The House resumed from October 8 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her Speech at the opening of the session, and of the amendment, as amended.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to resume the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, after the psychodrama we experienced last week.
It is important for people to realize what is at stake. In a way, the Speech from the Throne provides the guidelines for what a government wants to achieve during its mandate. It was sad to watch the Liberal Party of Canada table a throne speech as though it had a majority government.
The Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative Party of Canada have exerted intense pressure and sent a very clear message that they will not accept this type of behaviour any longer. Roughly one hour before last week's vote, the Prime Minister finally began to back down. He asked the two leaders of the opposition parties to find an acceptable compromise and the Bloc Quebecois amendment to the amendment was passed.
So we can see in a way the change in the government's attitude, and we hope this attitude will prevail during future debates.
Next week at the latest, if there is not consent today, we will vote on the amendment of the Conservative Party of Canada. However, when we think of it, this amendment is much broader in scope than was the election platform of the Conservative Party.
For example, the first proposal is the establishment of an arm's-length, but not privatized commission to ensure employment insurance premiums are used only for workers' benefits. It goes without saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports this part of the amendment. For the past 10 years, we have been fighting for the creation of such an independent commission, so that the federal government would no longer be able to use surpluses from the employment insurance fund to cover all sorts of expenditures other than those relating to employment insurance.
Over the past 10 years, workers and the unemployed have been deprived of over $45 billion. Since this was one of the main issues during the last election campaign, it is only normal that we should include an amendment to the throne speech to change the situation and create this independent fund.
This is not only the position of the Conservatives. It is a position that was put forward by the Bloc Quebecois during the last Parliament and one on which there was consensus. At the time, the New Democratic Party was present and its members had not decided that they were more interested in not having an election than in upholding their principles. They supported the establishment of an arm's length commission and they should still do so.
I hope that the government will pass this amendment. When we travelled across Quebec and Canada during the last election campaign, the one thing on which everyone agreed was the need to ensure that the employment insurance program is used strictly for employment insurance purposes and not to pay down Canada's debt.
The second part of the amendment proposes a reduction of taxes for low and middle income families. Currently, in Canada, these people's taxes are obviously too high. The federal government could leave some room in this area. Therefore, this second part of the amendment should not present any problems either. I do not see how the Liberals could vote against it.
The third part of the amendment deals with the creation of an independent parliamentary budget office to provide the government with fiscal forecasts. Of course, this proposal may be a little more annoying to the Liberals. Indeed, each year, for the past 10 years, through the current Prime Minister, they have systematically tabled budget forecasts that underestimated revenues and overestimated expenditures, with the result that, by the end of the year, there was always a surplus that had not been allocated.
This means that, for example, some people were deprived of revenues in the areas of health and social programs. They should have been offered something had there been a true debate in our society and had the government not hidden the surpluses behind false projections.
So, the motion before us is a sound one that would shed better light on the government's financial needs. Here again, the House should support that part of the amendment. Let us hope that the Liberals have got the message and realize that, in the future, they can no longer do what they have done for 10 years, that is to hide the real figures.
The fourth part of the amendment deals with the establishment of a non-partisan citizens' assembly to examine changes to the electoral system, including proportional representation. We know that, from year to year, from election to election, public participation drops. Since we are looking for solutions to this issue, it would be a good thing to adopt this proposal.
Finally, there is the issue of holding a vote on any proposed continental missile defence treaty. This part is very important to the Bloc Quebecois because we have been campaigning steadily on this for two or three years. We have made the rounds of schools, CEGEPs and universities. We have gone to meet the people in various constituencies. If there is one thing on which Quebeckers agree, it is the inadvisability of getting involved in the development of a missile defence system known scientifically to be ineffective. The only argument the government has to justify its participation in such a missile defence system is that we should not annoy the Americans.
In my opinion, with a neighbour like that, reality should be put on the table and we should say why we are against it. We must state that clearly, so that, at the very least, there is a vote in the House of Commons, as the amendment proposes. Even among the Conservatives, it is possible there are some who favour the missile defence system; the important thing is that we be able to discuss it in this House.
When we were elected, only a few months ago, no one was saying, “As for the missile defence system, I would prefer not having to state my opinion”. No matter what party a member is from, during the election campaign each of us expressed our opinion on this matter and our desire to have a chance to debate it. This is an issue of importance for the future of our society, especially our young people.
That is why, when we go to the colleges and CEGEPs, and young people ask questions on this topic, we see that they are very concerned about it. They have noticed that for another five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, a system will be put in place that entertains the idea of a continental war, a nuclear war; this aspect must not be emphasized. There are many other proposals on which we must work and which must be supported in order to arrive at peaceable solutions.
There is also a message to be sent to the Americans, namely that this is not the solution and that there are other ways and means to enhance security on the planet Earth. We cannot always protect ourselves only by putting a safety dome over our heads. We must ensure that wealth is better distributed. We must ensure that there is constant dialogue among the nations of the globe.
Our desire to vote on this matter here in this Parliament strikes me as equally important.
What we have before us is an amendment that has been modified to reflect the Bloc Quebecois motion with the consent of this House last week. It guarantees protection of the areas of provincial jurisdiction, and acknowledges the concept of fiscal imbalance, while stipulating that not everyone necessarily believes there is such an imbalance. It does, however, state that this reality does exist and needs to be mentioned in the throne speech, and must be part of the political environment in which we need to operate.
An important step has been taken, however, thanks to the firm position taken by the Bloc clearly setting out what elements it wished to see added to the Conservative amendment. This week all of us will need to decide, as elected members of this House, whether this amendment by the Conservatives, modified by the Bloc's amendment to the amendment, strikes us as desirable for our ridings.
We have all been told that, now that there is a minority government, no one can take refuge behind party positions. Each of us will have to answer to those who sent us here for the stands we take. I would invite the Liberal members in particular to take a good look at this amendment, to read it in detail. It must contain some significant points if it is to achieve majority support in this House. Then we will at last have a Speech from the Throne that is not the Liberal Party of Canada's but rather a true throne speech reflecting the outcome of the June 28 election, that is the wishes of all of the people of Canada and of Quebec. In Quebec the wish is for the Bloc Quebecois to be the spokesperson for the majority of the people of Quebec.
That is why we are proposing that the Bloc Quebecois support this amendment so that the throne speech will be far more realistic and more concrete, and will oblige the government to set some guidelines that will lead to satisfactory outcomes. By so doing, we will be respecting the wishes of our fellow citizens, who have purposely chosen to elect a minority government in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
We should indeed be learning significant lessons from the BSE crisis. The first one is that such a problem should never again be addressed as a single Canada-wide problem. Any problem in the future should be “regionalized” as early as possible, and the regions affected identified clearly.
Had this procedure been followed for the BSE crisis, Quebec would have been spared, because it already had a tracking system in place, which clearly indicated that our cattle were disease-free. Unfortunately, the federal government's decision to treat all producers the same across Canada caused major problems, particularly to dairy producers.
The federal compensation package is unsatisfactory. It covers the replacement of only some 16% of the herd, as compared with an acceptable 25%. There has therefore been no compensation for the rest.
We must also look at another reality: beef prices are dropping for producers, while they remain unchanged at the consumer end of the chain. In between, meat packers took advantage of the crisis to make maximum, extravagant profits beyond what is acceptable.
The government must react quickly and offer much more than what is currently on the table to ensure that satisfactory compensation is provided for cull cows and butcher cattle. In the very short term, there is risk that people who have acted in good faith and managed to develop quality farms, family farms in many cases, but now find themselves on the verge of bankruptcy and of being choked will have to get out of the market and the industry. All it would take now is for interest rates to rise slightly for the crisis to deepen.
I agree with my colleague that the federal government's current measures are unsatisfactory and that we have to learn from this to prevent the same situation from happening in the future. It was just one sick cow that led to a ban on our beef throughout the world. We know full well that the current U.S. position is not based on science, but on politics. The environmental and health obstacles are basically a new form of protectionism.
We have to learn from this. First of all, the producers need help as soon as possible. Throughout rural Quebec this is a major issue that has an impact not just on individual farms but on regional economies as well. These people are not buying as much farm equipment and they are investing less, which has an economic impact on our regions.
Let us hope that the federal government will use its surplus to improve its contributions as soon as possible.
The first measure that could be addressed is the following. If there had been an independent employment insurance fund for the past several years, there would indeed have been more money for doing something other than paying down the debt. The federal government would have had to use these billions of dollars based on the needs of its various areas of activity, but that was not the case.
Let us hope that with the Conservative amendments on the table and the Bloc Quebecois amendment to the amendment, we will have a Speech from the Throne that better reflects the direction Quebeckers and Canadians want this government to take. Parliament has a wonderful opportunity to set out guidelines for the government and demand that it act the way voters want it to.