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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament February 2017, as Liberal MP for Saint-Laurent (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 62% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, the first government in the world to recognize the new republics created after the fall of the soviet empire was the Russian government. If I were happy with the state of opinion in Quebec and in Canada, I would be at the university today.

I am well aware that numerous francophones in Quebec believe that it is a contradiction to identify themselves both as Quebecers and as Canadians, and that they must resolve this contradiction by leaving Canada.

I intend to do everything in my power to convince my fellow Quebecers that they must not give up on Canada. If ever I fail, after rules expressing clearly and unambiguously what the people of Quebec want, we should take steps in a manner that is fair to everyone to bring about what for me would be a very sad thing, the secession of Quebec.

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, to say that some part of my speech was insulting to Quebecers is really paranoid, because, the 49.4 per cent of Quebecers who voted Yes did express their views. What was unfortunate during the last referendum is that we did not know exactly what a Yes vote would mean, because the rules of the game were not quite clear, as evidenced by the fact that the leader of the Yes side, Mr. Parizeau, on the night he lost the referendum, said that the 49.4 per cent was the result of the indépendantiste vote, an expression he never had the fortitude to use during the campaign itself. Rest assured that the Government of Canada is very worried about such a process that any constitutional democracy would find irresponsible.

As regards the quotes the opposition likes to use, which are in essence its only argument, I would like to point out that all the quotes the opposition have come up with show that Canada is quite ready to respect democracy but would never accept what any constitutional democracy would also find unacceptable, which is the violation of the law and a unilateral declaration of independence.

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, I talked about an ideology based on paranoia. I would never say that the people themselves were paranoid and I do not want the hon. member to believe that I was talking about him personally. I just wanted to say that the ideology he supports makes people feel constantly insulted and under attack. I would say that the members' reaction and their request to have me gagged and to make me apologize show that I am right to point out how paranoid their ideology is.

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's ideology makes him incredibly touchy. It is an ideology based on paranoia, an ideology that makes people feel constantly insulted, humi-

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, the moment you mention the possibility of winning, it infers the possibility of losing.

As I said before, what is at issue here is not the right of Quebecers to leave Canada if they so desire and clearly state it, but the Quebec government's claim to unilaterally choose and change at will the process through which this right will be exercised.

Let the official opposition name one constitutional democracy that would accept a unilateral process of this kind.

As far as the examples mentioned by the hon. member, countries have their problems, but it is no reason to split. If you want to go to the UN and explain why you want to secede, you will have to come up with more serious reasons than this. You will not get anybody to shed any tears over the problems we have had with the 1982 Constitution. As a matter of fact, other countries will be very surprised to hear your objections, since Quebec representatives in the federal government supported the new Constitution, since we can produce polls showing that at the time Quebecers tended to support Mr. Trudeau rather than Mr. Lévesque, since Mr. Lévesque, instead of calling a referendum, appeased his own party, since in the following elections the separatist party got only 2 per cent of the votes; if you add up all this, you will not get anybody in the UN to shed any tears with your arguments.

All they will say is that Canada is a normal country, a democracy where there are disagreements, and that these disagreements must be settled through mutual consent and within the law.

Supply May 16th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, having had the honour of being elected by the citizens of Saint-Laurent is particularly relevant to what I am about to say in my maiden speech in the House of Commons.

I will never be able to express my gratitude sufficiently to the constituents of Saint-Laurent-Cartierville for having chosen me to represent them. This diverse and harmonious community inhabited by over 50 different nationalities fully integrated into Quebec society intends to exercise its right to remain in Canada.

I dedicate what I am about to say to all the young people I met during my election campaign last March. Sometimes speaking in French, sometimes in English, and often in one or two other languages, a sign of how well equipped they are for the next century, these young people sadly told me that they were not sure their future lay in either Saint-Laurent or Montreal. They belong in Montreal and to the surrounding area, that is their home.

And rather than leave, they must convince their fellow Quebecers that belonging to more than one group is a source of strength, not a contradiction. They must convince their fellow Canadians in other provinces that recognizing the distinct nature of Quebec is not a threat to Canadian unity, but, on the contrary, a wonderful way to celebrate one of Canada's fundamental characteristics.

The theme of this first speech will be democracy, which the opposition invites us to consider this May 16, 1996, by presenting the following motion:

That the House endorse the declaration of the Prime Minister of Canada, who stated in Straight from the Heart , in 1985, ``If we don't win, I'll respect the wishes of Quebeckers and let them separate''.

This quotation is taken out of context by the official opposition. It goes back to 1970, and was repeated by Mr. Chrétien in 1985. In the same passage, the current Prime Minister also said: "We'll put our faith in democracy. We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win". We'll put our faith in democracy. This reliance on democracy is an invitation to us to consider the meaning of the word, and to ponder the teachings of the classics.

Let us begin with that great prophet of democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, and I quote: "I consider unjust and ungodly the maxim that, in matters of government, a majority of the people

have the right to impose their will". De Tocqueville is saying that democracy cannot be limited to the rule of the majority, because it also includes the rights of minorities, and of the smallest minority of all, the individual, the flesh and blood citizen.

The second classical author I call on is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I will quote him in English.

The more important and serious the decisions, the closer the prevailing opinion should be to unanimity.

What Rousseau is setting out here is not obviously the rule of unanimity, which clearly is impracticable. What he is showing us is that the more a decision threatens the rights of individuals, the more irreversible it is and the more it involves future generations, the more stringent must be the procedure democracy selects for the adoption of this decision.

This brings me to the fine quote of Montesquieu linking democracy tightly with universal solidarity. And I quote: "If I knew of something that could serve my nation but would ruin another, I would not propose it to my prince, for I am first a man and only then a Frenchman-because I am necessarily a man, and only accidently am I French.

Tocqueville, Rousseau, Montesquieu. With these three French authors, no one can accuse me of distancing myself from francophone tradition. In fact, however, the principles these three set out are universal and have guided constitutional democracies in establishing their rules of law. These principles are the reason that the supremacy of law is a vital component of democracy.

Let us apply these principles to the issue dividing us in Canada: secession. It is defined as a break in solidarity among the citizens of a common country. This is why international law in its great wisdom extends the right of self-determination in its extreme form, that is the right of secession, only in situations where a break in solidarity appears de facto to be incontrovertible.

Let us quote, in this regard, the five experts who testified before the Bélanger-Campeau Commission. I quote: "Legally, Quebec's eventual declaration of sovereignty cannot be based on the principle of the equality in law of peoples or their right to self-determination, which permits independence only to colonial peoples or to those whose territory is under foreign occupation".

The secessions that have taken place to date have always arisen out of decolonization or the troubled times that follow the end of totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. It is not simply a matter of chance that no well established democracy with a minimum of ten years of universal suffrage has ever faced secession. Such a break in solidarity appears very hard to justify in a democracy. International law and democratic principles encourage the people to remain united, not to break up.

While democracy infers that a group of people cannot be forced to remain within a country against their will, it also sets strict rules, which, under the law, maximize the guarantees of justice for all. That is what we learned from near-secessions that have taken place in stable democracies. It may be a good idea to review the procedure by which Switzerland, a fine example of democracy, managed to separate the Jura from the canton of Berne while being fair to all. We could also look at how the U.S.A. intend to consult the Puerto Ricans on their political future. Closer to home, we might consider the approach taken recently by Canada to transfer title, in all fairness, on lands in the north.

Now it the time to calmly set, under the law, mutually acceptable secession rules. Not two weeks before a referendum. The Government of Canada does not deny in any way the right of Quebecers to pull out of Canada, if such is their explicit wish. However, the Government of Canada does object to the Quebec government's plans to unilaterally set and change as it pleases the procedure according to which this right will be exercised and expressed. A unilateral declaration of independence would fly in the face of democracy and the rule of law.

What is not known is whether the secessionist leaders are able of entering into a calm, level-headed and reasoned discussion process. The coarse language used recently by the Premier of Quebec, who compared Canada to a prison, or Quebec's Minister of Finance, who compared the Canadian government to former totalitarian communist governments, is an insult to the memory of the East German and North Korean people who were killed trying to escape totalitarian prisons. Independentist leaders must take a grip on themselves and make responsible statements. Otherwise, they should be prepared to call every constitutional democracy a prison, as well as the separate entity they want to make of Quebec, whose territory they consider indivisible and sacred.

With mutually consented rules in place, Quebecers could then examine with some clarity the argumentation used by secessionist leaders to try to convince them to break their ties of solidarity with their fellows citizens of the maritimes, Ontario and western Canada. It is my belief that Quebec will find this secessionist argumentation very shaky.

Exploitation cannot be used as an argument to justify secession, when the Canadian federation is one the most generous for have-not regions. Neither can self-determination, or the lack of it, be used as an argument, as few other federal components in the world benefit from as much autonomy as Quebec does within the Canadian federation.

The only argument secessionist leaders could put forth is the fact that, according to several established criteria, Quebecers could be considered as a people and that each people must have its own state. This idea that any group of people that is different from the others must have its own state is terribly untrue.

The flawed equation "one people, one country" would blow up the planet. Experts have estimated at around 3,000 the number of human groups with a recognized collective identity. But there are fewer than 200 states in the world.

Quebecers and other Canadians should reflect on this fine statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and I quote:


If every ethnic region or linguistic group claimed statehood there would be no limit to fragmentation, and peace, security and well-being for all would become even more difficult to achieve.

Canada is the last place in the world where identity-based fragmentation should be allowed to prevail. In the eyes of the world, this country symbolizes better than any other the ideal of how different people can live together in harmony in a single state. In this regard, let us listen to President Clinton, who said, and I quote: "In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that literally tear nations apart, Canada has stood for all of us as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity and understanding. Canada has shown the world how to balance freedom with compassion".

Many others have said the same thing about Canada. I will give just one other quotation:

Canada is a land of promise and Canadians are people of hope. It is a country celebrated for its generosity of spirit, where tolerance is ingrained in the national character.

"A society in which all citizens and all groups can assert and express themselves and realize their aspirations". These words, which have the ring of truth and could have come from Sir Wilfrid Laurier or Pierre Trudeau, were pronounced on July 1, 1988, by the then Secretary of State, the Hon. Lucien Bouchard.

The Canadian government's priority is to help Quebecers and other Canadians reconcile. They must speak to one another, stay in closer contact, clear up misunderstandings, find ways to make their federation work better, and celebrate Quebec's distinctiveness within Canada. They must reconcile, not only as fellow citizens but also as inhabitants of this poor planet. Let us bet on democracy.

Therefore, if the amendment put forward by the hon. member for Berthier-Montcalm is deemed to be in order, I, seconded by the hon. member for Simcoe North, move:

That the motion be amended by deleting the words "in 1985" and by substituting for those words the following:

"in the 1970s and in 1985 as outlined on page 150 of his book Straight from the Heart : ``We'll put our faith in democracy. We'll convince the people that they should stay in Canada and we'll win''.

Referendums May 6th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada had no reason to consider consultative referendums illegal, because by law a referendum must be consultative.

But since the hon. member is looking for contradictions, he will find them in the interpretation of victory and defeat, during the last referendum, by the leader of the yes camp at the time, Jacques Parizeau, who said, should his camp lose, that the next time would not be so very far off, and that the yes side would then have its revenge, but, should his camp win, that it was time to turn the page, that the die is cast, that the decision was final. There is the contradiction.

Referendums May 6th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, referendums in Canada, and this was also pointed out in the white paper on consulting the people of Quebec, are advisory in nature. When the Government of Canada participates in a referendum, it is because it wishes to give its point of view in this consultation. That is what the Government of Canada did during the two referendums in question.

Distinct Society April 17th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am delighted with the hon. member's commitment to never again identify himself and his party as the sole Quebecers. That in itself is very good news.

Second, and I have always said the same thing about this, there may be disagreements on the choice of words, but what counts is the substance. I would advise the hon. member to go easy on ridiculing the people of Quebec, who have always acted from the heart, sometimes less than successfully but always admirably, in seeking paths toward reconciliation, so that they might preserve Canada.

Distinct Society April 17th, 1996

Mr. Speaker, first of all, in his preamble, the hon. member spoke of "we Quebecers". I would remind him that I am as much a Quebecer as he is, and that no one here has the right to speak as if he were the one and only spokesperson for Quebecers. I feel obliged to remind him that Quebec is a pluralistic society.

Second, concerning the motion on which I voted, I would repeat, for what I believe is the third time in this House, that what it says is that the Liberal Party of Canada supports the enshrinement in the Constitution of the principles recognized in the Parliamentary resolution defining the distinct society, which was adopted in December, 1995. That is precisely why I voted in favour of the resolution.

Third, the Liberal Party of Canada is a highly democratic party. Sometimes democracy has such surprises in store for us, and we shall always be most pleased to acknowledge and accept, for what they are worth-I repeat, for what they are worth-the lessons on democracy offered us by a party whose leader was elected by the astronomical number of 150 members, and one of whose leading members was quoted as saying that the choice of a leader did not concern the public.