That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, as long called for by the Bloc Québécois and now called for by the Member for Beauce, end the so-called federal spending power in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, eliminate the federal programs that violate the division of powers, and transfer tax points to the provinces by: (a) eliminating all federal spending in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, unless express authorization is given by Quebec or the province; (b) providing a systematic right to opt out with full financial compensation and without condition of all existing and future programs, whether co-funded or not, that intrude into jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces; and (c) transferring, at the request of Quebec or a province, fiscal room in the form of tax points and/or GST to replace the amounts that the province would otherwise have received under the Canada Health Transfer, federal programs in its areas of jurisdiction and the transfer for social programs and post-secondary education indexed to 1994-1995 levels.
He said: Mr. Speaker, in 1867, the people of Quebec were not consulted on whether or not they wished to join Confederation, but in order to make the pill go down, so to speak, it was promised a spoonful of sugar: that it would be sovereign in several areas, and that it could use that partial sovereignty to develop as a society. That is indeed what the use of the word “confederation” rather than “federation” implied. It was on this condition that Quebec became a part of Canada.
However, Ottawa does not hesitate to invade Quebec's exclusive fields of jurisdiction. Family policy, health, education and regional development are a few of the most striking examples of areas of federal interference. In 2008-09, the federal government spent more than $60 billion in areas that fall under Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction. This situation is patently intolerable.
We recall that the Conservative government committed to creating a framework for the so-called federal spending power in 2006, but so far it has not followed through. Last week the Conservative member for went further and proposed the pure and simple elimination of the so-called federal spending power as a solution to constitutional squabbles. This is what the Bloc Québécois is asking for today in this motion, and also what was proposed in the bill tabled in April by my colleague, the member for .
The motion focuses on three elements. First, it seeks the explicit elimination of Ottawa's self-given right to spend in areas outside its jurisdiction. Second, it calls for Quebec to be given a systematic right to opt out of programs, without conditions and with full compensation. Third, it seeks compensation in the form of tax points so that Ottawa cannot determine how much Quebec allocates to its various areas of responsibility.
The House of Commons finally recognized the Quebec nation. And recognizing a nation is more than just a symbolic gesture. Nations, like people, have fundamental rights, the most important being the right to control the social, economic and cultural development of its own society, in other words, the right to self-determination. You cannot, on one hand, recognize the Quebec nation and its right to make choices that are different from Canada's and, on the other, deny the nation the ability to assert that right by maintaining the federal spending power. Denying Quebec the power to spend undermines its very existence as a nation.
Let us consider the recent comments of the member for . It is a rare occasion when I agree with the member for , but I see that he has finally sided with the Bloc Québécois, and I hope that he can convince his party to support today's motion.
This is what the member for said on October 13. He himself was quoting Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The member for said that, in a speech to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in 1871, Laurier made the following statement:
If the [federal] system is to avoid becoming a hollow concept, if it is to produce the results called for—this is Laurier speaking—, the legislatures must be independent, not just in the law, but also in fact. The local legislature must especially be completely sheltered from control by the federal legislature. If in any way the federal legislature exercises the slightest control over the local legislature, then the reality is no longer a federal union, but rather a legislative union in federal form.
That is the end of the quote by Sir Wilfrid Laurier cited by the member for .
The member for concluded:
Now, it’s obvious that what Laurier feared has unfortunately come true. Ottawa exercises a lot more than “the slightest control” over local legislatures. The federal government today intervenes massively in provincial jurisdictions, and in particular in health and education, two areas where it has no constitutional legitimacy whatsoever. This is not what the Fathers of Confederation had intended. The objective of the 1867 Act was not to subordinate provincial governments to a central authority. But rather to have sovereign provinces within the limits of their powers, dealing with local matters that directly affected citizens; and a sovereign federal government within the limits of its own powers, dealing with matters of general national interest.
The member for and the Bloc Québécois are not the only ones challenging the legitimacy and the very basis for the existence of the federal spending power; all governments of Quebec have done so, no matter what their political allegiance. Why? Because the federal spending that encroaches on provincial jurisdictions is in direct opposition to the division of powers in Canada. In principle, both orders of government in Canada are equal and equally sovereign in their respective areas. The division of jurisdictions is supposed to be watertight in order to prevent the majority nation, the Canadian nation, from imposing its views on the minority nation, the Quebec nation.
The division of powers that took place in 1867 between Ottawa and the provinces is quite simple if we look at it in the context of the 19th century. Matters that directly affected people and their way of organizing their society fell under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. This was the case for instance for the civil laws that codified the relationships between people and the organization of society through social programs, health, education, cultural matters, etc.
If, however, an issue did not directly affect people or the internal organization of their society, it could be placed under federal jurisdiction. This is the case for monetary policy, international trade, and the overall regulation of trade and industry. In 1867, Quebec was not really industrialized and that aspect did not affect people very much. Thus, Quebeckers believed they had acquired the autonomy they needed to allow them to organize their own society without external interference. And it was on that basis that Quebec agreed to enter into the Canadian federation in 1867.
However, the federal spending that encroaches upon areas of provincial jurisdiction calls into question this division of powers and Quebec's autonomy. In fact, this was the pact at the basis of the Canadian federation, which Canada is denying daily and has been denying for three generations by interfering freely with Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
Benoît Pelletier, the former Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs under Jean Charest, said the following:
I...have a great deal of difficulty in reconciling the values underlying the Canadian federation with the idea of a federal spending power that is in no way subject to the division of powers.
It is for that reason that the Séguin report in its turn expressed the opinion that:
The “federal spending power” displays a singular logic in that the federal government intervenes every time in a field falling under provincial jurisdiction without having to adopt a constitutional amendment.
We could add “without having to obtain the authorization of Quebec's National Assembly”. In short, the federal spending power is the way English Canada unilaterally put an end to the pact in which Quebec agreed to be a part of Canada. Through the spending power, it managed to unilaterally change the distribution of powers to its benefit without having to go through the cumbersome process of constitutional amendment.
There is now a consensus in Quebec. The spending power is illegitimate. Quebec has always felt that the federal spending power was nothing more than a power to implement, that is to say that in the final analysis, it is a power to impose policies.
That is why Quebec maintains that federal spending power should be limited to areas in which the federal Parliament has legislative jurisdiction. Regardless of the party in power, Quebec has consistently maintained that Ottawa simply does not have the power to spend money in whatever area it chooses, and that any federal intervention in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction is in direct violation of the Constitution.
Federal government interference in fact proves that the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved. The fiscal imbalance is due to the fact that Ottawa raises more in taxes than it needs to discharge its own responsibilities. And the result, in Quebec's case, is that Quebec no longer has the tax room it needs to fund its own activities independently.
As long as Ottawa has the authority to spend in areas under provincial jurisdiction, the fiscal imbalance cannot be resolved. Conservative members who claim that the fiscal imbalance is now resolved have not understood a thing. The fiscal imbalance cannot be resolved without putting an end to federal spending power in areas that encroach upon the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
As the Séguin commission stated, and I quote:
...The problem of the federal spending power is closely tied to fiscal imbalance, and its use is underpinned by the surplus funds that the federal government controls.
That is what the commission found.
Quebec has no intention of being one of Ottawa's mere subcontractors. No, the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved and is, in fact, getting worse. More and more, as a result of the fiscal imbalance and its offshoot—spending power—the Quebec government is being relegated to the ranks of a federal government subcontractor. Through its interference and conditional transfers, Ottawa is imposing Canada's priorities and choices on Quebec.
The situation has gotten so bad that Quebec's own-source revenues hit an all-time low in 2009-10, when a quarter of Quebec's budget envelope was being controlled by the federal government. Now more than ever, it is time for the federal government to hand over the GST to Quebec, as well as a portion of individual income tax, so that Quebec is no longer at the mercy of federal transfer payments and Ottawa's whims.
In 2006, as I was saying earlier, the House of Commons finally recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. Recognizing the existence of a nation is more than just a symbolic act. Nations, like people, have fundamental rights, and the most fundamental among them is a nation's right to control its own social, economic and cultural development, that is to say, the right to self-determination.
One cannot, on the one hand, recognize that the Quebec nation exists and has the right to make choices that are different from those that Canada makes, which right is at the core of nationhood, and on the other hand, deny that right by maintaining the federal spending power. That spending power is in fact a negation of the Quebec nation.
The so-called framework mentioned in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, which was to set limits on the spending power, had indeed been the subject of official Conservative promises, and has continued to be the subject of such promises since; it is nothing but lip service.
I will now quote from the 2007 Speech from the Throne, which said:
...our government will introduce legislation to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This legislation will allow provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
It should be noted that the government's offer, its commitment in that text, is limited to new programs, even though it was already spending $62 billion in areas that do not fall under its jurisdiction. That is the figure from 2008-09. This amount is more or less equivalent to Quebec's entire budget, which was $65 billion for that year, and this is money Ottawa spent in areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. The Speech from the Throne allows all of that to go on happening. Moreover, it only refers to new shared-cost programs, which are almost non-existent. For instance, as agriculture is an area of shared jurisdiction, the agriculture policy framework is not covered by the commitment in the throne speech. Moreover, insofar as the infrastructure Canada program is concerned, the throne speech changed nothing because Quebec already had the right to select its own projects.
So there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the Speech from the Throne aside from empty words. In fact it was a new version of the Jean Chrétien throne speech, which said approximately the same thing in 1996; and nothing was done following that one either, of course.
It is the same thing as the member for 's social union, by virtue of which the Canadian provinces, with the exception of Quebec, agreed to allow Ottawa to take the lead in matters of social policy.
The bill that the Bloc Québécois already tabled is an offer of reasonable accommodation. We are aware that Canadians do not want to completely eliminate the federal power to interfere. When I say Canadians, I am obviously not talking about Quebeckers, but other Canadians, who generally want the central government to be able to set directions and priorities for the entire country in all areas. That is not in keeping with the promise made to Quebec 140 years ago. It is in keeping with Canadians' vision of Canada, though. In April 2010, to put an end to Ottawa's interference in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill , which I just mentioned, on eliminating the federal spending power in Quebec's jurisdictions.
Today's motion, which is very much in line with our bill, proposes a compromise by saying that Ottawa should at least give Quebec a full right to opt out of any federal programs in areas that intrude into the provinces' jurisdictions. Canadians will be able to keep on denying the division of powers for themselves, but not for us in Quebec.
One Conservative Party member heard the Bloc Quebecois' call, and we can only be glad. Just a few months after we introduced our bill, the member for repeated the Bloc's demands almost word for word. He said:
However, several other programs, from family allowances to grants to universities and hospital insurance, were set up which clearly did not respect the constitutional division of powers...
This intrusion into provincial jurisdiction was accomplished by the so-called federal spending power.
No constitutional provision to legitimize this federal spending power was ever adopted. The Supreme Court of Canada has never explicitly recognized this power either. The federal government was certainly aware that the power to spend in areas of provincial jurisdiction does not exist in the Constitution...
Ending the federal spending power, eliminating the federal programs that violate the division of powers, and transferring tax points to the provinces would be the right thing to do from several perspectives.
We agree. Consequently, I invite the Conservative government to support our Bill . I also invite the Conservative members and the members from all the other parties to support the motion I have put forward this morning.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for this opportunity to speak against, and let me emphasize against, today's motion from the Bloc Québécois. This is another very disappointing, thinly veiled attempt by Bloc members to desperately justify their presence here in Ottawa after 20 long years in perpetual opposition, which is where they will remain if they continue putting forward motions like this one, 20 long years in which the Bloc has obtained zero real results.
I know the Bloc will never admit it but in only five years our Conservative government and our Quebec Conservative MPs, such as the member for , have done more for their home province of Quebec than the Bloc ever can and ever will. More and more Quebeckers are realizing that as well.
The Bloc will not admit it but the member for , my former colleague on the finance committee, is doing a great job for his constituents here in Parliament. He is doing such a great job that in the last election a whopping 60% of the voters in Beauce supported him while the Bloc candidate received a mere 13%. Clearly, more Quebeckers are turning away from the Bloc and turning toward our Conservative government that delivers for them.
We delivered on economic leadership. We delivered on solving the fiscal imbalance. We delivered much more to benefit Quebeckers, in fact all Canadians.
First on that list of Conservative accomplishments was our strong action to solve the fiscal imbalance for Quebec and for all provinces and territories. The previous Liberal government gutted support for the provinces and territories by literally cutting tens of billions in transfer support for health care and social programs. Let us be clear, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin slashed transfers like never before and that created major problems in schools and hospitals from coast to coast to coast. It is not a good legacy.
I would hope that all Liberal members would be ashamed of that, but I ask them to reflect on what two former premiers once said on that matter. First, let me read to them what a former Ontario premier said:
When the federal [Liberal] government decided in its wisdom that it would cut back unilaterally, particularly in the area of social assistance, it had a major and devastating effect on the people of [Ontario].
Second, let me quote a former British Columbia premier, who said that the Chrétien-Martin federal surpluses were “accumulated over the backs of the provinces and territories in cuts to transfer payments”.
What is more, if Liberal MPs want to know more about their actual record, they should talk to those two premiers, and they do not have to go too far to do that, because that former Ontario premier is their Liberal caucus colleague, the member for , and that former British Columbia premier is also their Liberal caucus colleague, the member for .
But if they do not believe them, they can talk to their former finance critic and Liberal colleague, the member for , who said only this year:
I think...the Chrétien government--even though I am a Liberal--cut perhaps too deeply, too much offloading, with the benefit of hindsight. And there were some negative effects.
But if they do not believe their former finance critic, they might consider talking to the current finance critic, the member for . This is what he had to say:
The...[Liberal] government balanced its books by slashing transfers to the provinces by forcing the provinces...to face deficits, and health care systems and education systems in a crisis as a result of its inability and irresponsibility to actually tighten its own belt more significantly.
Without a doubt, the problem is not here today but it is what happened under the previous Liberal government. The Liberals' devastating legacy is still evident. In fact, every year during finance committee prebudget consultations we hear witness after witness speak to the devastation that the Liberals brought.
This is what the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations told the finance committee:
The federal government chose to cut investment in education in the mid-1990s to reduce the deficit. Due to these cuts, Canada faced a brain drain....
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities said:
...mistakes of [the] nineties when federal and provincial governments push deficits of balance sheets into the streets of cities and communities. The damage done to Canada's cities is still evident.
Making it worse, Liberal members denied, and more shockingly, mocked claims of a fiscal imbalance when they were in power. In fact, let me read a press release from the former Liberal intergovernmental affairs minister in which the government cavalierly scoffed at the concerns of Canada's provinces and territories:
Rather than fiscal imbalance, we need to talk about the collective responsibility of our governments.... [T]he slogan: the money is in Ottawa, the needs are in the provinces...does not reflect reality. There is no fiscal imbalance.
Shockingly and disappointingly for Quebeckers, the Bloc was helpless to do anything to stop the Liberal government and to fix the fiscal imbalance. Realizing that more and more Quebeckers started to reconsider their support for the tired and ineffective Bloc Québécois, I am happy to report that Quebeckers turned away from the Bloc and helped elect a strong group of Conservative MPs from the province, and in the process, a new Conservative government here in Ottawa.
I am happy to report that in two short years we took a major step to address the fiscal imbalance and significantly increase transfer payments to the provinces and territories. In fact, in 2006 our new Conservative government was the first in Canadian history to recognize and acknowledge there was a fiscal imbalance. Only a year later in budget 2007, we took steps to restore fiscal balance through a comprehensive plan that put federal support for provinces and territories on a long-term predictable and principle-based footing for the future, a plan that ensured all provinces and territories would receive more funding and transfers.
I note for the Bloc that the former Quebec finance minister, Yves Séguin, praised our action saying that it significantly redressed a long-time sore spot, the fiscal imbalance.
The well-respected La Presse economics writer, Claude Piché, echoed that praise when he said that it tackled the issue of federal-provincial transfers credibly and coherently.
Indeed, under our Conservative government, federal support for provinces and territories has remained strong. It is at an all-time high and it will continue to grow. For example, Quebec will receive increased support through major federal transfers in 2010-11 totalling $17.2 billion, an increase of $5.2 billion, or a 44% increase from under the old Liberal government. This includes $8.5 billion for equalization, an increase of over $3.7 billion, or 78% more than the Liberals were providing. It includes $6.1 billion through the Canada health transfer, an increase of $1 billion, or 21% above the Liberal level, and $2.6 billion through the Canada social transfer. This represents a $441 million, or a 21% increase since the Liberals were in power.
This long-term support helps ensure Quebec has the resources needed to provide the essential public services including health care, post-secondary education and other social services.
What is more, we have also said repeatedly that, unlike the previous Liberal government, we will not cut transfers to other levels of government as part of our efforts to balance the budget. This is a welcome and reassuring commitment that even Quebec Premier Jean Charest has applauded. He said, “The federal government has given reassurances.... We are satisfied...”.
While the Bloc Québécois brings forward motions like today's that are nothing more, as I say, than a thinly veiled political game, our Conservative government is focusing on what really matters to all Canadians, including Quebeckers, and that is the economy. We all recognize that the global economic recovery is fragile. Canada will be impacted by economic circumstances beyond our borders, especially those in the United States. That is why our government's main priority is the economy and implementing Canada's economic action plan to protect Canada's recovery.
Canada's economic action plan is clearly having a positive impact. We have over 23,000 job-creating projects under the plan that have committed funding, with close to 97% of those completed or under way across Canada.
Our economic action plan is getting positive results and is providing stability for our economy. We have helped create over 400,000 net new jobs since July 2009. We have lowered taxes for all Canadians. We have revitalized our infrastructure.
Indeed, despite the fragile global recovery, Canada's economy is in relatively good shape, so much so that the IMF and the OECD both are forecasting that Canada's growth will be at the head of the pack in the industrialized world this year and next. That does not happen by accident.
Our economic action plan is working and helping to put Canadians to work right across the country, including in Quebec. Let me recap only a few ways that budget 2010, year two of our Canada's economic action plan, is helping protect workers and families in Quebec through the economic conditions.
First and foremost, Canada's economic action plan is providing historic investments in infrastructure in Quebec. Examples of specific projects include projects at the port of Trois-Rivières, including site development to improve storage at the port and security upgrades at the new borders at the port. There is the expansion of the Monique Corriveau library in the city of Quebec, and refurbishments of an indoor pool and cultural centre in Beauceville.
Montreal area commuters will benefit from $50.5 million in new funding over the next two years for Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated. This funding will ensure that the corporation can make the capital expenditure required to maintain the safety of its bridges, which are among the busiest in Canada.
Remote communities will benefit from an investment of $18 million over the next two years to support the capital and operational requirements of Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc., which operates a passenger rail service throughout western Labrador and northeastern Quebec. Communities and businesses in Quebec will benefit from the $28 million provided to support the operations of ferry services in Atlantic Canada, including the route between Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec and Souris, Prince Edward Island.
Shockingly, the Bloc voted against Canada's economic action plans and all these job-creating projects to help these communities in Quebec.
As well, communities and businesses in Quebec are benefiting from the $14.6 million provided to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, to increase the vitality of communities and help small and medium size businesses and communities enhance their competitiveness. Again the Bloc voted against supporting job growth.
Canada's economic action plan also affirms our government's commitment to work with sectors such as aerospace, to help put in place the conditions they need to succeed and build upon their role as an important economic contributor. Canada's aerospace industry is a critical economic engine. It is a cornerstone of the Canadian economy, providing thousands of skilled jobs across the country, employing some 83,000 skilled professionals in over 400 firms, including some 42,000 jobs in Quebec.
The Canadian aerospace industry is developing cutting-edge technologies that are enabling our companies to be major players on the global stage. Companies such as Bombardier Aerospace, CAE and Bell Helicopter together make up a key component of Canada's economy, and the economies of greater Montreal and the province of Quebec.
Through budget 2010, Canada's economic action plan continued to support the aerospace industry with nearly $500 million to support the RADARSAT Constellation mission, Canada's next generation of Earth observation satellites. Claude Lajeunesse, president and CEO of Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, applauded that move by stating:
This measure will stimulate the space sector and keep value-added jobs in Canada while serving government priorities.
I cannot believe the Bloc members voted against supporting high quality jobs in the aerospace industry, but sadly, they did.
There is so much more in the economic action plan to help put Canadians to work right across the country and in Quebec. Again, it is working. Indeed, in September, 15,000 net new jobs were created in Quebec alone, increasing the total to 130,000 in Quebec in the past 15 months. In the words of Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand:
That's the best performance in [North] America. [The Quebec] economy is doing relatively well.
While the Bloc is concentrated on political gains and voting against the economic action plan, our Conservative government is concentrated on the economy and helping create jobs for Quebeckers. Moreover, when the Liberals denied the fiscal imbalance existed, the Bloc could not get anything done.
Our Conservative government took action and restored the fiscal balance for Quebec and all provinces. No wonder more and more Quebeckers are sending more Conservative MPs to Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to take part in debate today on the motion by the member for . The motion, which I will refrain from reading, gives us the opportunity for a debate that will offer all Canadians a clear option and a clear choice as to the country where we want to live. The motion shows that the Bloc and the Conservatives are working to achieve common objectives, in a kind of coalition, in other words.
First, I would like to speak out against the opportunism exhibited by the Bloc Québécois, in submitting a motion to the House dealing with as important a subject as this. The spending power has been the subject of numerous political and constitutional discussions, particularly those leading up to the Meech Lake accord. The fiscal arrangements between the provinces and the federal government, which enable the Government of Canada to exercise its spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction, go back to the time of Confederation. At that time, the provinces received grants from the federal government to make up for the loss of certain taxing powers. Today, these arrangements allow us, among other things, to mould the economic and social environment of our country.
One well-known example of the federal spending power is very certainly the Canada Health and Social Transfer. There are also other institutions, like the Canada Foundation for Innovation, that allow for the federal spending power to be exercised in the provinces.
Some people consider the federal spending power to be interference by Ottawa in areas of provincial jurisdiction without first consulting the provinces, or without obtaining their consent. This situation has heightened some provinces’ desire for greater autonomy, particularly Quebec and Alberta.
The Bloc Québécois has leapt at the statement by the member for , a candidate for the Conservative leadership. But what is the member proposing? It is both simple and complex, and it would have serious consequences. He proposes to eliminate the federal spending power. He also talks about complete withdrawal by the federal government from funding of social programs such as health and education. We might guess that the member was in need of visibility and has found a goldmine in this proposal.
The candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, the member for , stated that federal health transfers must be eliminated because they violate the Constitution of Canada. He also said this is the opinion of the Conservative Party. Leaving aside the ambitions of the member for Beauce, we might wonder whether there is another motive for that statement. Yes, indeed there is another one. We are very well aware that the Government of Canada has to renegotiate the Canada Health and Social Transfer. That is the government’s real intention.
But can we trust the Conservative Party to negotiate that agreement? The answer is self-evident. Only the Liberal Party has proved to the Canadian public that it is worthy of their trust. It can be trusted to renegotiate the agreement before the expiry date, in 2014.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Marcel Proulx: Mr. Speaker, I think you should send some pages to the other side with buckets of water, because some members are choking. It might help them cool down.
Despite what members opposite may say, we, the Liberals, are committed to protecting a public and universal health care system. However, the current Conservative said that each province should raise its own revenue for health care and that we should replace the Canada health and social transfer with tax points.
As for the , she said in the House, barely two days ago, that the government respects the Canada Health Act and that this same government supports a public and universal health care system. I have my doubts about the statement made by the Minister of Health.
When it comes to transparency, the Conservatives' record is rather opaque. Their memory is failing them, and they easily resort to deceit. Just think of the outrageous G8 and G20 expenses, the patronage in infrastructure projects, the control exerted by the on the government and on public organizations, the Conservatives' will to build megaprisons and the fact that they want to spend billions of dollars on fighter jets with no competitive bidding process.
Such statements on the part of the government worry Canadians and lead to bizarre and unfortunate speculation.
If the supports the Canada Health Act, why does he let his members promote policies that run against his government's position? Perhaps he supports the position of the member for . But where does that member's vision come from?
I am going to read an excerpt of a statement made by the Conservative Prime Minister. It was published in the January 26, 2001 issue of the National Post. The Prime Minister said:
Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for health care—i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to ensure they have adequate revenues.
So it is nothing new that the Conservative government is thinking of slashing health funding. Why? To finance its tax cuts for large companies, tax cuts that, like its record deficit, Canada can ill afford. Federalism like that is sounding the death knell for our health care system and our social safety net.
This is another choice that is bad for Canadians. It is another in a series of poor decisions that the spendthrift Conservative government has made. This government continues to forge ahead with its out-of-control spending after plunging Canada into deficit even before the current recession began. It is simple. What does the government want? It wants to slash spending, cut taxes for large companies and set a record deficit.
The Liberal finance critic has stated that the Conservatives' wasteful and excessive spending have put Canada into a deficit position. Now the wants to slash health and education transfers at the same time as he provides large companies with tax breaks we cannot afford.
Perhaps the hon. member for is hiding his real intention, to create a private health care system and to remove the government's ability to enforce the Canada Health Act. How would that be done? By reducing all federal health and social transfers. That would mean $40 billion less in provincial budgets—yes, $40 billion.
The Bloc Québécois motion seeks to restrict the federal spending power in areas under provincial jurisdiction without the express consent of the provincial government. The motion also provides for an opting-out clause with full compensation and no strings attached.
We believe that the federal spending power is an extremely important tool with which the Government of Canada can exercise its responsibility to protect and strengthen Canada's solid and enduring political unity. That is the way in which Ottawa has made use of the federal spending power under Liberal governments. We have used this responsibility to establish Canada-wide programs like public health care, a program that we value and cherish.
The Liberal Party is committed to protecting the universality of public health care, investing in learning and in jobs and giving Canada back its international leadership role. It will come as no surprise that the Liberal Party is opposed to this motion. We will vote against it.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member for for sharing his time with me during this debate on the Bloc Québécois motion.
I find this motion rather curious in that it claims to deal with an urgent issue of vital importance to Quebec, according to the Bloc Québécois. The ideology behind it draws on ultra-conservative theories that even the reform government opposite refuses to tackle officially.
I will begin by looking at the timing of this motion. The member for , in a speech to the Albany Club in Toronto on Wednesday, October 13, pretended that the federal government intervenes in provincial jurisdictions, particularly in health and education, two areas where, in his inflated opinion, it has no constitutional legitimacy to do so.
This eloquent rant continues by stating that we should envisage a new way of conducting federal-provincial relations. The big bad wolf, as the member for calls the federal government, should not interfere in provincial matters and activities.
Clearly, it is a simplistic way of summarizing the highly complex task of governing a federation. Mr. Speaker, allow me to remind my colleagues, who seem to have forgotten, that we are still a country.
The most ironic aspect of this Bloc motion is its source. And yes, they were inspired by a Conservative member, a former minister, who now aspires to spread the true Conservative doctrine throughout the land.
Before delving into the arguments against this motion, which seem exceedingly clear to me, I would like to point out a glaring inconsistency in the Bloc Québécois motion.
Since when does that party, which claims to be the only “true” defender of Quebec interests, need a Conservative Reform MP to put on the radar what it now sees as a pressing issue? Is it its way of taking credit for an initiative someone else has been shopping around?
Let us now look at the arguments which, in my opinion, call into question the relevance—not to mention the urgency—of this issue.
At present, in Quebec, this is not even an issue. Quebec citizens have much more pressing concerns—such as the future of their pension plan, their health system and their jobs—than such very esoteric constitutional matters.
Furthermore, whether you are a nationalist or a federalist, today, as was the case 15 years ago, this is not an issue in which Quebeckers are engaged on a daily basis.
The issues central to the major debates on the future of Quebec that we have had over the past 25 years are language, culture, pride and other aspects of identity. I have never heard talk of the spending powers of the different levels of government outside of political circles.
The Bloc members will now rise together to proclaim loud and clear that this motion is vital because the current government does not respect the division of powers set out in the British North America Act.
I would like to digress a bit here to stress the subtlety of referring to that constitutional act, since I assume the Bloc Québécois would not be not referring to that act, given that Quebec refused to sign the Constitution in 1982. But, on second thought, I could be wrong.
The Bloc Québécois claims that the federal government should not help the provinces when it comes to heath and education, because those areas fall under provincial jurisdiction according to the Constitution.
Let us take a closer look at the ins and outs of the Constitution Act of 1982.
Here we have the Bloc saying that the federal government has violated the Constitution that the province refused to adhere to. On the other hand, it appears that it is somewhat opportune to refer to it while still refusing to admit the brilliance of its scope. When it works in the Bloc's favour, it likes it, but when it does not get enough out of it, it is a disgrace. This is looking more and more like a case of wanting one's cake and eating it too, or, as we say in Quebec, “avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre”.
At the heart of this debate on the division of government powers and responsibilities lies, I believe, the whole question of the very delicate balance we are trying to achieve in terms of governance within the federation. This balance is not only vital to making this country work, but it is also the primary reason we have been so successful over the past 143 years.
We in the Liberal Party are fully aware that our federation can always be improved, but its basic principles—including the federal responsibility of ensuring the greatest possible fairness for all Canadians—are not negotiable.
In that regard, the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Conservatives form the strongest coalition this House has ever seen. For both parties, the best form of governance for Canada would be a federal government stripped to bare bones, in which all real power would belong exclusively to the provinces.
The irony of this approach is that the current government is using its spending power excessively and has run up a huge operating deficit, showing complete disdain for the most basic democratic principles and profound distrust of all of the accountability mechanisms established by our parliamentary system.
This brings me back to the idea of balance. Balance is what we are severely lacking because the Conservative-Reform government refuses to be fiscally responsible, socially fair and the equitable partner the provinces need and expect. Balance is the crucial determinant of a solid and functional Federation. It is the only way to ensure that all players are equally represented, regardless of size, wealth or background.
Prior to 2006, federal governments of all political stripes tried, in their own way, to work harmoniously with the provinces. The objective was always to ensure equitable, fair transfers in the areas of health and education. Clearly this has not always been easy, nor have the provinces always obtained everything they asked for. However, the search for that balance was certainly a constant during those 143 years of congenial federalism.The prosperous and generous Canada of the 21st century is the brilliant result of the fragile but undeniable equilibrium our governments have always sought to achieve.
That said, in working out my pro-federative and resolutely federalist arguments, I am beginning to understand, though I can never subscribe to their reasoning, why my Bloc Québécois colleagues felt it was important to introduce the motion we are debating today. What they want is a federal government reduced to its simplest form. In the face of the Reform-Conservative government's dictatorial and simplistic approach, it is easy to conclude that it would be better to get rid of any possibility of exercising a power that ignores and holds in contempt the tradition of seeking balance that I was referring to just a moment ago.
Federal spending power is a critically important means by which the federal government can exercise its responsibility to make Canada a viable political unit and to strengthen it. This is certainly the way Ottawa has traditionally used its spending power under Liberal governments, such as when we introduced the old age security plan, the national health care act, employment insurance and many others.
Canada is not the European Union; Canada is a true federation with constitutional mechanisms and responsibilities that allow it to ensure a certain cohesion among all of its components. Our differences, be they linguistic, geographic or ethnocultural, are a source of wealth and innovation. They define our place in the world and allow us to be creative in the search for solutions. As someone who left Canada after a long stay here once said: “Canada is a solution in search of a problem!”
The Bloc Québécois has its raison d'être, and I know for a fact that I am not going to be the one to change its outlook. However, I am no more ready than they are to abdicate the vision I have had of Canada for 32 years, one which has inspired me to pursue the federalist adventure.
The federation we created in 1867 was extremely idealistic. I am convinced that there were not many observers at the time who would have bet on the odds of its success. And yet—
Can we forget that for six years in a row, Canada ranked first among the best countries in which to live? Can we forget that Canada originated the concept of the duty to protect, an obligation which is now the guiding philosophy of the United Nations? Can we forget the sacrifices made by all of our soldiers who fought for democracy?
I understand that the intention of the Bloc Québécois was to score a few symbolic points with a population that has many other concerns in mind. But is this really the type of motion that best represents the interests of Quebeckers?
As a proud Canadian and proud Quebecker, I really do not believe that to be the case.
I would like to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to rise today on this motion moved by the member for . I can see that the Bloc want to move this important issue for the future of both Quebec and Canada forward.
This government’s intransigence, just like that of its Liberal predecessor, only exacerbates a situation that has dragged on for far too long. This debate resurfaced mainly as a result of the massive cutbacks to social transfers that the Jean Chrétien Liberals made in the mid-1990s. The cutbacks had a major effect on our social services and our fellow citizens. They forced the provinces to reduce spending and slash programs. They hurt everyday people.
These cuts brought people to believe that their federal government was arrogant and was out of touch with their needs. In the years that followed, the provinces indicated that downloaded responsibilities the way that the federal government had done onto provinces was not fair. That then cascaded down to municipalities as well, and to communities.
In 2001, the Quebec government set up the Séguin Commission. The commission’s mandate was to examine the root causes of the fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal government. Despite this imbalance, the federal government did nothing. And we are left grappling with the issue today because the Conservative and previous governments have lacked the will to find a solution. And yet in 2006, the Conservative Party promised to limit the federal government’s spending power. Four years later, the Conservative government has failed to do a thing.
As the leader of the first truly pan-Canadian party to recognize the Quebec nation, I am outraged, just like the Bloc and many other Quebeckers, by the Conservative government’s failure to uphold its commitment to introduce legislation limiting federal spending in Quebec’s exclusive areas of jurisdiction. The problem is the Conservative government’s inability to work with others. The problem is the government’s inability to build consensus before making decisions. And the problem is its lack of leadership.
And that is why the NDP believes in the need for a synergistic system that respects all governments’ jurisdictional authority. That is what I told the Premier of Quebec. We believe that Canada can have co-operative, respectful, asymmetrical federalism. Those are the principles of the Sherbrooke declaration adopted in 2005 by members of the NDP. The declaration sets out not only a new relationship between the provinces and the federal government, but also a system of shared sovereignty that respects all governments’ areas of jurisdiction. The declaration provides a framework for all NDP discussions on bills involving provincial areas of jurisdiction. Our bill on child care services is a good example of this. The bill gives the Quebec government the right to opt out of this program with full compensation. Now those are realistic solutions.
But we just heard a very simplistic solution to the disagreements between the provinces and the federal government. Last week, the hon. member for proposed his solution for the federation. He proposed abolishing the federal spending power and suggested Ottawa should withdraw completely from the funding of social programs. He said the federal government should just wash its hands of all that. I am disappointed that for the sole purpose of scoring political points and trying to embarrass the Conservatives, the Bloc would lend a totally undeserved legitimacy to the options suggested by the hon. member for Beauce. We cannot believe the Bloc would endorse the irresponsible language of the hon. member for Beauce.
Although our parties have different approaches to Canada’s constitutional future, I thought I shared with the Bloc members a solid commitment to certain social values. It is deeply disturbing, therefore, to see the Bloc align itself with this right-wing ideology that wants to shrink the size of government. It is not very constructive to embarrass the Conservatives at the expense of the public interest.
I see as well that this motion applies the same recipe to Quebec and the provinces, thereby disregarding the House’s unanimous recognition of the specificity of the Quebec nation. It is very surprising to see the Bloc treat Quebec in actual fact the same as any other province. I can understand the desire to place some limits on the federal spending power in Quebec, but it astonishes me to see this extended to the other provinces, which do not want it. With the exception of the Bloc’s new companion-in-arms from Beauce, no one in Quebec wants any dismantling of the social safety net from which all our citizens benefit.
His kind of destructive approach leaves people simply fending for themselves. That is not the Canadian way. Our country was built with people coming together. Our country was built to improve the lives of every Canadian. These are the values that his proposal would take away from the government, and we do not accept it.
Our progress as a society should not be hampered by conflicts resulting from a poor understanding of the federal pact.
We know the government claims it is going to balance the budget by 2016. By then, three major transfers to the provinces will have had to be re-negotiated. The government has already announced that the negotiations are underway.
Once again, there is a danger that the federal government will make major cuts to our social transfers in order to balance the books. We know, though, that provincial expenses are rising faster than the inflation rate. We know the provinces do not have any wiggle room in their budgets. They will not be able to offset any shortfall.
The federal government will have to bring forward flexible agreements that reflect and respect the role and unique responsibilities of the provinces. That is how we can provide Canadians and Quebeckers with a federation that meets their expectations.
That is why I cannot support the motion brought forward by the Bloc Québécois, as currently written. That is why my colleague from Outremont will introduce an amendment.
Mr. Speaker, there are in fact a number of sometimes fundamental things that separate us in the House. They may be substantive differences relating to the economy or the constitutional future of the country. However, I have always thought that the Bloc Québécois shared a number of fundamental values with the majority of members of this House and the majority of Quebeckers and Canadians, a vision that is the opposite of the one put forward by the member for . On that libertarian vision of “every one for themself”, and the dismantling of the state advocated by the member for Beauce, I would have said even a few days ago that it was the antithesis of what a majority of the Bloc believes. So imagine our surprise to learn that the member for Beauce is the model the Bloc Québécois seeks to emulate, their new idol. It will now be him who dictates their social vision for the future of Quebec and the country.
The member for , who just spoke, changed course somewhat and cited the firearms registry as the worst crisis ever seen. Rather than evade the question, I am going to address it directly, because that is another example of the difference in approach between the Bloc and the NDP. In fact, it is a good illustration of what we are seeing today. The difference can be summed up as this: when the NDP sees that there is a fundamental difference, a gulf that separates urban and rural constituencies in our country, it looks for a solution. When the Bloc saw that same division in the country, it tried to profit from it politically. That is the difference between the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.
The Bloc members are so blind to the contradictions they live with, day in and day out, that they do not even realize that by following the example of the member for they are discrediting themselves in the eyes of all Quebeckers, who have always wanted a social safety net, precisely so that the most disadvantaged people, the people who needed it the most, could always count on a government that would be there to help them. Instead, they are proposing that it be dismantled. This is unprecedented. They are going to live with this for a long time, I guarantee it. That is why I am so proud that the leader of the party I represent in the House decided, once again, rather than trying to profit from a division, to stake everything on working constructively, as he always does. As he said, we have acknowledged the pressing need for cooperative, asymmetrical federalism for five years now. We recognize that in these matters, Quebec must have its own voice.
There are three fundamental weaknesses in the Bloc's motion. Their motion, like their approach to the firearms registry, focuses on one thing only: failure. The Bloc Québécois thrives on failure. Everything has to be a failure. If, today, we were to take tangible, constructive and positive action to limit the federal spending power, what would the Bloc complain about tomorrow? The tower of complaints, the immovable wall of the Bloc must remain. No one must ever remove a brick from the Bloc's wall. The Bloc must always be able to whine about everything at all times. So, it starts with something that it knows is completely unacceptable. How ironic. Only one province has been recognized as a nation. The distinctiveness of the Quebec nation was recognized unanimously. For once, we can do something tangible about it. But no, the Bloc moves that it should apply to all the provinces, even if they have never asked for it. The proposals by their inspirational follower, the member for Beauce, are unacceptable to us. The New Democratic Party, which is always in search of constructive solutions and ways to protect the social safety net of the people in this country, would like to move an amendment.
So I have the honour of moving the following motion, seconded by the leader of our party, the member for :
That the motion of the Bloc be amended by deleting all the words after “That, in the opinion of the House” and substituting the following: in order to honour the commitment to limit the federal spending power in Quebec's exclusive areas of jurisdiction, given the unanimous recognition by this House of the Quebec nation and the longstanding consensus in Quebec in this regard, the government should, so as to implement co-operative and assymetrical federalism:
(a) provide a systematic right to opt out, with full financial compensation and without condition, of all existing and future programs, whether co-funded or not, that intrude into the exclusive jurisdictions of Quebec;
(b) eliminate all federal spending in the exclusive jurisdictions of Quebec once a specific agreement has been reached by mutual consent with the government of Quebec;
(c) transfer, at the request of the Government of Quebec, equivalent fiscal room.
Now, there is a constructive and fruitful motion that people can get behind. That is why the Bloc will probably oppose it, but Canadians and Quebeckers will see once again that the NDP has done everything in its power to try to advance Quebec's interests.
Madam Speaker, I heard the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Outremont. Unfortunately, his amendment simply did not hold water, it did not make sense.
We presented this motion because a federation exists between equal people. We are not opposed to federations; it depends on how people are treated. Usually, federations are created by people who consider each other equals. It can be a group of friends, neighbours or merchants. It can be a group of people who are different but who, in all equality, have decided to pool together a number of things. That is the principle and the basic principle is that none of the members of a federation takes precedence over the others. That is the very basis of that political concept.
Let us go back to 1867. It was determined, in a number of territories, that certain governance powers should remain close to citizens. Those entities which are now called the provinces—Quebec was one them—decided to do in their own way everything that affected their citizens directly and closely. That is why the establishment of cities, for instance, has nothing to do with the federal government. It is entities from Quebec and the other provinces that decided to create their own municipal bylaws.
The provinces decided they would keep education and health under their responsibility, as well as social affairs, culture and language, particularly in Quebec, for business relations with entrepreneurs, individual investors and small and medium size businesses, because they felt they were in the best position to look after these matters. They also decided to share a number of things that did not directly affect people or the public, such as the army, defence and borders.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, of grocers. When I was very young, my father was an independent grocer. He was in control of his grocery store and no one could tell him what to do. At one point, we joined a co-op, a federation. It was called Les Épiceries Lasalle. Later on, it became Les épiceries Metro, and we pooled a number of things together. However, I can assure hon. members that no one, neither the Metro federation nor any Metro grocer could say anything to the owner of our family store. They had a say about things that were decided together, but certainly not as regards anything else.
As far as the federal government’s appropriation is concerned—and here is where we come back to our motion—I get the sense that the federal government finds it easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. It encroaches and then takes a wait-and-see approach: if people complain, we will tell them that they have nothing to complain about; and if they do not, we will move in on such and such an area of jurisdiction and present it as a fait accompli. There have been many examples of this.
Let me now turn back to the very nature of power. If one has certain powers, one's principles determine whether one keeps or shares them. Things get a little trickier when it comes to using these powers. Money, taxes and levies are required. Things get more nuanced, and discussions or even disputes ensue.
If the money is coming from elsewhere, not from our own pocketbooks, we may be less critical. When children get a Christmas present, it comes from Santa Claus, not from their family. When they are really young, it is the parents who control the purse strings and decide what is best for the child. You often hear children say that they would like this or that, but Santa Claus does not listen to them for their own good. That is all well and good when the child is young and does not have any money, but what happens when the child is a teenager? It is a little tougher, and among adults it is a different story altogether. Everyone here has had the experience of giving children gifts. What do you do when these children are older? You give them money or a check and tell them to use the money as they see fit.
So there is a certain level of maturity required when wielding these powers, which are a gift from someone else. When it is my money and my taxes, I am not going to have someone come along and tell me what to do with it. Nobody is going to tell me how to spend my money. And that is when big problems crop up. There is a difference between being given a house, a car or a cottage with a mortgage, and having a mortgage-free one. At some point, you will ask whether you can decide that you do not want it because you would rather manage the tax field or mortgage yourself.
In Quebec, every government—be it the Parti Québecois government of which I was a part, or the Liberal government the member for was in when he was in Laval—has repeatedly observed that this spending power was never given to the federal government to be used as it is currently being used.
The result is that the federal government loves to spend. It decides to do this or that because it thinks it is good for Quebeckers and Quebec families. Where does it get the cash? From the pockets of Quebeckers. That is where it gets its taxes. No more water can be squeezed out of a sponge than there is in it. At some point, poor Quebec taxpayers start wondering which government is theirs.
If a survey was done across Canada asking Canadians which government was theirs and who their Prime Minister was, they would instinctively say the Government of Canada. In Quebec, though, it would be the Government of Quebec, regardless of who the Premier was and the government in power. We identify much more with Quebec than with Canada.
The federal government invades our tax room. Tax room is a space where there is income from which the government can decide to take a portion. We would rather look for tax room among people earning more than $150,000 or $250,000. We said so last year in our pre-budget submissions.
If other provinces do not want that, it is okay, they can do things their way and use their tax room as they see fit. If the Canadian provinces want to give more powers to the federal government, they should do it and give the Government of Canada taxing authority. They may regret it though. In Quebec, that is not how things work. In Quebec, the fiscal imbalance led to the Government of Canada’s excessive use of too much tax room. We made the decision in Quebec to pay for social services, education, day care and health care. At some point, there is very little tax room left. It is all gone. When two governments are in the same tax room, we have what is called a fiscal imbalance. It does not come out of nowhere. It happens when governments cannot agree to come to terms on a certain tax room and use it well.
When a government takes advantage of tax room, it is because it is entitled to do something with the money it collects. When there is tax room, people give their government the ability to collect taxes and provide services. When one of the two parties does not merely offer but imposes services and says things will be done its way, and it wants to fund these things with money from our pockets, at some point, a huge problem arises. The fiscal imbalance in Canada was never resolved, regardless of what our Conservative friends might say. We are always aware of that in Quebec. I repeat: all Quebec premiers, whether from the PQ, the Liberals or even the old Union Nationale, have agreed that the fiscal imbalance problem has never been solved. Never. It is an illusion.
While we wait for a majority of Quebeckers to get behind the idea of having a government that uses the entire fiscal room and adopts its own measures in relation to health, social services, education, culture, languages and everything else, what are we doing in the Bloc Québécois? We are working, and for example, under the leadership of the member for , we have introduced Bill , which is up for consideration in the House. At the press conference I held with my colleague, I said it was a reasonable accommodation. It is our way to say yes, let us do that while we wait for Quebec to be a sovereign country. What do we say about that? We say that in Quebec, we should have the sovereign, inescapable right to take all of our powers, to prevent the federal government from allowing new spending, to get the federal government out of areas where it has no jurisdiction, and to stop this kind of behaviour. There is one other aspect that we must keep in mind and that is that money must come with those measures. What kind of money? We are not expecting a cheque, we are expecting fiscal room. If someone is delighting in the cheque they got from their parents, or cash as a gift, when they became a teenager or an adult, and then keep expecting such handouts the rest of their lives, at some point they will be waiting a long time. What does a person do? They say: “I am going to create my own fiscal room, I am going to be independent and I am going to create my own wealth.”
That is what Quebec wants. The federal spending power should be limited to what it originally was; it should withdraw from the entire room it has invaded since then; and the government of Quebec should get a transfer of tax points and be able to work with them, either by giving the money back to the taxpayers or by using it according to its own standards. We have seen that in the past. The Government of Canada took one or two points off the sales tax. At that time, and that was the same government we have now, the Government of Quebec used it by returning it to the taxpayers of Quebec. That was its decision. Did we agree? That is not the issue, here. It was the government that decided. Personally, I would have liked to use it differently, but we respect the authority and power of the Government of Quebec. It is the federal system that we have a problem with.
Just now, they were making fun of the Bloc Québécois’ new guru, but it has to be said that there are mirages in life. Sometimes, there are flashes of brilliance. Sometimes people see UFOs and are convinced they have seen them.
This is what the member for said:
Ending the federal spending power, eliminating the federal programs that violate the division of powers, and transferring tax points to the provinces would be the right thing to do from several perspectives.
That is what he said. The speech is on his website, and in it he also said:
Instead of sending money to the provinces, Ottawa would cut its taxes and let them use the fiscal room that has been vacated. Such a transfer of tax points to the provinces would allow them to fully assume their responsibilities, without federal control.
That is not a new guru. That is someone who saw a UFO, and who claims that that is the way it should be. That is what he might have thought, but it will not happen. The Government of Canada simply does not want to go that way. It is telling us that if are not happy, we either accept it, or we go away and become sovereign and independent.
Is it the same everywhere in Canada? No; some provinces are perhaps fine with the federal government having control over certain things. Good for them. We do not want that. That is where we differ. When there are conditional transfers, we refuse them. Who has power over whom? That is the question.
Is this a more sensitive issue in Quebec? Perhaps not. Is it different in Quebec? Yes; it is different because we are different. That must be accepted. We will remain in North America. We will continue to do business with Canadians and Americans. We will continue to trade. Canada has Quebec to thank for being so open to the world. However, a nation does not let someone else control its culture, its social development, its education or economic development. Is that simple enough? We cannot accept that Canada acknowledges we exist, but that it retains control over us. In Quebec, we say that we exist, so we will control our own affairs.
Madam Chair, it is a great pleasure to rise in the House today to discuss this important matter. I would like to thank my colleagues for having raised this issue.
It is interesting to see that today, the Bloc is attempting to support a theory that it opposes in practice. Every day, the Bloc rises in the House of Commons to advocate for a bigger role for and more spending by the federal government, a bigger role for the federal level, which means a bigger role for Quebeckers.
The Bloc wants the federal government to spend more, and consequently wants it to get more deeply involved in employment insurance, the arts, education, health, equalization payments, sports, and the list goes on. Every day, we see the Bloc rising in the House in order to ask for more money and more federal expenditures for all Canadians, including Quebeckers.
In fact, I cannot even think of one single occasion where the Bloc asked for a reduction in spending or the elimination of a federal program.
Given that record, it would be appropriate to change the name of their party and call it the Centralist Bloc. It is really one of the most centralist parties in the House of Commons. It is not difficult to understand why the Bloc is ready to work in a coalition with the Liberals, a party that is also a centralist party, and the New Democrats, the most hyper-centralist party in the House.
The three coalition parties support the infinite expansion of federal programs and expenditures. Thus, the Bloc motion we are studying today would forbid practically all of the demands made by the Bloc each and every day.
We Conservatives focus on real results rather than rhetorical and contradictory debates. Take the results we have already delivered for Quebeckers, such as a seat at UNESCO, the resolution of the fiscal imbalance, and the parliamentary recognition of the Quebec nation.
In addition, we are completing the implementation of our economic action plan. This plan worked extremely well. It has been recognized around in the world as having allowed us to avoid the worst repercussions of the global recession, which were much more serious in other countries.
Thanks to our plan and our Prime Minister's actions, we were able to avoid the worst consequences, which we saw in other countries. We have created almost 400,000 jobs since our economy started to rebound from recession-related losses.
We funded thousands of projects throughout Canada, including in Quebec. It is interesting and even encouraging that, despite having fought against these projects, the Bloc Québécois is now saying that they should be extended.
It is interesting to note that the projects our government funds in Quebec under our economic action plan would have been prohibited by the theory now being advocated by the Bloc Québécois. It is passing strange that the Bloc wants to forbid the very same projects that it now wants to see extended. I do not know how you can extend a project you wish to prohibit. These are the contradictions of the Bloc Québécois. They are inexplicable.
I will continue to talk about the concrete results our government is delivering for all Canadians.
I want to talk about the tax-free savings account, probably one of the most revolutionary tax changes in modern Canadian history, the most important change in tax savings since the introduction of the RRSPs.
As I understand it, the Bloc Québécois is not fond of the tax-free savings account, but we in the Conservative Party have introduced this vehicle for savings. How has it worked? Do members know how many Canadians have opened tax-free savings accounts? Five million Canadians have opened tax-free savings accounts and they have accumulated, in one year since those accounts have opened, $18 billion in savings.
All of the interest, dividends and capital gains on that $18 billion will all be tax free, meaning it will go back in the pockets of the hard-working and responsible Canadians who set it aside for their futures. They will have the ability to take that money out and use it to invest in a new home or to purchase a second residence. After they have done that, they will be allowed to put that money back in the account without any penalty and, when they put it back, they will be able to once again fill the room that they vacated when taking it out, and, of course, enjoy into perpetuity tax-free gains on their money.
I just finished describing the benefits to the savers of these accounts, but what about the benefits to the overall economy? When people put this money into their tax-free savings accounts, they are not just sliding it under their mattresses and waiting for it to collect dust. They are actually investing it in companies through mutual funds that invest in equities. Those companies are then able to hire more people with that money and to create more jobs, more wealth and more growth for our country.
Sometimes people will put it in savings accounts at banks. Those savings accounts are then used by the financial institutions to lend out that same money into the economy to a small business person or to someone else who needs it, so that they can go off and create economic opportunities and jobs. Therefore, the $18 billion are an investment into our Canadian economy and it is a tax-free benefit that will literally pay dividends for generations and generations to come.
We have also introduced reductions in taxation on job creators. When I say job creators, I mean the companies that go out and hire thousands of people in order to carry out the daily operations of their enterprises. We are lowering their tax rates from 22% to 15%, a one-third reduction, which will mean that Canada will be the lowest taxed place in the G7 to carry out business, and by business I am referring again to those job creators.
Because of those policies, we have created 400,000 jobs. As the House leader of our government often says, that is 400,000 phones that rang, and when a person picked it up the voice at the other end of the line said, “You have the job. You are hired”. That is probably the most joyous phone call an unemployed Canadian could get.
Our focus over here is on lowering taxes on job creators so that job creators can do what they do best. In other words, we believe the government should lay off the job creators so that job creators can create jobs, rather than having the government tax those job creators who then have to lay off employees. That is the approach of our government and we will continue to create jobs through our policy of lower taxes.
However, our tax reductions have not been limited to job creators. We have cut taxes for consumers by lowering the GST from 7% to 5%. We have lowered income taxes. We brought in tax credits for kids' sports, students' textbooks, tradesmen's tools, seniors and passengers' bus passes. All of these activities now have special tax credits that help people keep more money as they go about their daily lives.
We had a very successful home renovation tax credit, that created thousands of jobs in the renovation, roofing, carpentry and, frankly, the forestry sector. The Bloc Québécois voted against it and after voting against it, it claimed that it was its idea in the first place. In fact, all the opposition coalition parties voted against the home renovation tax credit at various times and later claimed that they had come up with the idea in the first place.
It is an interesting way to come up with an idea, by voting against it, but that is okay. We consider it encouragement. In fact, we are quite flattered when people who have opposed our ideas in the past want to adopt them as their own in the present.
We have done all of this with the view to help middle class, ordinary families to put dollars back into the pockets of normal, everyday working people. That is why we brought in a different approach to child care, which was a $1,200 per year child care allowance.
Now, the Bloc Québécois wants to introduce a bill in the House on spending power, a bill that would eliminate the Canada child tax benefit. The Bloc Québécois is saying that the federal government should no longer provide this benefit. The Bloc Québécois members are saying that this program encroaches on the jurisdiction of another level of government.
With this motion, the Bloc would eliminate this child tax benefit. The Quebec MPs who worked on implementing this program, including the member for Lévis and the two members for Beauce, have never mentioned Quebeckers calling their offices to complain about this benefit. Every Quebec family is in favour of the Canada child tax benefit. The same goes for my constituency. All my voters are in favour of this extremely popular program, which has given children a choice. The Bloc wants to take this choice away from children by introducing a motion that would deny the federal government its spending power in this area. I would like to know how many of their voters would be happy about the cancellation of this benefit, as the Bloc Québécois proposes.
We have a great opportunity to hear from one of the best MPs in the House, the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse. I would like to share my time with him and I hope he will continue to speak about this topic.
The Conservative Party will continue to meet Quebeckers' expectations and to respect every provincial jurisdiction, as it has always done. We are going to continue to meet the expectations of families, taxpayers and all Canadians.
Madam Speaker, in today’s Bloc Québécois opposition day debate on federal government spending power, there is nothing new.
We have been calling for limits on federal government spending since 1993. Successive Quebec governments, from the time of Robert Bourassa through to the era of Jean-Jacques Bertrand—not to mention every member of the Parti Québécois—have consistently called for limits to be set on the federal government’s power to spend.
In fact, allow me to quote a former Quebec premier. He said, “Quebec continues to believe that this power to spend in solely provincial areas of jurisdiction should quite simply not exist, and that the federal government just needs to let it go.”
And it was not a sovereignist who said that. Robert Bourassa, a federalist, made the statement in 1970. So this is nothing new. One certainly cannot label Mr. Bourassa a sovereignist, and yet I hear the Conservatives, Liberals and even occasionally the NDP saying that the Bloc only moved this motion in order to promote Quebec sovereignty. Of course we are sovereignists. However, this motion is simply about limiting the federal government’s spending power.
When the time comes to vote on Tuesday, I hope that members, and in particular members from Quebec, will realize that this request to limit federal government spending power has been made repeatedly by Quebec for many years.
It is also important to remind members of this House—particularly Quebec members on the government side and those in the Liberal party who, when power appears to be within reach, seem to once again favour highly centralist positions—that there is a strong consensus in Quebec that Ottawa must stop interfering in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own.
I would also like to mention something that I failed to indicate at the start of my speech: I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Now, back to the debate. As I said, all governments—from Jean Jacques Bertrand’s to Robert Bourassa’s, right through to Jean Charest’s, as well as all the sovereignist PQ governments—want control of all the tools they need to better meet the needs of Quebeckers; there is unanimous agreement that federal spending power must be limited.
Over the years, Ottawa has cheerfully gone about spending money in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own, areas that are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces. And yet, this spending power that Ottawa has appropriated for itself across all of these areas, which are supposed to be the exclusive purview of Quebec and the provinces, causes problems and raises numerous obstacles.
The result is that Canada dictates to Quebec much of what it should or should not do in all its fields of jurisdiction. That is the big problem. That is an issue because in Canada there is more than one nation. There is the Canadian nation and the Quebec nation, recognized here in the House, symbolically of course, not to forget the aboriginal nations.
Through the spending power, the Canadian nation imposes its views on the Quebec nation. Every time Ottawa creates a program or spends in a field of Quebec jurisdiction, it is Canada deciding how Quebec society will be organized and structured and how programs will be implemented in Quebec. In many cases, whether in regard to health, regional development or education, there is all kinds of duplication.
Sometimes we have debates here about big national mental health programs, but in Quebec, all the regions and local community service centres, as well as the provincial health and social services department, have their own programs. The result is duplication, which costs huge amounts of money, instead of investments in improving health. All kinds of money is wasted. Every time Ottawa sets conditions before making transfers to Quebec, it forces the Quebec government to implement Canadian priorities rather than Quebec priorities. That is the problem that always arises.
Here is a case in point. Parental leave is a major issue that the Bloc Québécois debated in the House for many years. Nearly 20 years ago, the Government of Quebec wanted to institute a suitable parental leave system. The problem was that Ottawa was already using its spending power to intercede through employment insurance. To create its program, Quebec therefore had to get the money already being used by Ottawa. At the time, Ottawa refused. In 1996, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of these parental leaves. Still Ottawa said no. We all remember the Liberal government of the time cutting social programs. Unfortunately, the Liberals apparently still embrace this centralizing approach because the signs are all that they will vote today against the Bloc motion, although I hope not. So the Liberals have learned nothing. The Conservatives made false promises, and the New Democrats have centralizing policies, a little like the Liberals, and are prepared to poke their noses into jurisdictions that are none of their business.
To come back to parental leave, five years later, the National Assembly unanimously passed the bill creating parental leave. As you will have guessed, Ottawa, true to form, again said no. We had to be patient, at that time, and wait five more years to see legal action by the Government of Quebec and the election of Paul Martin’s minority government, with the Bloc Québécois at its heels, for Quebec, after 23 years of hard-fought battle, to finally achieve its parental leave program. All of the members from Quebec who are present here can confirm this. That program is very popular and it is no accident that the number of births has been rising since it was implemented. This is one example, but let us not forget that there is not a single area under Quebec’s jurisdiction that has not been invaded by Ottawa.
The Conservative member made me laugh when he talked about family policy. He said that if we limited the federal spending power, we could say good-bye to the child tax benefit. We are only talking about transfers. That money, which is paid by Ottawa, would be better managed by Quebec in a family allowance program, for example. The Conservative members turn a deaf ear and act like hypocrites when they say they are in favour of limiting the federal spending power, as their leader said during the election campaign and in various speeches since then, with which the member from Beauce seems to agree. We see here that the Conservative government could take advantage of all the positions it has taken in recent years and vote in favour of the motion by the Bloc Québécois.
We are talking about areas under Quebec’s exclusive jurisdiction, family policy, health, education, or regional development. These are examples of mistakes made by the federal government. In 2008-2009, the federal government spent over $60 billion in areas that are within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. That figure is quite telling. It also shows that the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved. As the Séguin report said, the problem of the federal spending power is closely connected with the discussion of the fiscal imbalance.
In closing, I urge all members in the House to vote in favour of this motion, which Quebec has been calling for for many decades.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to be taking part in the debate on the motion moved by the member for . I am also honoured to support this motion. And because I believe it is important, I will mainly focus on demonstrating why the amendment proposed by the NDP is completely contrary to our motion, to Quebec's traditional position and to the promise made by the during the 2006 election campaign. The member for seems to have understood this promise.
I would like to reread the motion and explain it paragraph by paragraph.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, as long called for by the Bloc Québécois and now called for by the Member for Beauce, end the so-called federal spending power in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, eliminate the federal programs that violate the division of powers, and transfer tax points to the provinces...
This part is verbatim; it is exactly what the member for said. We give it our full endorsement. The fact is there is no constitutional basis for the pseudo-spending power that the federal has given itself. It is simply because of the fiscal imbalance that the federal government has been able to interfere—and it has been interfering for decades, since the end of the second world war, to be exact—in areas of jurisdiction that do not belong to it but that belong to Quebec and the provinces. This situation needs to be corrected.
Next, the motion details the way in which the Government of Quebec, the Quebec nation, the Bloc Québécois and the National Assembly are asking that the situation be corrected. The motion reads:
a) eliminating all federal spending in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, unless express authorization is given by Quebec or the province;
Here we have reversed the traditional modus operandi of Canadian federalism, which is a dead end in that regard. Instead of the provinces being the ones to ask the government not to interfere in their areas of jurisdiction, the federal government must ask permission if it wants to intrude into jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. If authorization is not given by Quebec or the province, it simply will not happen. It seems to me that unfortunately, the NDP leader did not fully understand this point. Regarding the Bloc Québécois motion, he said—and I am paraphrasing from the letter he sent to the hon. member for , the leader of the Bloc Québécois—that he did not understand why our motion, which applies the same formula to Quebec and the other provinces, disregards the fact that this House unanimously recognized the distinctive nature of the Quebec nation and is trying to impose Quebec's wishes on the rest of Canada.
That is completely false.
Quite clearly, we are reversing the traditional relationship between the federal government and Quebec and the provinces by putting the onus on the federal government. However, any provinces that want the federal government to continue interfering in their areas of jurisdiction are free to allow it to do so. Once again, if Quebec or another province says that it is out of the question, for example, that the federal government interfere in its jurisdiction over community based child care programs and family policy, since these are social matters, which the Canadian Constitution has delegated to the provinces, the answer would be no.
The next part says:
b) providing a systematic right to opt out with full financial compensation and without condition of all existing and future programs, whether co-funded or not, that intrude into jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.
Once again, no one is forcing the other provinces. We understand very well that since provinces are nothing more than administrative divisions within the same nation, the Canadian nation, this nation would choose the federal government as its central government. We have no problem with that. We recognize that. However, the central government of the Quebec nation is the Government of Quebec, and its legislative arm is the Quebec National Assembly. So if Quebec wants to opt out of a program that falls under its jurisdiction, it must not only have the right to opt out, but must also be adequately compensated, with no conditions. That is the infamous opting out clause.
The motion goes on to say:
c) transferring, at the request of Quebec or a province, fiscal room in the form of tax points and/or GST to replace the amounts that the province would otherwise have received under the Canada Health Transfer, federal programs in its areas of jurisdiction and the transfer for social programs and postsecondary education indexed to 1994-1995 levels.
Once again, no one is forcing the provinces to do anything, and what the NDP leader said is completely untrue. If the other provinces do not want to convert the cash transfers they currently receive from the federal government into fiscal room, that is up to them.
We belive that this would benefit us, because we would not have a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads when a federal government has difficulties. Right now, it has problems with the deficit, which is at record highs. Cuts are sure to come. The is hiding. It is clear that he must find a new strategy, such as eliminating corporate tax cuts, which was announced, but we have yet to see it happen. If the solution does not come from revenues, it will have to come from spending. It will be the same story as under the Liberals, when they plundered the employment insurance fund and cut transfers to the provinces or to individuals.
We prefer to have tax room that we can manage ourselves. We would no longer have to fear the kinds of unilateral decisions we have experienced in the past. I remember 1994-95 very well. We would prefer this financial autonomy. Let us recall that this was part of the plan to eliminate the fiscal imbalance that the Séguin Commission, the Government of Quebec, the National Assembly of Quebec, the Bloc Québécois and everyone in Quebec have been demanding for such a long time.
Let us recall that the plan has three components. First, transfers must be brought back to pre-1994-95 levels indexed to inflation. Members will recall how Paul Martin, the Minister of Finance in Chrétien's Liberal government, decided to solve his deficit problems by offloading them onto the provinces. Transfers must be restored to the levels they were at before the cuts.
Second, the tax room represented by those amounts, indexed at 1994-95 levels, must be transferred in tax points and GST points.
Third, in order to be sure that the fiscal imbalance does not reappear in a few years or decades, we need more than guidelines. We must eliminate the so-called federal spending power in areas under the jurisdiction of the provinces and of Quebec.
Our proposal is extremely reasonable. We are not forcing other provinces to withdraw from federal programs in areas under their jurisdiction. We are not forcing them to clear the tax room that is the equivalent of government cash transfers, if they want to remain dependent on the federal government. I understand that, because, for those provinces, the central State is Ottawa. But for Quebec, Quebec City is the State responsible for conducting the affairs of our nation. We have introduced a bill dealing with the elimination of the so-called federal spending power. That spending power has no constitutional basis, as the hon. member for rightly reminded us.
Federal intrusion into all areas of provincial jurisdiction in Canada came to $62 billion in 2008-09. That is a lot of money. That is a lot of intrusion into the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces and of Quebec. As I have just mentioned, there is consensus on that in Quebec.
I would have liked to have quoted Benoît Pelletier, a federalist. He wrote exactly what I have just said in Le Devoir on January 19, 2008. I provide the date so that hon. members can refer to it should they wish.
As for the proposal that the leader of the New Democratic Party made to us, he wanted to replace our motion in its entirety with:
...to honour the commitment to limit the federal spending power—although we wish to “eliminate” rather than “limit”—in Quebec's exclusive areas of jurisdiction, given the unanimous recognition by this House of the Quebec nation and the longstanding consensus in Quebec in this regard, the government should, in order to implement a co-operative and asymmetrical federalism:
If there is no constitutional basis for the federal spending power at present, then the situation is inconsistent with the Constitution. Therefore, there is no need to implement a co-operative or asymmetrical federalism; we need only respect the Constitution of 1867.
I will continue to read the motion proposed by the Leader of the New Democratic Party.
(a) provide a systematic right to opt out, with full financial compensation and without condition, of all existing and future programs, whether co-funded or not, that intrude into the exclusive jurisdictions of Quebec;
We agree and this is part (b) of our motion.
(b) eliminate all federal spending in an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec after entering into a specific agreement by mutual consent with the Government of Quebec;
What that means is that we will allow the federal government to interfere and if we do not have an agreement with the federal government, this interference will continue for all time. That is not what we are asking for.
(c) transfer, at the request of the Government of Quebec, equivalent fiscal room.
But equivalent to what? We do not know.
Our proposal is much clearer. As my colleague from said, this is quite simply a flimsy excuse to vote against our motion. Quebeckers will not accept that.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the opposition motion brought forward by the Bloc Québécois. The motion in essence seeks to restrict federal spending authority in areas of provincial jurisdiction and allow provinces to opt out of federally funded programs with full compensation and without conditions. This is not a new topic. It has been discussed in the House, at committees of the House and in reports from committees for many years.
We are a federated nation. We are a very fortunate nation. As a federated nation, I often think that the nature of our Confederation is both a blessing and a burden of being Canadian. It is never easy. I think of Winston Churchill's famous comment about democracy when he said that it was the worse system in the world except for all the rest. When we add Confederation to a democracy, it is the best system in the world, but in part it is messy. It is not always easy. We have become a nation that is the envy of the world in many areas.
Pre-Confederation, Canada was born of compromise. Canada was a group of bodies that came together. In 1867 Quebec, Ontario, the great and wonderful and at the time rich province of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick came together. It was a unique coming together and it has borne a lot of envy from people around the world.
I grew up in the United Kingdom. My father decided to come to Canada, and he chose it for a very specific reason. He believed in what Canada stood for. When he arrived here in the late 1960s, as a medical doctor, he became part of the new national experiment of medicare under Lester Pearson and the Liberal government.
There is a balance albeit a delicate balance. Canada has shown over and over again that it is more than the sum of its parts on things like health care, our national system of pensions, even things like employment insurance. There is a long and strong history of Canada making improvements through the federated model of coming to the table and making things work.
A big change to medicare came in 2004 when Prime Minister Paul Martin signed a deal with the provinces to put $46 billion into health care over 10 years, which was a huge investment. It took a lot of negotiation and consultation. Canada's priorities were determined. It was determined that we should improve upon five key areas. Money went into health care and all the provinces understood that. Hard questions will have to be asked as that comes up for renegotiation in 2014.
The member for suggested that $40 plus billion should be taken out of the federal transfers and that there should be no federal involvement in those transfers or in the work that those transfers do. It is consistent with what we have come to believe from the . A number of years ago he called for what is now referred to as the Alberta firewall. There is a history and a bit of an alliance between the governing Conservatives and the Bloc on this as to the role of Canada in part of those negotiations.
There are hard questions to be asked in health care. I will be the first to suggest that some of those questions will be a bit messy. We have to consider the changing demographics. We have to understand that Canadians are getting older. We have to understand that health care is gobbling up more and more of the public dollar. We have to figure out the role of the federal government.
The federal government has a big role to play. The federal government has not only the opportunity, but the responsibility to be involved in those discussions and to ensure that the priorities of the health care system reflect national issues and are adaptable to provincial interests. There is a model for that.
Back in 2004, when I was first elected to the House, the government, under the then minister of social development, developed a national child care plan with all of the provinces. That is an example of how government can work in our country.
I want to read from a press release from October 28, 2005, “Governments of Canada and Quebec Sign First Funding Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care”. The first paragraph reads:
Prime Minister Paul Martin and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, along with federal Social Development Minister... [the member for York Centre], Quebec's Minister of Families, Seniors and the Status of Women Carole Théberge, President of the Privy Council and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Lucienne Robillard, and Quebec's Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Benoît Pelletier, announced today an historic agreement concerning the transfer of $1.125 billion over five years under the federal government's Early Learning and Child Care Initiative. This is the first funding agreement the Government of Canada has signed under the Early Learning and Child Care Initiative.
It is an indication of how federalism can work and how the federal government can work with the provinces to make improvements in society.
My former colleague, the hon. Lucienne Robillard, said:
This agreement demonstrates the flexibility that characterizes a federation such as ours and allows us to conclude agreements that can adapt to the different situations, realities and needs of a province's population.
I want to quote from the minister from Quebec, Minister Pelletier:
This agreement, besides being of an asymmetrical nature, respects the exclusive skills of Quebec and the positions expressed in this matter. We have always believed that it was possible to agree on a formula that would recognize the work already carried out by Quebec and that would therefore allow us to benefit from [this] funding....
In a lot of ways, the province of Quebec has many things to teach the other provinces in Canada. Child care is an example, the $7-a-day child care program, which advocates in all the other provinces look to as a very strong model and one that works in developing young children. It has always been a bit of a bizarre notion to me that we think children start to learn at the age of six when they go to school. Children start to learn at the age of zero or perhaps even before that, before they are even born. We need to do more, and this model in Quebec is one we can follow.
Another area where Quebec is a leader is post-secondary education. The province has chosen to invest in post-secondary education. If we look at the cost of going to school in Quebec, whether it is undergraduate or graduate school, we see the tuitions are low. There is a cost to that. We all recognize that, but that is an investment that has been made by the province of Quebec.
We have other provinces that have also taken that lead on post-secondary education. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador now has tuitions for first-year arts and science that are in the range of $2,500, versus my province of Nova Scotia where it is more like $6,500. That is another area where Quebec has shown leadership.
Workforce training, maternity and paternity benefits, compassionate and sickness benefits for self-employed and new mothers are areas that are very important, and Quebec has been able to show its individuality. It has been able to invest in programs that it considers important, good investments. It certainly presents some budgetary challenges, but that is what being in government is about. That is the same rationale that this government has for making choices, except that it makes diametrically opposite choices, I would argue.
Quebec has had the opportunity, and Quebec has been respected and should be respected at the table whenever discussions of a federal nature are brought forward.
I want to reference one thing that has come up today, and that is the cuts that were made in federal transfers to the provinces in the 1990s. There is no question that there were cuts made to the provinces in the 1990s by the Liberal government, Jean Chrétien and the finance minister, Paul Martin. The party opposite now says those cuts were too deep. It was not saying that at the time.
People acknowledged that we faced an unbearable debt burden in the early 1990s when the Liberal government took power. Changes had to be made and I recall, with almost some degree of humour, that the former minister of human resources and skills development, Monte Solberg, used to stand in this House and say, “This is the government that cut transfers”, until I pointed out to him some of his words from back in the 1990s, when the government was trying to deal with the deficit, when the government was trying to deal with the enormous burden of having a $40-some billion deficit every year and a huge staggering debt.
This is the advice that Monte Solberg offered at the time:
We have a deficit of $40 billion. We have a debt approaching $535 billion. Soon international lenders are going to get fed up. They are going to say that they have had enough and want to find a place where their investment will be safe. ... I urge the government to come to grips with the seriousness of the situation, to take another look at its social program reform and to move ahead with serious cuts in the very near future for the sake of all Canadians.
That was the advice back then of members, some of whom are still in the government now, but specifically of one member who became the minister of human resources and skills development.
He said in October 1994, “...we gave the finance minister a list of $20 billion in proposed cuts for the government to use in its efforts to get the deficit and debt under control”.
I offer that to the parliamentary secretary. He should have a look at it.
Later he said, “...we are going to have to cut a lot deeper into our social programs. It means we cannot hold out any hope for tax relief for Canadians for a long time”.
Of course, we balanced the books and invested in social programs.
Madam Speaker, it is not a problem. You never make me nervous. I am entirely comfortable with you in the chair.
My colleague from said you cut me short, as the provinces were cut by the current federal government. I think that is a good point. Wise wisdom, as they say, from Cape Breton.
Madam Speaker, that was a bit of history, but I want to talk about another area and I hope my colleagues will indulge me.
This motion today speaks to all the provinces and not just the province of Quebec. In Atlantic Canada, where I come from, we love to complain about lots of different things, but we know that the federal government has a very positive role to play in the development of Atlantic Canada.
One of the very positive things that has happened in Atlantic Canada over the years is the development of ACOA. As people know, in Quebec there is the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. However, Atlantic Canada's I think was the first regional development agency, ACOA, in 1987. It was brought in by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and followed up by Liberal governments after that.
It made a big difference in Atlantic Canada, this understanding that there is a unique nature regionally. It may be specific to a region, but it is important to the overall building of a country like Canada, and ACOA was a very important step.
I recall back in the early 2000s, right on the cusp of this century, ACOA developed a program called the Atlantic innovation fund, which came about after the report “Catching Tomorrow's Wave”. People like Senator Willie Moore from the other place and the current member for , who is going to be retiring soon to the misfortune of this House, were involved in coming forward with this plan.
This plan recognized that in Atlantic Canada there were specific projects that needed government help. We do not have a lot of venture capital. We do not have a lot of commercialization. The Atlantic innovation fund came forward and has been very successful in helping to build companies. It is not propping up companies that cannot make it on their own, but it allows them to take something to the next level.
In fact, a number of those companies are in my own riding. One specifically is an organization called the Acadian Seaplants Limited, which harvests sea plants. Years ago people thought that Mr. Louis Deveau, who has been one of the great entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia in the last half century, was crazy. He talked about bringing in seaweed and value-adding it here in Nova Scotia and sending it to places. He has developed a market and I think now has more than 500 employees in three or four different parts of Atlantic Canada.
Organizations like Acadian Seaplants Limited probably could not exist, certainly could not employ the number of people they have, without the support of the federal government.
Ocean Nutrition, which some people will know about, developed a process for micro-encapsulating omega-3 fatty acids for use in foods to provide healthier foods. It also employs Canadians and develops and spurs innovation in our universities, labs and private enterprises. Those are the kinds of organizations that have benefited from the federal government.
So the federal government has a role to play, and we want to respect the jurisdiction of the federal government and the provinces on issues, for example, of poverty, housing, child care and post secondary education. We think there is a role, following the jurisdictional dictates of Canada, for the federal government to play in those things.
On poverty, for example, the Senate released a report just before Christmas called “In From the Margins”, which is a call upon the federal government to be involved in the fight against poverty. Members of the Bloc are in support; for example the member for has been a very strong supporter of that work. There are some issues around jurisdiction there, but we will work those out. This report will be tabled in the House of Commons sometime in the next couple of months. Since it is in draft form at this point in time, I will not read from it.
This government does have a way of using jurisdiction when it is to its advantage. The example I would use is the United Nations periodic review of 2009, which called upon the federal government to institute a national anti-poverty plan. The federal government chose to say it was not its jurisdiction. Yet if we look at some of the key pieces of social infrastructure, whether it is employment insurance, pensions and things like that, the federal government clearly does have a role to play.
There are six provinces and one territory, one of the provinces being Quebec, that have a national anti-poverty plan that they can be very proud of.
Child care we have talked about, but there is a need for a national housing strategy.
The member for has brought forward Bill . We debated it again last night. I know the Bloc supports that. We are trying to find a way that we can ensure we can all support that bill and be respective of the jurisdictions involved.
Another project that I know my colleague from is very keen on is the Canada summer jobs program, paid for by the federal government, an initiative of the late 1990s of the Liberal government that puts to work 37,000 or 38,000 students every year. At a point in time when there are more than 100,000 fewer student jobs than in 2008, we could double that program, possibly even triple it. That would be a possible way to go, to make a difference.
Employment insurance is a federal area, absolutely. We just had the grudging and, I would say, only partial extension of the pilot projects, like the best 14 weeks, like working while on claim, brought in by Lucienne Robillard back in 2004-2005. The government finally and grudgingly extended them, but has basically signalled the end of these, but if we look at the areas that are benefiting, we see this goes to help areas of high unemployment. It directs payments to people in areas of high unemployment. There are 21 areas, including Central Quebec, Chicoutimi, Jonquière, Gaspésie, Isle de la Madeleine, Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore, Northwestern Quebec and Trois-Rivières, so 6 of the 21 programs benefit specifically the province of Quebec.
I said earlier that this country was born out of compromise, not out of war, that the Fathers of Confederation chose ballots over bullets, and in doing so, laid the groundwork for a Canada that for many people is the envy of the world. Ours is not a perfect country; it is a work in progress, but our history is full of examples where Canadians came together and fashioned bonds of equality and common purpose. It is that desire to seek and work toward common purpose that I think enhances our sense of citizenship. I want a country that sees itself more than just as a collection of taxpayers.
Today we are hearing about tax points and transfers and debt and deficits. Those are not really the things that bind us together as a country. In some ways it prevents us from looking beyond ourselves. It creates division and prevents us from seeking the common purpose that allows us to tackle enormous challenges, like the demographic challenge facing Canada today.
Because of that I cannot vote for this motion today. I believe the provinces need to be respected. I believe their jurisdiction needs to be acknowledged. They need to be at the table, but the federal government needs to be at the table as well, a robust partner in building Canada and allowing us to work together to achieve the great potential of this country.