- His favourite word was industry.
Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Shefford (Québec)
Lost his last election, in 2011, with 23% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Government Advertising March 22nd, 2011
Mr. Speaker, during the meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates that was held just before the break, we learned from witnesses from the Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Works and Government Services Canada that no one in these departments had any say about the content of the government advertising.
I find it unbelievable that all these communications specialists were unable to do their jobs—everything was decided by the ministers, led by the Prime Minister, and then approved by the Privy Council Office if necessary.
We know that the development of these government advertisements had to support the Conservatives' priorities. This partisan exercise in self-promotion denounced by all the opposition parties cost taxpayers a mere $136.3 million in 2009-10, and that is not counting the contract with Cossette Communication Group, which is, of course, a secret.
It is time to put an end to the Conservatives' all-you-can-eat buffet approach to spending public funds.
Competition Act March 10th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, we are already seeing in the papers how the price of groceries is going to increase because of transportation costs. The price of all goods and services will increase because of the cost of transportation. It seems that these people are trying to play mind games with us by telling us that, at a given moment, gas will reach a certain price and the price of everything will go up. However, the price of everything cannot go up; we still have to be able to pay for things.
The Conservative government is opposed to this bill, but I can tell you that it will be among the first to pay too much. Given its fleet of cars, trucks and other equipment that use gas, it will pay the price. And I can tell you that it will cost several million dollars.
Competition Act March 10th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member. She is quite right. How can anyone convince themselves that gas prices should be so high, when we already know that whenever there is even speculation about the per barrel price of crude oil going up, the price at the pump increases? While the gas in the cisterns was purchased at a lower price, as soon as there is speculation about an increase, the price at the pump goes up.
If oil companies want to operate like that, they should do so both ways. When the cost of a barrel of crude oil drops, the price at the pump should also go down that very day, that very hour, that very minute. But that is not what happens. They use up their stock. Even the oil companies, refineries that have cisterns with millions of gallons of gas, sell it at a price that is much too high, based solely on speculation. That is terrible. I do not understand this.
Competition Act March 10th, 2011
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor in this third reading debate, which will wrap up the efforts of my political party and myself to convince the hon. members of the House of the merits of Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector), which continues to be a current concern. The bill would give the Competition Bureau the requisite powers to carry out its investigations.
The price of a barrel of oil was in free fall at one time, but because of the situation in Libya, the price shot up last week. The price of a barrel of oil has skyrocketed, and that has repercussions on prices at the pump. That is the problem.
The Competition Bureau could conduct an inquiry. Consumers are not clueless and they are not idiots. They are aware that the gasoline sitting in underground tanks at service stations was bought at a much cheaper price. Even if the price of a barrel of oil has risen to $104 or $120, there should be no direct increase at the pump because that gas cost much less. It is easier for the oil companies and service stations to raise the pump price as soon as there is an increase. People feel they are being taken hostage by the oil companies.
I will give one concrete example. There is a Canadian Tire with a service station near where I live. On Tuesday, the price at 7 a.m. was $1.17. Three hours later, at the same service station, it was $1.25. What happened between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.? I have no idea, but the price rose by 8¢. Twenty-four hours later, the price was back down to $1.17. How does one explain to the population that the price of gas can fluctuate in 24 hours even though nothing has happened? The retailer has pocketed 8¢ a litre, and I think it is the consumers who lose out. That is why consumers want a bill so that the Competition Bureau can conduct inquiries into the petroleum sector.
When I speak of the petroleum sector, it is not just the price at the pump. We already know that when the price of a barrel of oil goes up, the cost of refining goes down, but the opposite happens as well. When the price of a barrel of oil goes down, the cost of refining goes up.
I asked that question of the Competition Bureau and in the committee. I was told that the oil companies do not talk to each other, but how can it be that every Monday, without having talked, all the refiners in Quebec and Canada have the same prices at the pump? If the refining price is set at 8¢, the following month it is 13¢, 15¢ or 16¢. We do not see a change in the price at the pump because the oil companies are different. That is what we think, but that is not the case. In fact, the oil companies all buy from the same place. The refiner's gas and the gas in the underground tanks at the service station come from the same place. So how can the refining price be the same?
There used to be one refinery in Montreal and one in Quebec City, but they were owned by two different companies. Yet, every Monday, the price at the refinery was the same. Consumers would expect that each Monday there will be a disparity between the two oil companies or brands at the gas stations.
How can the price be the same if they are not talking? How can the same litre of oil be refined at the same price? I asked the Competition Bureau that question, but it was confused and did not understand why the price was the same. I asked if it would investigate, but it said no. It claimed to have enough investigative powers. But what kind of investigative powers? Personally, I do not think that it has any. The bureau said that it had conducted an investigation in the Sherbrooke area and that it was able to prove that there was collusion among the oil companies to fix prices at the pump. But they needed an informant.
Someone had to phone the Competition Bureau and tell them he had received threats to force him to increase his price at the pump. That is when the Competition Bureau launched an investigation. In order to get an investigation going, someone must act as an informer. I tried it myself. The Competition Bureau said we could call to complain about the price of gas in our city or town, if it was higher than in the neighbouring city or town, and if we did not understand why gas was so expensive at the pump.
Many people in my riding complained to the Competition Bureau, asking for an investigation. However, it never did, because there was no whistle-blowing. The Competition Bureau was not provided with all the evidence required to start an investigation.
Do people know what competition means for oil companies? It is not competition between companies but, rather, between municipalities. If a municipality is large, gas will cost a lot more, because the population is much larger. Conversely, if a municipality located 10 kilometres away is much smaller, the price of gas will be much lower. Oil companies say that this is competition. People living in the larger municipality should fill up in the small town. That is what they call competition.
It goes even further. In Montreal, some streets are busy and the price at the pump is much higher than it is four or five blocks away, where there is less traffic. Again, that is what oil companies call competition. However, for consumers that is not competition, it is gouging.
We have to put gas in our car. Oil companies make billions of dollars in profits every year, but I think they take the money directly from our pockets. And I am not the only who thinks so. If one were to ask people from each and every riding in Canada whether they think they are getting taken by oil companies, I am sure their answer would be yes.
Is it so hard to give the Competition Bureau an investigative power? We often hear political parties wonder whether that is done elsewhere, and whether we would be the only ones to do so. The fact is that, at one time, the Competition Bureau had a power to investigate. It had it until 1986, when the Conservatives of the day came to office. They took that investigative power away from the Competition Bureau, and said it was because that industry had already been investigated.
An investigation can be carried out into any industry. We could also talk about the construction industry in Montreal, where there is talk that bids may have been rigged. The Competition Bureau can investigate; however, at present, it cannot do so on its own initiative. There has to be an informer. Because of this, pressure from industry lobbies resulted in the government of the day taking away the investigative powers of the Competition Bureau.
Do other countries have investigative powers like those we want to give to Canada's Competition Bureau? The answer is yes. In the United States, this type of study can be initiated in three ways: Congress uses its legislative authority to ask the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, to draft a specific report; members of Congress or of a congressional committee, without using its legislative authority, ask the FTC to conduct a study; and the FTC initiates or conducts an investigation on its own. There are no formal criteria limiting what kind of research and policy inquiries the FTC can undertake.
We would also like to point out the situation that exists in the United Kingdom with the Office of Fair Trading.
The OFT has carried out market studies of various sectors of the economy, in particular liability insurance, new car warranties, private dentistry, taxi services, proprietary credit cards, and pharmacies.
...The OFT may also make a market investigation reference to the Competition Commission if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that any feature, or combination of features, of a market prevents, restricts or distorts competition.
Hence, the United Kingdom can conduct its own investigations. Also, the European Union has the following provision:
When the trend of trade between member states, the rigidity of prices or other circumstances suggest that competition may be restricted or distorted within the common market, the Commission may conduct an inquiry...
Thus, the European Union can also initiate an investigation.
Canada is often compared to Australia. In committees, we often ask what Australia is doing, perhaps to follow its lead. In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission can conduct general investigations into all sectors of the economy. The commissioner can conduct investigations on his own initiative. We want to do the same thing.
In 1998, when the CITT Act was passed, Canada conducted four inquiries. However, as I said earlier, there have been no inquiries related to competition issues under the Inquiries Act since the repeal of section 47 in 1986. It is important to mention that even the Commissioner of Competition, Konrad von Finckenstein, described the flaws in the Competition Act in his testimony before the Standing Committee on Industry on May 5, 2003. He said:
While the bureau's mandate includes the very important role of being investigator and advocate for competition, the current legislation does not provide the bureau with the authority to conduct an industry study... It seems to me that it would be preferable to have a study on the overall situation carried out by an independent body that would have authority, that would be able to summon witnesses and gather information. It should also have the power to protect confidential information that someone is not necessarily going to want to share, but which would be vital in order to reach a conclusion based on the real facts.
In the United States, a study on oil companies was conducted to determine whether the refineries had tried to increase the price of gas at the pumps for consumers. It is also important for consumers in Canada and Quebec that a similar study be conducted by the Competition Bureau.
I want to refer you to an article about a report. On Saturday, May 25, 2002, the magazine Les Affaires reported that refiners had tried to drive up gas prices at the pump in the U.S. by deliberately reducing supply.
I can say right now—even today we have heard stories about oil companies—that since the closure of the refinery in Montreal, the price of gas is much lower. That is why it is important for the Competition Bureau to have the authority to investigate.
Competition Act March 10th, 2011
moved that Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector), be concurred in at report stage.
Petitions March 10th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by 4,203 people.
This petition calls on the government to move forward with Bill C-452, which would authorize the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry of her own accord into the fluctuating price of gasoline. This is even more important these days, since the price at the pumps changes from one day to the next.
Members from every party hear from the public every day. These fluctuating gas prices make no sense. This petition calls on the government to authorize the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries to determine whether consumers are paying a fair price for gasoline.
Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act March 2nd, 2011
Mr. Speaker, the government is giving out lump sum payments just to save a few dollars. We met with people from Veterans Affairs and made projections for someone with a disability assessed at 4% and one at 40%. We looked at the two cases separately. The former payment formula paid more. When we take into account the Pension Act, payments were higher before than the current lump sum payment plus the additional payments.
Why am I concerned about veterans who are injured in a theatre of operations? I used to be a union representative for workers hurt on the job. I have empathy for people who come home injured. Those who are injured in a theatre of operations did not ask for it. They should receive the best possible compensation. Canada owes them that much.
Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act March 2nd, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member from Québec.
I rise today to debate Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act. I would first like to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle but, as you will see, there is room for improvement.
I hope that this bill will make people aware of the new concept of veterans. Veterans now include those known as modern-day veterans, those returning from the Afghanistan mission who are between 20 and 40 years old. Men and women who embarked on a mission to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban are returning with physical injuries and are often severely affected psychologically by what they have seen.
Since the beginning of this mission in 2002, 154 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. Statistics provided by the Department of National Defence indicate that a total of 1,580 Canadian soldiers had been injured or killed in Afghanistan as of 2008. In 2009, 505 soldiers were injured, on top of the 1,075 injured as of 2008.
Furthermore, as a member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw with my own eyes veterans or their family members who told us about their daily nightmares, what is called post-traumatic stress disorder. These people often have to take very strong medication and undergo rigorous medical follow-up to live and reintegrate into our society.
I wanted to take a few minutes to show you that I am informed about and aware of this type of situation. It should also be noted that the Department of National Defence refuses to disclose the nature and seriousness of injuries. We will have to wait until the end of the current year to obtain the statistics for 2010. The current mission will be over, but other members of the military who have training functions will continue to face the dangers arising from their presence in that country. I am giving the example of the Afghanistan mission as a reminder that the mission of our Canadian military has changed greatly over the past decade.
I would like to point out that we have always been particularly concerned about the well-being of our veterans. As parliamentarians, we may seriously disagree on political decisions or military missions that the public finds controversial. But what is most important is that our veterans should not pay the political price of this debate. They sacrificed much of their safety, their well-being and their health. It goes without saying that injured and disabled veterans deserve nothing but our full gratitude and recognition, and we must give them the support that they need.
Upon reading Bill C-55, we can see that it contains measures that we hope will help veterans. It proposes some important changes: at least $58,000 per year for seriously wounded or ill veterans, those too injured to return to the workforce; a minimum of $40,000 per year no matter what the salary when serving in the Canadian Forces for those receiving the monthly earnings loss benefit; an additional monthly payment of $1,000 for life to help our most seriously wounded veterans who are no longer able to work; and improved access to the permanent impairment allowance and the exceptional incapacity allowance, which will include 3,500 more veterans.
A minimum salary of $40,000 is not a lot of money. To receive $58,000 and the additional $1,000 for life, the individual has to be confined to bed and unable to move. He has to be completely incapacitated. Even that is not much money in exchange for one's health.
The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that the Conservative government did not include measures to pay the monthly pensions. The Minister of Veterans Affairs trumpeted the fact that his department was going to invest $2 billion to help veterans. That is an impressive figure, but we believe that it is poorly managed and poorly allocated.
I said before that all of the stakeholders are unanimous: they believe that the government should abandon the idea of lump sum payments and bring back the lifetime monthly pension for those who are entitled to it.
If we are not able to convince the Conservative government here in the House, we would like to hear what veterans have to say about what this government is doing when we study Bill C-55 in committee. After all, they are the ones affected by this legislation.
I would like to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is aware of and sensitive to veterans affairs. Many veterans have had to make significant sacrifices in the defence of liberty and justice. Many veterans experience after-effects and have to live with the physical and emotional injuries they sustained during their years of service. The Bloc Québécois has the utmost respect for military personnel who risk their lives carrying out highly dangerous missions.
This profound respect implies that, since their lives are in danger, we have the responsibility not to expose them to further risk. Once their mission is complete, we have the collective responsibility to offer them all the support they need when they return home.
In its parliamentary work, our party has always been concerned about the support given to veterans and those who proudly wore a uniform. For example, we have always demanded that the government allocate all the resources possible to help soldiers and veterans and meet their health care needs, particularly in the case of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The government will allocate a $1,000 taxable supplement to veterans with permanent disabilities who can no longer return to the labour market. It is expected that 500 veterans will benefit from this measure in the first five years after this bill comes into effect.
We believe that, given the nature of the situation, this $1,000 supplement should be exempt from tax. We are offering this money to veterans who fought and sacrificed their well-being at their government's request. This monthly supplement will be paid to veterans who are unable to hold gainful employment because of their injuries. Not only will they have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives, but they will also never be able to have a normal financial life because of those injuries. Why penalize them further by making the supplement taxable?
When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, the veterans ombudsman invited parliamentarians to reject a system that would give veterans a choice, as Bill C-55 does. He felt that this option would not do any good because most veterans would choose a lump sum payment. With that in mind, the ombudsman urged parliamentarians to take a tough love approach with veterans.
On top of that, we were also disappointed with the amount in question. The Bloc Québécois would have liked the government to increase the maximum level of compensation. At present, the maximum payout for a disability award is $276,000. However, if we went back to a lifetime monthly pension, veterans could receive between 15% and 35% more than they are receiving now. Thus, the $2 billion the government wants to inject simply amounts to payments that it has not made and that it owes our veterans. That money is there for precisely that purpose. The new duties, the new amount and the new money set out in this bill will serve only to pay small amounts and line the government's pockets.
On behalf of our veterans, I cannot help but wonder why the government did not respond to the concerns of veterans regarding the lump sum payment. A study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 31% of veterans were happy with what they received, while the minister promised new improvements to the lump sum payment.
Instead, the government merely divided up the payment differently, for example, as a partial lump sum and partial annual payments over any number of years the recipient chooses, or as a single lump sum payment.
In that regard, the Royal Canadian Legion would still like the department to address the amount of the lump sum payment, which currently stands at a maximum of $276,000. In Canada, disabled workers receive on average $329,000. Australian service members receive about $325,000, and British service members receive almost $1 million. The government is trying to save money on the backs of our veterans, as I said earlier. Everywhere else in the world, veterans receive much higher sums and that money is managed much better than in Canada. Here the government is always trying to save a few pennies to put money elsewhere. The government spent $1.2 billion on the G8 and G20 summits, and nothing was achieved in those three days. It could have used that money to help our veterans.
Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act March 2nd, 2011
Mr. Speaker, my colleague talks about prevention, but I do not see how we can do effective prevention before our Canadian Forces troops get to a theatre of operations. We can train them all we like, but how can we prepare them for a bomb that explodes next to them and kills two of their best friends? How do we prepare them to be taken prisoner and be tortured? How do we prepare them for such things and ensure that treatment is available for them when they return home? How can we understand them?
He mentioned Australia. I was at the committee meeting and I did not see how Australia was doing more than Canada, which is doing nothing at all. There is no follow-up support for veterans. When people leave the army, there is no follow-up. No one knows where they are or what state of health they are in.
I would like to know what my colleague thinks of these statements and what he would propose so we can ensure more consistent follow-up for veterans.
Oil Industry February 28th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, the problem is that the Competition Act has no teeth. The Competition Commissioner cannot even launch an investigation of her own accord into fluctuating gas prices. The Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to fix this problem.
Will the Conservative government stop protecting oil companies and support our bill to rein them in?