moved that Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and the Canada Health Act be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to speak to my bill, Bill C-237, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and the Canada Health Act.
The bill addresses the root cause of the tensions and disputes between the federal government and the provinces, Quebec in particular, and that is spending power. The federal government has given itself the power to tell Quebec what to do in its own areas of jurisdiction, under the pretext that it is transferring money to the province.
Canada is supposed to be a federation. In a federation, the two levels of government are equally sovereign, but not in the same areas.
Section 91 of the Constitution confers powers on the federal Parliament and section 92 confers powers on Quebec and the Canadian provinces. Federal spending that encroaches on provincial jurisdiction calls into question the division of powers and Quebec's autonomy. That is what spending power is. It is the power to tell the other what to do in areas that fall under its exclusive jurisdiction. Respecting Quebec and its autonomy is not a partisan game in Quebec, and this is not new.
It was during the creation of the welfare state, as it was known, when the government started developing various social programs, that tensions arose.
During the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, Quebeckers clearly picked a side. They looked to the Government of Quebec to develop the social safety net, and they expected Quebec to be completely free to do that without having to take orders from Ottawa. Quebec Premier Jean Lesage's campaign slogan was “Maîtres chez nous”, masters of our own house, and that is what he was talking about. That is also what the great constitutional talks—Victoria in 1970, Meech Lake in 1987 and Charlottetown in 1992—were all about. In fact, that is what prompted me to get into politics.
When English Canada got itself a new Constitution without Quebec, I decided to make the leap. When I ran in 1984, I ran because I wanted us to be masters of our own house. It is for that same reason that I am now introducing Bill C‑237 38 years later.
The bill amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act in two ways.
On the one hand, it provides all interested provinces with the opportunity to opt out of a federal program that falls under the legislative authority of the provinces. In that case, the government can pay the province a transfer equivalent to the contribution that it would have received had it not withdrawn.
On the other hand, Bill C-237 adds that the government will only pay the contribution if the province has a program whose objectives are comparable to those of a federal program. This mechanism is quite similar to the one that exists in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, for example.
If a province has its own program and withdraws from the federal program, it receives the same transfer that it would have received had it not withdrawn. The transfer is unconditional and goes into the province's consolidated revenue fund, but only if it has a comparable program. It can be comparable, but it does not have to be the same. There is no requirement to respect standards or criteria or to allow interference in our affaires. We have a fair amount of control in this kind of relationship. That is not currently the case under this government or under previous governments.
Bill C-237 proposes a second amendment to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act that applies only to Quebec. This amendment would exempt Quebec from the application of criteria and conditions set out by Ottawa in the Canada Health Act.
The federal government has announced that it plans to set conditions applicable to long-term care facilities, or CHSLDs. It is talking about a series of so-called national strategies, which we understand to mean “dictated by the federal government”, in such areas as mental health, seniors' health, reproductive health, pharmacare and dental care.
The federal government does not develop any services and, in fact, it would not be able to do so. The federal government does not deliver any services either, as it knows nothing about them. It will just transfer the responsibility to the provinces so they will do the work in its place. It is going to hire them like subcontractors, and it is going to use its spending power to tell them what to do.
Fifty years ago, Pierre Elliott Trudeau said that “there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. Today, his son is saying that the state has its place in every room in the house, which is unacceptable to us. Our house is Quebec, and we do not want Canada deciding on the decor and furniture.
As I was saying, it is not a partisan issue in Quebec. I would like to quote Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs in Jean Charest's government, the same Jean Charest who is a Liberal in Quebec and a Conservative in Ottawa. It would be difficult to be any more transparent.
Benoît Pelletier said, “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.”
The Séguin commission on the fiscal imbalance said the same thing: “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.”
The current government of François Legault, which was elected on an autonomist platform, is still calling for jurisdictions to be respected. Between autonomist François Legault and Jean Lesage's “masters in our own house”, it is very clear that Quebec does not want the federal government to tell us what to do in areas over which we have exclusive jurisdiction.
This is not a constitutional matter. It is, quite simply, a jurisdictional matter. The federal government does not manage the health care system and knows nothing about it.
In March, the Bloc leader held a press conference to demand that the federal budget include an increase in health transfers, with no conditions attached. He was accompanied by the entire Quebec health care community: unions, physicians' federations, various health care professionals, everyone. These people, the backbone of the health care system, are all asking for the same thing, and that is a boost in transfers, with no conditions.
These people make the health care system function, together with the Quebec government. The last thing they need is the federal government coming in and telling them what to do. This consensus goes far beyond the political parties in Quebec; it includes the entire health care community. I would like to reiterate that all the provincial premiers are unanimously asking for the same thing. That consensus is reflected in Bill C-237.
A few weeks ago, the Speaker ruled that my bill requires a royal recommendation. In other words, the House can vote on it at third reading only if the government agrees. We still have second reading, committee and report stage, which gives us several months to convince this government, which, I remind members, is a minority government.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois wants Quebec to be a country, but in the meantime, we want to be masters in our own house to the extent possible.
The Conservative Party campaigned on a platform of respect for provincial jurisdiction. The NDP had its Sherbrooke declaration, which supported Quebec's right to opt out. Together, the three of us can move Bill C‑237 forward. Today, I am calling on these three parties to do just that.
My people built a unique society on our part of the continent. Our distinct nature is evident in our language and our culture, but it is much more than that. Quebec has the highest rate of female labour market participation, the most advanced family policy on the continent, the best wealth distribution and the lowest poverty rates. Almost 80% of the population belongs to the middle class, compared to under 75% in the rest of Canada. How did we make that happen? We did it because we were free to do it. That is all there is to it.
The federal government wants to use its spending power to replace our freedom with conditional freedom. It cannot recognize the existence of a nation while simultaneously wanting to control it. Everyone here rejects that brand of paternalism toward indigenous nations, whose right to self-government we recognize. I expect the same level of respect for my nation, the Quebec nation.
That is why I urge all members to support my Bill C‑237 so we can have a little more mastery over our own house.