Mr. Speaker, Quebec is a distinct society. Even staunch federalist Robert Bourassa said so and championed the cause with other Canadians.
Among other things, “distinct society” means that most of us speak French. It is the only official language of Quebec. Our culture is different. We are no better, we are no worse; we are different.
We are also different economically. Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our province. The vitality of Quebec is built on the dynamism of Quebec business owners, who, by dint of their efforts and their toil, have been able to create businesses that were small to begin with, certainly, but that have become medium-sized, or even huge in some cases.
The pandemic is a threat to Quebec's industrial fabric, to that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. On the brink of bankruptcy because of the pandemic, some SMEs will disappear. Other places in Canada may say the same thing, and I acknowledge that. However, in Quebec, SMEs are even more important given the difference in our industrial fabric.
These businesses are threatened not only by bankruptcy, of course, but also by the risk that they may be bought by foreigners. If that happens, all the effort and creativity will slip out of the hands of Quebeckers, and medium- and long-term decisions will be made in other countries. This threat may mean that businesses grappling with the temporary COVID-19 situation could suffer permanent harm. We must therefore be on our guard and make sure that this does not happen.
The Bloc Québécois's only objective is to look out for the interests of Quebeckers. That is why, on April 20 and 29, during debates on motions adopted in the House, with a government that was open to our input, we submitted proposals to protect entrepreneurship from the pandemic, where we knew we were vulnerable.
On April 20, when we brought up the idea of collaborating on the Canada emergency wage subsidy project, we knew that some businesses were quite vulnerable, as they had to cover their fixed costs despite not getting revenue. This could be a fatal situation for them. That is why we had asked the government to add additional assistance to the April 20 agreement to help with fixed costs.
We had a $73-billion wage subsidy proposal before us. We managed to convince the government to include in its motion a partial subsidy for businesses' fixed costs, an important measure that would prevent our future economic stars from going bankrupt. That is what we were proposing.
What did we get in return?
What we got was a program that offered almost no solutions for businesses. This program was too timid, too lightweight, and even inaccessible in some cases. Most businesses told us that this program was not good for them and they needed something else.
That is why we have been hounding the government and telling it to improve what was proposed in the motion. We reminded the government that it had made a commitment and that it had given us its word. We said that we needed to help businesses, because the situation is critical.
However, nothing has been done since then. It is radio silence. When the government tabled its motion 11 days ago, the Bloc immediately said that, to protect businesses, the support to help cover fixed costs had to be improved and increased.
Yesterday, the government House leader said that the government had taken a first step—a small step, if that. If that small step stops there, it is not enough, when in fact we were proposing continued assistance for these businesses. That is then a broken promise.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Jean. Sorry about that. I am sure you will forgive me. You are so incredibly nice. You are the person I should be negotiating with in the future.
The second important point is that some businesses want to hire people and some municipalities need to hire people. Economic recovery seems to be on its way. We can see better days ahead. In order for businesses to find employees and for people to want to get back to work, we need to help them. We need to encourage people to work. We need to tell them to start working again and to contribute to the production effort. The economy in Quebec and in the rest of Canada will be better off for it.
On April 29, the government created the CESB, and we commended it for that because it is true that some students will not be able to find a job and they will need financial security to be able to continue their studies. We applauded that measure. When we analyzed the government's proposal, we found it contained a flaw that meant that students might be less inclined to work.
Do I think they are lazy? No, it is not laziness. However, as structured and written, the program ensures that students earn the same whether they work two days or or seven days a week. Even a trained monkey understands that, if its salary stays the same whether it works two days or seven, it should work two days. That is pretty clear, but it seems that the government has not understood, which is why we have asked the government to commit to encouraging students to work by ensuring that, in all circumstances, students' salaries would increase if they work more. Our support was conditional on that.
It is a fundamental rule of economics: the more you work, the more you earn. You do not have to put on a puppet show or draw a picture to understand this. The government told us that it was a good idea. The Deputy Prime Minister told the House that it was a good idea and that the government would work on it. Three weeks later, nothing; it has made no progress. It is worse than the fixed costs, where the Liberals took a single step and called it a day. In the case of the CESB, they have taken no steps at all.
We have a government that is not respecting its commitments. That is why we decided to sit that one out when a new round of negotiations started. We cannot negotiate with a government that promises us things it does not do. We have had a part in this bad movie before, and we are no longer interested.
We even gave them a chance. We were really very nice about it. We told the government to keep the two promises they had made. We gave them eight days, but they made no effort. They were supposed to take more action on fixed costs to build on their very tentative first steps, and then do what they promised to do.
We waited, but in the end they said no and and told us how things were going to work. That is why, today, we are saying how things are going work for us in the Bloc. We cannot work or negotiate with people who have little regard for their word.
We have our word and we have very clear ideas. What is good for Quebec is good for the Bloc Québécois. What is good for the nation of Quebec is good for the people of Quebec. We have to help small and medium-sized businesses survive the pandemic, those budding businesses that will eventually grow into Bombardiers. They must be given a chance to survive, and that is what we have been doing from the start. We are working hard on this and we will not give up. Our platform is clear and simple: what is good for Quebec is good for us.