House of Commons photo

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

Petitions April 8th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, today I have two petitions signed by people from Montérégie who are asking MPs to create a separate offence for individuals who assault on-duty bus drivers.

They are very concerned about the safety of public transit, particularly in view of the desire to enhance public transit in Montérégie, throughout Quebec and across Canada.

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from the Liberal Party.

Indeed, we recently saw the closure of centres that were near veterans. The government claims that the Service Canada offices across the country can handle the veterans' files, but the eight centres that were closed were client-specific. They had staff trained specifically to deal with veterans, for instance when they transition from military life to civilian life.

I do indeed see a pattern with this government that claims to be at the service of veterans, in addition to defending them. In reality, services have been reduced. The closure of the centres proves it.

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives keep asking us the same question. They want to know why we voted against some good measures when we vote on a budget.

The parliamentary secretary knows full well that a budget is a set of measures that address a host of different issues. That is especially true when a government systematically introduces omnibus bills that include all manner of things that are absolutely unrelated.

The government makes it impossible for us to accept most of the measures proposed in the budget, so we vote against it. Then the Conservatives only point out that we voted against certain measures that might be worthwhile. It is not right to ask that question.

The NDP has always supported our veterans. To say that we voted against a budget is not a valid argument, since a budget is much more complex than a single measure.

Former Canadian Forces Members Act April 2nd, 2014

moved that Bill C-568, An Act respecting former Canadian Forces members, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak at second reading to present the content of Bill C-568. I am proud to sponsor a bill that is designed to offer long-term care to our veterans who have been honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces. Note as well that this bill pertains only to Canadian Forces members and is not designed to offer benefits to members of their family or to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

When this bill was introduced on January 28, 2014, I commented on the fact that too many of our young heroes, particularly those who served in the hell that was Afghanistan, came home physically and psychologically broken, and too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

While it is true that our military personnel who served in Afghanistan faced the most extreme situations possible for someone who has chosen to serve in the profession of arms, the fact remains that Canadian soldiers who have served in peacekeeping roles since 1953 have put their lives in danger to protect civilians under threat of attack.

Whether in Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Cyprus, the Golan Heights in Syria, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, East Timor, Ethiopia or Eritrea, Canadian soldiers have stepped up to help those who had no one else to protect them from human folly.

It must be understood that this bill does not amend existing legislation such as the Department of Veterans Affairs Act. Instead, it is designed to create a new law that would require the government to amend an existing regulation, namely the Veterans Health Care Regulations, so that former Canadian Forces members who meet the military occupational classification requirements and who have been released from the Canadian Forces with an honourable discharge are entitled to the long-term health care benefits authorized by those regulations.

In the second hour of debate, I will have the opportunity to go into more detail on these regulations. Now, I will simply say that these regulations govern all types of care to which veterans are entitled.

To understand why the NDP thinks we must now reform the Veterans Affairs Canada classification system, I need to give a little history. The federal government decided to stop funding long-term health care after the death of the last Second World War and Korean War veterans, except in special cases. Veterans classified as modern-day veterans, meaning those who served after 1953, are not eligible for the federal health care program, pursuant to the Veterans Health Care Regulations. That is shameful.

The reality today is that the oldest veterans who served just after 1953 were born in the 1930s, and sometimes even in the 1920s, and they are now over 80 years old. Some are starting to require long-term care.

The federal government, through Veterans Affairs Canada, already had about 40 hospital facilities across Canada. However, since Veterans Affairs Canada transferred the last federal hospital, Ste. Anne's Hospital, to the Province of Quebec in 2013, there are no longer any federal facilities dedicated to long-term care for our veterans.

As a result, all of the institutions that provide care to veterans are now under provincial jurisdiction, and veterans are faced with delays and overcrowding, which we can expect to see for years to come.

We are urging the federal government to change its classification system for veterans and to create a system in which those who served after 1953 will have access to the same quality care as their predecessors.

I would like to read from testimony given by Guy Parent during one of his appearances before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding the complexity of health care eligibility criteria. He said:

The complexity currently built into the program's criteria and processes creates an overarching barrier to program accessibility. Over the years, veterans have been categorized by where, when, and how they served, which explains why there are 18 veteran client groups used by Veterans Affairs Canada. Since sailors, soldiers, airmen, and airwomen, as well as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, do not question where and when they must serve, for Veterans Affairs Canada to determine that the level of programs and services provided will be based on the type of service rendered is an injustice of the first order.

That statement is completely logical and irrefutable. Guy Parent, the Veterans Ombudsman added:

Access to benefits should be determined by injuries and illnesses related to service, and should be the same for all veterans, regardless of the nature or the location of their service. Categorization has led to the fact that even within the veterans community there are those who do not consider themselves veterans when compared to our war veterans. My office has chosen to adopt the theme of “one veteran” for the duration of my mandate. We do not provide consideration to veterans based on when and where they served but recognize them based on the fact that they served honourably.

That is what we really need to understand about the spirit of this bill.

As we just heard, the rules for access to long-term care are not easy to understand. Access to three different levels of long-term care—adult residential care, intermediate care and chronic care—and two types of beds—contract beds and community beds—has become so complex for veterans, who have to meet different criteria for eligibility and access, that it is getting harder and harder for them to figure out where they fit.

“Community beds” are beds that are not specifically designated and funded for veterans, and thus there is no priority access to them. Placement in an institution is determined mainly by health care needs, as is the case for any other resident of a province.

One of the objectives of this bill is to give eligible veterans priority access to community beds—which currently represent two-thirds of the 9,000 beds occupied—based on certain criteria, for example, service overseas.

The Conservatives repeatedly say that they are there to support out veterans. However, the reality is that they are also often criticized for their lack of support for veterans. That is the case for the Conservatives; that has also been the case for the Liberals.

With respect to veterans services, if we look back in time, we can say that Jean Chrétien's Liberal government was the first to cut veterans' funeral benefits. In 1995, the Liberals reduced the amount the survivor could deduct from the estate from $24,000 to $12,015. Members will recall that, when the Liberals were in power, they reduced funding for Veterans Affairs for five consecutive years.

This bill is an excellent opportunity for Liberal members to send veterans the positive message that they do not want to repeat the errors of the past and that they are willing to help them, instead.

When a member introduces a private member's bill, we obviously need to talk about how much it will cost to implement that bill. We therefore need to look at how much it will cost to implement a quality long-term care program for all Canadian veterans.

We must consider that the existing program helps approximately 8,500 veterans, whose average age is 87, and costs $284 million a year. The rate of service use is 9% for World War II veterans and 2.74% for Korean War veterans.

If we take into consideration the different rates of service use for the 594,500 modern-day veterans, whose average age is 55, the cost would be $175 million per year for a usage rate of 1%, $350 million per year for a usage rate of 2% and $480 million per year for a usage rate of 2.74%.

In my opinion, this additional cost of approximately $500 million per year is completely reasonable given the enormous sacrifice a great country like Canada asks of its veterans.

In closing, for the various reasons I gave earlier, I am asking all members to support our modern-day veterans by supporting Bill C-568 at second reading so that it can be sent to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for review.

It is time to take care of an issue that is becoming more and more pressing as the Canadian population ages. Ensuring that quality long-term health care is available to all of our veterans—particularly the cohort of 40,000 soldiers who served in Afghanistan and could find themselves in a critical situation in a few years—is part of planning for the future. I will stop there, and I welcome questions from my colleagues.

Veterans March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is not enough to try to help veterans once they are living on the street. These are men and women who were selected for their ability to keep on fighting in situations of physical pain without complaining. These are men and women who were trained to move forward and not give up when facing dangerous situations. Many of them may be too proud to ask for help. It is the government's responsibility to be proactive and to let them know that there is help available should they need it.

I ask the question again: What is the government going to do to identify veterans at risk to make sure that they do not end up on the street?

Veterans March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, on February 28, 2014, I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs a question about homeless veterans.

In Montreal alone, at least 50 homeless veterans have been identified. Given that many of them have never used the services of Veterans Affairs Canada, I asked what the government was doing to identify and help homeless veterans and what it would do to ensure that new veterans did not end up on the street.

The minister said two things in reply. First, he said:

...Canadian veterans are eligible for thousands of dollars worth of benefits and services that are not available to the general public.

Then, he said:

Identifying veterans among the homeless is a daunting task.

I think that the minister should be ashamed of giving such irresponsible and contemptuous answers. First of all, the least we can do for those who sacrificed themselves to protect us is provide these services. Second of all, just because a task is daunting does not mean that the government should not undertake it.

I would now like to give an example of the government's mismanagement, taken from the Veterans Affairs Canada response to the Veterans Ombudsman. It states that processing an application for the rehabilitation program can take up to 34 days and that there are often further delays. Why? Because information is often missing from the application. They acknowledge that:

For veterans in crisis, VAC can expedite the application process, both by helping veterans complete the application quickly...

For example, Saint-Jean has an integrated personnel support centre where military personnel who are transitioning to civilian life can meet with an official for a transition interview. This is not a luxury.

What is the Conservative government doing to improve local services? Is it improving front-line service? No—instead it is closing veterans' service centres. That is what I call incompetent management.

The situation in Montreal is particularly worrisome for my riding because many soldiers who served on the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu base decided to settle in the area. When their housing situation is already precarious and they become homeless, it is more likely that they will go to Montreal because there are practically no services for the homeless in the suburbs and cities around Montreal.

Something else is troubling: 50 homeless veterans have been identified in Montreal, but this number is probably low because no systematic classification has been carried out. Even though we do not have a statistical study to that effect, it is reasonable to believe that the problems of homelessness are related to mental health problems. As we know, there is an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder in this country. Just last Wednesday, we learned of the suicide of another veteran at the Valcartier base.

In its October 16, 2013, throne speech the government declared: “We will reach out to homeless veterans and help give them the support they need”. This promise has not been kept and is not enough.

The NDP believes that the government must be proactive. Not only must it get our veterans off the streets, but it must also identify those living in precarious situations who run the risk of becoming homeless.

Rail Transportation March 24th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the Transportation Safety Board just released the results of laboratory tests on the oil that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, levelling the downtown core and killing 47 innocent people. The tests showed that, contrary to the classification posted by MMA, the oil on the train was not group III, but group II, meaning that its flashpoint was similar to that of gasoline. How much evidence will have to pile up before the Conservative government understands that companies cannot be allowed to monitor themselves, especially companies that are repeat offenders?

I am asking the government to hire enough inspectors and to implement the three recommendations issued by the TSB in 2014 as quickly as possible. The old DOT-111 cars are not made to transport highly flammable oil. The government must not wait for the next catastrophe. Those cars have to be replaced now.

Rail Transportation March 7th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Transportation Safety Board revealed that the oil that exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic was much more volatile than MMA had declared. Forty-seven innocent people were killed.

Does the Minister of Transport still believe that the companies should regulate themselves, or will she take responsibility and impose strict rules on rail companies that put the lives of Canadians at risk?

Petitions February 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by several hundred people in my riding of Saint-Jean and neighbouring ridings. The petitioners are calling for the creation of a legal ombudsman mechanism for responsible mining that would ensure compliance with international standards regarding social responsibility, labour and environmental practices and respect for human rights.

Veterans Affairs February 28th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the question was about homeless veterans.

In Montreal alone, at least 50 homeless veterans have been identified. Many of them have never used the services of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The government has a duty to ensure that no one who has served in the armed forces for their country ends up homeless.

What is the government doing to identify and help homeless veterans, and what will it do to ensure that new veterans do not end up on the street?