bet that more people would like to benefit from a RESP if there were an income tax deduction similar to the deduction for RRSPs.

What the bill seeks to do is to target an often-neglected group of taxpayers, who are already asked to make more than their share of sacrifices in our society. I am talking about the middle class; the class that includes the largest number of Canadian citizens. What this bill offers is greater accessibility to post-secondary education.

The education of our children and our grandchildren is often a cause for worry and concern not only for parents, but also for the expanded family, the grandparents, aunts and uncles. Many of them fear that they will not be able to pay the increasingly higher costs of post-secondary education. The introduction of an incentive for the contributor and the beneficiary represents an investment by the government in today’s young people and gives hope to a great many young parents, young families and grandparents.

On the other hand, if the beneficiary does not pursue post-secondary studies and no other beneficiary is designated, the contributor can receive the income from the investment under certain conditions. The funds could be transferred to a registered retirement savings plan without penalty, up to a maximum of $50,000 if the individual’s RRSP contribution ceiling allows. Otherwise, a 20% income tax deduction would be made on the withdrawal and the amount that could not be transferred to an RRSP would have to be added to the individual’s income for the year. We are talking here about only the accumulated investment income within a registered education savings plan because the capital is not subject to income tax.

It is certain that the adoption of such a bill could be very costly for taxpayers because, at present, those who contribute to a registered education savings plan are not able to deduct that contribution from their income. Therefore, those households with higher incomes will benefit even more from such a measure and low-income families will see little or no advantage. However, no program is perfect and Bill C-253 represents an excellent incentive to parents and families.

In summary, I would say that this bill would enable an individual making a contribution to an RESP to deduct that contribution from income, which is almost identical to the practice for an RRSP. In closing, I want to congratulate the member for his bill and thank him for his interest in the education of our children and our grandchildren.

Agriculture and Agri-Food November 1st, 2006

Mr. Speaker, this morning the members of the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean Union des producteurs agricoles demonstrated in Jonquière—Alma, the riding of the Minister of Labour, to try to wake up the government to the crisis that is causing particular suffering for grain producers.

With regard to income support, the current federal government contribution to program costs has decreased from 40% to 20%, according to the UPA. Quebec only receives, on average, 6.8% of the budget even though it represents 18% of the agricultural sector.

The producers' situation has been deteriorating since 2002. The latter have seen their average annual income drop from $20,000 to a loss of $6,000. The federal government is abandoning the 6,000 farmers of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.

If the Quebec Conservative members are unable to remind the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food that agriculture exists in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois will see to it.

Income Tax Act October 30th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak about this issue today. I also had the opportunity to talk about Bill C-265.

This is not the first time a bill on taxing social security payments has come before this House. In November 2004, my Conservative colleague was on this side of the House, and we shared his joy when his spouse gave birth to a child. Naturally, we congratulated him.

Today, I congratulate him on again raising this issue by introducing Bill C-305. The purpose of this bill is to reduce the tax rate from 85% to 50% for Canadians and Quebeckers who receive United States social security payments.

At first glance, this bill might not seem very important. But this issue affects thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians. For over 20 years, we have been looking for an equitable way to solve the legislative problem facing Quebeckers and Canadians.

Why could Canadian and Quebec citizens who receive payments from the American government not benefit from the same conditions as American citizens who receive a pension from the Canadian and Quebec governments?

To help members understand where we are at today, I will give some background on this issue. Four protocols have been negotiated between the United States and Canada. I want to talk about the fourth protocol, signed in July 1997 with a number of other countries, including the United States. Under this protocol, only the country of residence is able to tax social security benefits. Since then, Canada has been able to tax American benefits paid to residents of Canada and Quebec.

The problem is that the protocol gave Canada, under the U.S. Social Security Act, the right to increase the tax rate from 50% to 85%. Bill C-305, before us today, would correct this situation.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill, because it rectifies an error the previous government made in 1997. Several thousands of Quebeckers left their families to go work in the United States, often for years, and have been punished by the provisions of this legislation. These are people who, in many cases, were close to their roots and did not want to leave their country for the United States.

The 1997 legislative amendment enabled the federal government to bring in a lot more revenue at the expense of a population that could be considered vulnerable and economically weak. It is important to understand why Bill C-305 is now before the House and how it corrects a past blunder.

As I mentioned, historically, four protocols have modified the Canada-United States tax convention. In 1980, the income tax convention provided that social security benefits are taxable only in the originating country. It was only sometime later that the benefits were initially taxed in the United States.

The portion of benefits deemed taxable rose from 0% to 50%, depending on the taxpayer's net revenue and when the benefits were paid.

Modest income families and individuals were generally exempt from paying taxes on their benefits. In March 1984, a second protocol modified the Canada-U.S. tax convention. This agreement made social security benefits taxable only in the taxpayer's country of residence. From then on, 50% of the benefit amount was exempt from taxation.

For example, an American citizen residing in Canada was taxed on 50% of the benefits received from the United States. Bill C-305 is designed to return to this situation.

A third protocol was signed in March 1995. It gave the country paying benefits under social security legislation the exclusive right to tax those benefits.

This means that the United States taxed social security benefits paid to Quebec and Canadian residents at a rate of 25.5%, while Canada did not tax benefits received by American taxpayers.

Finally, the fourth agreement to amend the tax treaty was signed in July 1997. It provided that benefits paid under U.S. social security legislation to a resident of Canada would be taxable only in Canada, as if they were benefits under the Canada Pension Plan, except that 15% of benefits were made tax exempt in Canada.

Under this agreement, the tax rate became 85% of the payments made to Canadian residents.

However, the last agreement provides that the benefits paid under Canada's social security legislation to a resident of the United States are taxable only in the United States.

Essentially, the purpose of Bill C-305 is to reduce from 85% to 50% the tax rate on United States social security payments received by Canadian taxpayers.

For over 20 years now we have been trying to find a fair and equitable solution for all Quebeckers and Canadians dealing with this problem.

Thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians live near the border and have been suffering the never-ending repercussions of these tax reforms over the past 20 years.

Of course, this measure does not come without a price, but it is a small price to pay considering the thousands of people who have sacrificed their lives and their families to work far from home and their loved ones. These people wanted to stay here and keep their identity.

We, the Bloc Québécois, support lowering the tax rate on benefits paid to taxpayers, from 85% to 50%, because it corrects certain injustices. For this reason, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for his bill, which we will support.

Older Workers October 25th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, last week, after the federal government had been sleeping on the softwood lumber issue for almost five years, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced a semblance of a program for older workers.

Right at the outset of the softwood lumber crisis, 650 workers from the Port-Alfred plant in my riding, most of whom are aged 50 and over, were laid off. The plant was closed on a temporary basis in 2003, but that closure became permanent in 2005. Despite retraining measures, dozens of former workers were not able to find work and some of are now living on welfare.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that, after contributing to society and the economy for 30, 35 or 40 years, older workers deserve both moral and income support. Therefore, I am asking the minister to act with humanity and provide a true income support program for, among others, these 100 citizens from my riding who were abandoned by the federal government.

Petitions October 19th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to present a petition by constituents from every corner of my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean who are against violence on television.

This petition has 5,390 signatures on it and its purpose is to alert the public, broadcast companies, the CRTC and the government to violence. I commend the members of AFEAS in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for their effort, particularly Thérèse Maltais, who was in charge of the project. I also want to acknowledge the involvement of Estelle Bolduc from AFEAS Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006 September 26th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. The softwood lumber agreement between Washington and Ottawa is obviously a bad agreement and may be regarded as a sellout. But we have to realize that the industry has run out of steam. Many representatives and workers from the industry came to meet with me in my riding since my region is very much involved in the lumber and sawmill industry. It was recommended that I—and my party—support this agreement that we considered to be a sellout. We would have liked to recover all the money the softwood lumber industry paid in antidumping duties.

We must also recognize that the Government of Quebec gave its consent. That being said, the Bloc Québécois thinks that this sellout agreement should be accompanied by compensatory measures: improved employment insurance; a support program for older workers; assistance for the industry; an economic diversification program for communities that are dependent on the forest; a special tax status for the 128,000 owners of woodlots in Quebec; the improvement of funding for Canada’s Model Forest Program, run by Forestry Canada; special tax treatment for the $4.3 billion in countervailing duties; the acceleration of equipment amortization; and a program to stimulate innovation within the forest industry and improvement of productivity.

This is what we would like, and I hope that the Conservative government will get our message. It is true that we support this sellout agreement but the government should put forward some measures: a support program for older workers, a guaranteed income support program for workers affected by mass layoffs after the closing of a plant in the softwood lumber industry—because we know there were layoffs and there will be others; the improvement of employment insurance; and help for the industry. These are measures that should be promoted.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006 September 26th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, today I will speak about the softwood lumber agreement, an agreement signed by Ottawa and Washington.

The agreement reached by the Canadian and American governments is not the agreement of the century. I am certain that several MPs have had the opportunity in the past few months to meet members of the forestry industry who told them that an agreement had to be signed because they were on the brink of disaster. What must be understood is that the industry had no choice. The agreement concluded on July 1 was not a good agreement, but the forestry industry could not afford to wait any longer.

If the Bloc Québécois supports this agreement, it is because it is acting responsibly towards the thousands of sawmill workers. However, as a result of consultations in the past few months with the industry concerned, we have come to realize that the structural crisis of the softwood lumber industry cannot be remedied by the softwood lumber agreement alone.

Both the Liberal and the Conservative governments caused incredible harm by not supporting the softwood lumber industry in recent years. No company can emerge from a four-year trade crisis and hope that all will return to normal. It is even worse when an entire sector of the economy is in trouble.

Over the past four years, a number of companies working in the forest industry have closed their doors, and this deal does nothing to ensure the sustainability and survival of the industry. The industry is still in bad shape, so it is up to the government to implement a series of measures to help forestry companies that are facing serious difficulties.

During the dispute, that is, since 2002, 17,000 jobs were lost in Quebec. As you may know, in Quebec, forestry is the main employer in 260 communities. In 134 of them, 100% of jobs are in forestry. Consequently, it is important to ensure the viability of this industry.

Quebec is the second-largest exporter of softwood lumber to the United States. Fifty per cent of the province's lumber is exported south of the border. Now that important measures have been implemented with respect to softwood lumber, particularly with respect to quotas, a lot of companies have begun to rationalize their workforce in light of the agreement. I say “quotas” because it seems that Quebec will choose one of two options—either option A, a tax percentage, or option B, fixed quotas.

This is therefore a worrisome situation for thousands of workers. Given the growing supply of wood from China and new conditions in the industry, many companies will have to lay a lot of people off over the next few months.

Over the past few years, this crisis has had a dramatic impact on some communities in my riding, Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. One of the largest forestry cooperatives in Quebec, located in Laterrière, went bankrupt in December 2004. The bankruptcy indirectly impacted on many sawmills in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. Some shut down for a few weeks, while others closed their doors for good. That is what happened with the Produits forestiers Saguenay sawmill in La Baie. In March, it decided to close the mill a year earlier than planned for economic reasons.

In addition, since the softwood lumber agreement was reached July 1, several sawmills in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean have continued to have financial difficulties.

To cite only a few examples, in early September, the Bowater mill at Saint-Félicien was forced to lay off 140 employees for an indefinite period. As well, one million dollars are needed to get the Coopérative forestière de Girardville back on its feet. For its part, the PFS mill at Petit-Saguenay has just reopened its doors after being closed for a month, two weeks more than initially planned. In addition, because of current market difficulties, the mill has decided to do away with a second shift. These are just some examples. However, a great many mills, such as the PH Lemay mill and the Péribonka mill have been affected by the crisis during the past few months.

The softwood lumber crisis has caused the loss of 3,000 jobs—yes, I said 3,000 direct jobs—in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, and the situation is getting worse.

I would simply like to give one last example to illustrate the general situation. Three weeks ago, the sawmills at Saint-Félicien and Dolbeau-Mistassini shut down for an indefinite period in order to reduce financial losses. As a result, the company was forced to lay off some 350 employees of the two mills. One of the spokesmen for the mills made the following comment, which sums up the situation very well:

We are going through an unprecedented crisis and it is difficult to meet the conditions for profitability. Like all the other forestry companies, we have no choice but to reorganize our activities or mills in order to remain competitive.

That comment sums up the situation concerning the softwood lumber crisis.

The root cause of the problem is still there. The situation will continue to get worse if measures are not introduced quickly. The problem is aggravated in the regions outside the large centres and we cannot close our eyes to this problem.

There are many reasons why the socio-economic problems are worse in the regions. The main reason is that the forest industry plays such a major role in many communities. For workers in the regions, the forestry crisis, combined with cuts to employment insurance in recent years, has worsened the economic situation. Many employees affected by this dispute have been left without income and have been forced to leave the region.

Between 1994 and 2004, cuts to employment insurance resulted in a direct and indirect loss of $875 million for the entire Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. This was due to the numerous cuts in the employment insurance program.

When we look at data for my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord in particular, based on the cuts to employment insurance in the past few years, we can say that the population was directly denied some $221 million during those years.

We are proposing other measures to this government, namely the implementation of POWA, an income support program for workers who were part of massive layoffs.

In closing, I also want to point out that Bill C-24 does not resolve the structural problems of the market. In the coming months, measures will have to be implemented to prevent the forestry sector from collapsing. It is important that all stakeholders take action to maintain and consolidate the forest industry because many jobs in the resource regions depend on this sector of activity.

To that end, the Lac-Saint-Jean-Est RCM passed a resolution on September 19. I will close by urging the federal government to provide more support to the forest industry. I hope the government will implement measures that will help forestry workers and the industry.