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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was veterans.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Saint-Jean (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 48% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question about the two veteran classes he mentioned: those commonly called “older” veterans and “new” veterans, who have mainly served in more peace-oriented missions in Bosnia, on the Golan Heights and subsequently in Afghanistan. That was no peace mission, but the 60,000 veterans who took part in it fall into this class of so-called modern veterans.

I would like my colleague to describe for us his opinion and feelings about the injustice that is caused by the creation of two classes of veterans.

Veterans Hiring Act June 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to an incident that occurred last Thursday. It was rather ironic that, on that evening, I had the pleasure of giving a speech at 11:57 p.m. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish it, because it was supposed to be a 10-minute speech. However, it was a courtesy on the part of the Conservative government. I thank the government for allowing me to speak at such a late hour.

That same day, something very instructive occurred. In any event, what I saw on television about this incident was fairly instructive with respect to the Minister of Veterans Affairs' attitude towards Jenifer Migneault. One could see the despair on this woman's face in the face of the minister's inability or unwillingness to solve her difficult problem or to even respond to her, speak to her, smile or acknowledge her.

This is my question for the minister: does he not think that he is rubbing salt in the wound with this time allocation motion on a bill that deals with resources we want to give Canada's veterans?

Not even a week has passed and he is at it again. My question is this: was it really necessary to add insult to injury when dealing with our veterans?

Public Works and Government Services May 30th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, Eurofighter and Dassault should not have to convince the government to hold an open and transparent bidding process. That should be automatic.

If the Conservatives truly care about properly managing taxpayer money, why do they refuse to hold a competition that would get us the best fighter jet at the best price? Will the government commit to a bidding process, or will it keep signing blank cheques to Lockheed Martin?

Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will not rehash everything my colleagues have said about the fact that clause 11 is not necessary. In truth, not only is it not necessary, but it distorts the very spirit of this bill, which has a certain logic in the context of a convention.

This reminds me of the conversations we had about Bill S-9 at the time, on the convention on nuclear material and everything related to that.

I am not going to repeat my colleague's arguments. Instead I would like to quote some of the things that were said in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development during the studies. Take for example the rather interesting testimony of General Natynczyk:

If we had to enforce article 21 of the convention, the exceptions listed in clause 11 of Bill C-6 would protect our men and women in uniform against prosecution, because they would have simply been carrying out their military duties.

We can understand the government's reluctance, relayed by General Natynczyk, who, I would remind the House, was the Chief of the Defence Staff until a few years ago. There is the fear that one day our soldiers will be faced with the prospect of having to explain why they took part in the use of cluster munitions.

That just shows to what extent Canada should be taking a leadership position in defending the rights of the most vulnerable. We know that these weapons in particular attack mainly civilians and children. It was General Natynczyk who pointed that out to us at that same committee meeting:

I spent my time in Bosnia and Croatia in 1994-95 and I saw the indiscriminate effects of landmines on civilians tilling their fields, children playing near schools, our own Canadian men and women and allied United Nations soldiers who attempted to bring peace and security to those troubled countries.

There is a contradiction in General Natynczyk's testimony. On the one hand he said he witnessed the catastrophic consequences for children and civilians but, on the other hand, he supports clause 11 because our serving men and women would never have to account for using these terrible weapons, which are totally and utterly senseless because they target primarily civilians and children.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I do not recall saying that I wanted to see an end to everything nuclear. I will reread my notes and the House of Commons Debates. I do not believe I said that.

Nor can we say that the nuclear industry is green because that is not the direction we want to take. A number of countries have decided to phase out their nuclear industry. Germany is one such country. Its goal is to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2021. In the meantime, its nuclear plants are still operational.

I do not believe that the NDP holds a Manichaean view that everything should either remain operational or be shut down. All we are doing is discussing a particular issue, namely the level of financial liability of a private industrial activity in Canada. I was merely saying that no comparison can be made with the economic and legislative reality of other jurisdictions where electricity generation is fully nationalized.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I understand quite well the gist of my colleague’s question.

Having lived through this terrible experience, even though I was not near the actual site of the accident, I know how emotional this is for my colleague.

What we are dealing with, in my view, is the concept of privatization of benefits and nationalization of risks. When a government is prepared to assume or nationalize risks, then it also nationalizes benefits. We cannot have both, that is, on the one hand, nationalization of risks and, on the other hand, benefits for private corporations that do not pay to assume risks.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am going to begin my speech, although I feel like responding to the member for Don Valley West by saying that we cannot compare different systems. He cited the example of European countries that have completely different levels of financial liability.

They are indeed systems that are implemented differently. As the parliamentary secretary said, compared to Canada, those countries have nuclear energy generation levels that are completely different in percentage terms. Consequently, these are not valid arguments because we are comparing apples to oranges. I will come back to that.

Bill C-22 is definitely headed in the right direction, but it does not solve all the problems. In particular, it provides for only $1 billion of financial liability for private nuclear power generation companies, whereas the costs incurred as a result of nuclear disasters far exceed that amount.

Why is this subject of particular interest to me? It is because I was living in western Europe at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. My colleague from Saint-Lambert was living there too, and she also experienced the famous radioactive cloud. The authorities explained to us that it did not cross borders because it obviously did not have a passport. In reality, however, the radiation affected not only Ukraine at the time, but also much, if not all, of western Europe.

When the civilian facilities were built to generate power, no one ever anticipated a disaster of that magnitude. There can be no comparison with military nuclear consequences, but those consequences were disastrous and unpredictable.

Furthermore, the populations in the immediate exclusion zone were not the only ones that suffered stress at that time. People died from radiation, but those who were within a slightly wider circle also developed diseases. In particular, there were birth defects, which were a real problem in Ukraine in the 1990s. Several thousand children, if not tens of thousands, were born with deformities or defects. That was an extremely traumatic experience in Europe.

We obviously will not ignore the nuclear disaster that occurred in Fukushima in 2011. We must therefore consider the level of technology when talking about these nuclear safety problems. In 1986, according to the experts, while it was predictable, although not understandable, that a natural disaster might occur in facilities that did not have adequate safety levels, there was no level of deterioration in Japan, the third-largest civilian nuclear power in the world, that could have suggested a disaster of that magnitude.

I heard the argument made by the member for Don Valley West, and I congratulate him for taking the trouble to speak to us, unlike his Conservative colleagues, who seem to have left this place.

That argument, which can be summed up by the words “strong and safe nuclear energy industry”, to quote the member, does not hold water, and this is why there is insurance. The reason behind insurance is that unforeseen or unlikely events happen. However, they happen because a series of human errors will have consequences that are totally unthinkable and that have a financial impact that goes far beyond what might have been imagined.

Of course, the amount of $1 billion will be discussed. Its arbitrariness is quite astonishing, because we know that in the case of Fukushima, the estimates are in the order of several hundred billion dollars. With regard to the Chernobyl disaster, I was reading on the site of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission that it was impossible to put an exact figure on the scope of the disaster because it spanned a decade. For some disasters, it is even impossible to quantify their full financial impact. This is my answer to the Conservatives’ main argument.

I was interested to note another argument the Conservatives used in previous debates. That argument was that we should be able to compare ourselves with different countries in millions of dollars. The example they gave us was that of European countries, where the level of financial liability for France, for instance, is $140 million.

In reality, this is a perfectly fallacious argument, because the level of liability must increase in value according to how nuclear energy production is organized in a given country. The example of France, which I know personally, is that of a country where 75% of current electricity production comes from nuclear plants. Furthermore, in the 1990s, this percentage rose to 85% or 89%. At one point, the country's energy policy was based almost solely on its nuclear capability.

The way in which things are organized was that the state was the major shareholder, through the French Atomic Energy Commission, which was the owner of a private company that was called Framatome at that point and became Areva in the early 2000s. However, the level of government involvement is still in excess of 70%.

Imagine if a disaster happened involving Areva, the private company. The government, with a 70% stake in this private company, would take full responsibility for the consequences, not only with regard to cleanup, but also with regard to compensation for the victims.

We can see that the context is completely different because in this case we do not even have to wonder whether it is fair or unfair that the taxpayer should take part in insuring an industrial risk, since the industrial risk is not really a private industrial risk. In fact, a specific country decided at one point to be the owner of the primary source of electrical energy.

This discussion of the comparison between $140 million and $1 billion is completely distorted. I totally reject this argument. This argument is fallacious and intended solely to make comparisons and give Canadians the impression that they would be protected in the event of a nuclear accident, while in reality when the company involved is a private company that is completely independent from the government, the government says clearly that it is not involved in the production of energy and that it would therefore not have to suffer the consequences or compensate the victims if a problem arose.

I see that I am running out of time. I will stop here and take questions from my colleagues.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her speech.

She spoke about the Fukushima plant, for one. It came as a surprise to some when we heard the terrible news about the disaster at the plant in 2011. The Conservatives are talking about how it is very unlikely, or practically impossible, that a nuclear disaster would happen in Canada.

However, members will recall that with Chernobyl, for example, the nuclear facilities were aging and poorly maintained. Experts were not particularly surprised. However, Japan, which has the third largest number of nuclear power reactors, was a reminder that even countries with the strictest, most effective safety measures can still potentially be susceptible to a disastrous accident. She mentioned some figures, and I think they were straightforward enough.

I would like to hear her comments on the Conservatives' attitude. They seem to think that this could never happen here because of the controls in place in our nuclear industry, even though those controls are very limited in comparison to the ones in other countries.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, with regard to what my colleague has just said about international comparisons, I have heard a wide range of comments this afternoon. One Conservative member was saying that the limited liability in certain countries was lower, financially, than $1 billion of liability. He was making a comparison between what may be true in certain administrations or certain legislative frameworks and Canada.

However, what this argument overlooks, and what is a complete fallacy in my view, is that in some countries safety, including nuclear safety, is provided by companies that are not privately owned, but belong to the government through government agencies that take care of nuclear safety or state-owned companies, depending on the legislative framework. These companies allow these states to take full responsibility. These are countries where the government has decided to take responsibility for an energy source that, to them, is much more important than in Canada.

I would like to hear my colleague’s comments on the fact that we cannot compare levels of financial liability in countries where the administrations are organized differently. In one country, the nuclear industry is private, while in others, it is almost a public resource.

Energy Safety and Security Act May 29th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to what my colleague from Sherbrooke was just saying. He referred to the possibility that in some jurisdictions, a purely private corporation might go bankrupt and thus might have limited financial liability.

Let us take the opposite argument. Members on the other side of the House—I know my colleague followed the debates earlier—argued that some countries have much lower limits on financial liability, in the order of a few hundred million dollars. In reality, those financial liability limits are found in countries in which the corporations producing nuclear power are not private enterprises; they are often public or indirectly public. I would give the example of France, where it is Areva, formerly Framatome, which is 70% owned by the French government.

I would like my colleague from Sherbrooke to explain why it is a fallacy to use foreign examples that cannot apply, because the jurisdictions and levels of state liability and involvement are not comparable to what they are in a country in which the corporations are purely private and have to cover their financial liability themselves.