Bill C-507 (Historical)
Federal Spending Power Act
An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Josée Beaudin Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
- Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
February 9th, 2011 / 6:25 p.m.
The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
February 3rd, 2011 / 6:05 p.m.
Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my colleague from Hochelaga for his earlier remarks about this bill. He spoke with all the zeal and passion we have come to expect from him. Specifically, he spoke clearly about Bill C-507.
I have the pleasure of rising to conclude the debate at second reading of Bill C-507 regarding what has become known as the so-called federal spending power.
Contrary to what the members for other parties may have said over the course of the debate, the purpose of this bill is not theoretical debate, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister might think, nor is it an “esoteric constitutional matter,” as it was described by the member for Brossard—La Prairie during first reading.
First, I would like to remind those esteemed members that the termination of the so-called federal spending power is something that Quebec has been demanding for a long time. In fact, since the 1960s, no matter what their political party, all the successive Quebec governments have been disputing the so-called spending power that the federal government has given itself. The federal government gave itself this power in order to assume unlawful oversight in Quebec's affairs and impose its standards and conditions on Quebec. I am always extremely surprised to hear Conservative members from Quebec accept this fact. By exercising this so-called power, the federal government negates the social choices that Quebeckers have made, are making and will make. The reason this issue is important is that in Quebec we are concerned about our health care, education and other systems. And that is neither theoretical nor esoteric.
For instance, consider the example of research in Quebec universities. Federal funding in this area comes with strings attached, which means that the federal government can choose the areas of research it wants to promote. In budget 2008, for example, research grants were awarded on the condition that the research relate to business. Other examples are the Mental Health Commission of Canada or the cervical cancer vaccination program announced by the Conservative government in budget 2007, whereby the transfer of federal funds was conditional on respect for federal priorities without taking into account the priorities of Quebec and the provinces.
During the 2005 election campaign, they tried to seduce Quebec by promising to eliminate the fiscal imbalance, even though the federal government's exercise of the so-called spending power is an integral part of the fiscal imbalance.
A few months after the election, the Prime Minister even added: “I have said many times, even since the election of this new government, that I am opposed and our party is opposed to federal spending power in provincial jurisdictions. In my opinion, such spending power in the provinces' exclusive jurisdictions goes against the very spirit of federalism. Our government is clear that we do not intend to act in that way.”
Since that time, however, the Conservative government has definitely not “delivered the goods”. Indeed, in budget 2007, it instead quietly mentioned that it wanted to limit the supposed federal spending power instead of ending it altogether. After project seduction and the election campaign were over, we began to see the true colours of this government. By saying it wanted to limit a power that does not exist, the government was in fact acknowledging it.
Then, in budget 2008, the government said it wanted to introduce a bill that would impose limits on the so-called federal spending power in areas of Quebec and provincial jurisdiction. Obviously, we are getting further and further from the Conservatives' original promise. In fact, the Conservatives are simply following in the footsteps of all previous federal governments, regardless of their party colours: interfering in fields of Quebec and provincial jurisdiction to set national standards and determine what Quebec's priorities should be, instead of allowing Quebec to do so.
As for the NDP, in the first hour of debate, the member for Outremont used a false pretext to avoid saying he was in favour of the bill. The bill would set the record straight by limiting federal spending power to the federal government's own areas of jurisdiction. If the provinces want the federal government to interfere in their affairs, they can sign agreements. The member for Outremont said that he recognized the federal government's right to interfere in areas outside its own jurisdiction, and that he would legitimize the so-called spending power by amending our bill to say that this power exists, except for Quebec.
We cannot accept that. The rule must be clear: the federal government cannot spend money in areas outside its own jurisdiction, unless it is exceptionally asked by a province.
Lastly, all of the federalist parties refuse to recognize that the so-called federal spending power has no basis and that we must put an end to it and give some tax room to Quebec and the provinces to properly fulfill their responsibilities in accordance with their own priorities.
All of these federalist parties insist on legitimizing this so-called spending power to continue to deny Quebec's legitimate aspirations and choices. In fact, all—
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
February 3rd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the members speaking on this issue here today. Of course, no political system is considered perfect. Some would say that the current system is very generous towards the provinces, but in what way? It is generous towards the provinces with the provinces' money. It is generous with the power it gives itself with the money that the provinces or the taxpayers must pay to the provincial and federal governments.
The hon. member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière tried earlier to justify the federal government's stranglehold over provincial powers by citing urgency. He probably wrote his speech yesterday when it was extremely cold out. He gave a speech that I would describe as numb, as though from the cold. He had no idea where he was going with his totally gratuitous remarks.
In the current situation, one would have to be either small-minded or an idiot to say such things to Quebeckers. If he really believes them or if the Conservatives really believe them, we can only denounce such woeful ignorance.
Bill C-507 focuses on three principles. First, it seeks the explicit elimination of Ottawa's self-given right to spend in areas outside its jurisdiction, a right Ottawa claimed not by citing urgency and saying that it knows how to spend our money better than we do, but rather by believing that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. That is what the member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière was saying. Asking for permission would have taken too long. He is probably right, because we agree that having endless discussions on the Constitution and on the power to do this and that takes too long.
We only need to look at how the federal Minister of Finance behaves with the Quebec finance minister concerning tax harmonization. They have been arguing about it and discussing it for 19 years. He says that it does not seem to be taking too long and that the officials are going to continue discussing it. As long as they are in discussion, Quebec will not see any money. Time is money.
The second aspect of Bill C-507 has to do with Quebec's systematic right to opt out without conditions and with full compensation. In other words, having joined Confederation once upon a time, we could agree to put this or that into the pot, but if something has been forcibly taken from us then it must be given back.
The third aspect is that compensation has to come in the form of tax points and not a cheque. We know full well that sometimes a cheque can be withheld. We see that clearly with the Minister of Finance, who owes $5 billion to Quebec. He says he is not sending us the cheque. There were two court rulings, one in 2006 and another in 2008. The government did not go to the Supreme Court because it would have been denounced. It is not paying. Anyone in this House who had two court rulings ordering him to pay up would have his assets seized if he did not. In this case, the Queen is saying that we cannot seize crown assets. We are fed up with this type of discussion. We are not interested in getting cheques. We want tax points in order to determine a tax field that would belong to us.
This entire discussion is the basic principle behind our sovereignist or independence movement. We want to do things our own way. The members opposite can have their own country, the way they want it. I have no problem with that. If they want to give the automotive industry $10 billion, that is fine by me. If they want to give the oil industry billions of dollars, that is just great, but let them do it with their own money, not with mine or ours. We need the money for the forestry industry. That is spending power.
We have our own beliefs, principles and views. We want to build a country in a certain way. What is a country? It is tax principles. In other words, we do not like the tax havens that others encourage. We do not like fraudsters. On Tuesday, in the Standing Committee on Finance, we were told that Canada was promoting the use of tax havens. If that is what they want, that is fine, but we do not agree. Can we opt out and have our own tax policies?
There is also the social aspect. I met with the Minister of Finance yesterday. I told him that, for us, community housing and the fight against homelessness, for example, are very important. We shall see. For years they have said no, they do not agree. If they do not agree, that is fine, but what we are saying is that as long as we are part of this country, we want our money. The member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière was right in saying that our stated political goal is to get the heck out of here, to be somewhere else, at home, in Quebec. That is what we are doing today, what we did yesterday and what we will be doing tomorrow.
However, as long as the people say that they are willing to wait for a “yes” vote in a referendum, we will be here, because we were elected by people who asked us to be here. And the members need not be worried: we will get re-elected. We will get re-elected because we have different social and moral objectives.
We saw it with the gun registry. The vote was not close, not at all. It is not true that there was a two-vote difference. More than 75% of Quebec members voted to keep the gun registry and more than 60% of Canadian members voted against it. They might scrap it, but we do not agree and we will create our own.
There are fundamental differences. This bill is super-simple. It asks the government to stop encroaching on our jurisdictions, to stop acting like highway robbers who claim to know what we need. We have had enough constitutional negotiations. We have had enough fighting over the numbers. Is it $6 billion, $5 billion or $2 billion? What do you want? What do you not want? What do we want? What do we not want? Today it was about taxing diapers. Come on. They can tax them if they want to, but we do not want to.
In the meantime, we want our full powers. That is what this bill is about, and I will say that this bill is just a reasonable accommodation until we are able to pick up and leave, when we have the power to make Quebec our own country. That is why we are all here. That is why I am here and that is why we will be here until Quebec sovereignty is a reality.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
February 3rd, 2011 / 5:40 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to offer some commentary on Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power).
It is a very straightforward bill. It basically states:
...no payment shall be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund in respect of expenditures relating to any of the subjects listed in section 92 and subsection 92A(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867 that are under provincial jurisdiction.
That is unless the province gives the authority to do so. It basically says that the federal government should stay out of provincial jurisdictions and just give them the money and everything will be fine.
The bill requires the royal recommendation in the first place and, therefore, will not be coming to a vote. However, it does give members an opportunity to put on the record some of the thoughts that they have with regard to the importance of healthy federal-provincial relationships in Canada. There are split jurisdictions but there are some things we must work on together because there is no point in having 10 of something, or 12 if we include the territories, when it is possible to have it all come under one umbrella with a sharing of the cost. It is like economic efficiencies.
I will give an example of such an efficiency which might demonstrate why I feel that the bill is not appropriate. It has to do with the fact that Canada is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have a national public cord blood bank. I am sure most members of Parliament have read stories about how after a baby is born the blood can be removed from the cord and the placenta. It is about a cup of blood that is so enriched with stem cells and pluripotent cells that it can be of enormous benefit to the child that it belongs to should he or she develop health problems. This can be stored. Interestingly enough, though, that is a private system. There are private businesses. I know one of our colleagues is spending $100 a month to store the cord blood for his recently born child.
Other countries have found that, because of the costs involved, this is not a health service available to Canadians as a whole. However, having a public bank would allow people to store cord blood and then, through a registry system similar to the way we match blood types, commence matching for anything requiring compatibility to lessen the risk of rejection. This all has to do with stem cell research and therapy.
The fact that we are the only industrialized country that does not have one causes me to question why we would not do such a thing. We do have the Canadian Blood Services Agency which, in 2007, consulted with the provinces, research groups, transplant physicians and operators of public cord blood banks, and it concluded that Canada needed to establish a national public cord blood bank and that the time to begin was now. However, we have not done it and the reason we have not done it is because we are feuding about money.
I was at a breakfast this morning sponsored by the member for Etobicoke North who is very knowledgeable in this area. She told me that I needed to go to the breakfast because I needed to hear something. We are talking about $60 million to establish a national public cord blood bank. It would be of benefit to all Canadians and in fact would be linked into an international network. I have strayed too far away from the bill in terms of time so I will leave it at that.
This is a perfect example of federal and provincial co-operation. Even though health care delivery is a provincial responsibility, the bill says if we want to have a national bank, go ahead, but the provinces do not want it. The provinces want to be able to opt out and get compensation. With that kind of relationship between the provinces, the territories and the Government of Canada, good things do not and cannot happen.
That is a specific example of why the provinces want to have a national public cord blood bank, but they want to haggle over the cost, and that is why they are so far behind. They are probably about five years behind other countries around the world, because of haggling on the financial side. It is shameful. It is wrong and it should be changed. If I had my way, if I were the minister of finance, I would put $60 million in the budget to start a national public cord blood bank. That is the way it should be done because it is for the health and well-being of all Canadians.
We cannot vote on the bill because it requires a royal recommendation, but I have some other thoughts.
The federal-provincial fiscal arrangements in which the federal government exercises spending power in the areas of jurisdiction afforded to the provinces actually dates back to Confederation when the provinces were provided with grants from the federal government to compensate them for the loss of certain fiscal powers. Today these arrangements form an important and positive nexus in federal-provincial relations that help to shape the economic and social environment of the country. The most visible means by which the federal government exercises this power is through transfer payments, including the Canada health transfer and the Canada social transfer. However, various third party federal trust and federally funded institutions, including the Canadian Foundation for Innovation also act as vehicles for exercising federal spending powers in the provinces.
Some parties consider the manner of federal spending as a forcible encroachment by Ottawa on the provincial jurisdiction, which the bill does without consultations or consent. That has fuelled the desire for increased autonomy, especially in the case of the province of Quebec and, more recently, the province of Alberta. When things are good provincially, we fight for our province.
There comes a point at which there is no rational reason to argue it is me first before the country. That goes not only for provinces, it goes for our people. We are all better off when Canada is strong, when Canada is humming along. Unfortunately, the current government has had some difficulty managing a simple bank book. It did not understand that black was good and red was bad. We have too much red in the books, but if we get more red on the other side of the House, we will fix it and bring it back to the black.
The proposed change the Bloc is seeking in the bill is absent of any explicit authorization from the provincial government and is the main issue within the bill.
The Liberal Party opposes this motion for the same reasons that we opposed the Bloc opposition day motion on October 21, 2010. It was quite extensive, but again, incorporated the same elements of argument in this bill, and members may want to consult the Debates of October 21, 2010, to get more background and details as to the arguments made by the various parties.
Having said that, the bill is not votable. However, should it have been votable, the Liberals would vote against it and we oppose the principle of the bill.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
February 3rd, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.
Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and for Official Languages
First, I must say that only the Bloc could come up with a scenario like the one described in this bill. Our party will obviously be opposed. This bill would not benefit anyone in Quebec or in the rest of Canada. It proposes a system that cannot work, and the consequences of this bill would no doubt be terrible.
We have to wonder about the relevance of this initiative and about its real goal, which is purely political and partisan. I was very surprised that it was introduced, since the federal spending power is something on which we have taken concrete action.
In the spirit of our open federalism, our government has shown flexibility, particularly by restoring the fiscal balance, by focusing on its core jurisdictions and by avoiding interfering needlessly in the provinces' jurisdictions. Furthermore, when such expenditures were necessary, we sought and obtained the consent of the provinces. We avoided creating shared-cost programs in provincial areas of jurisdiction, and when we did so, we sought and obtained the consent of the province or territory.
Let us look at the example of Canada's economic action plan. I do not think I need to go into detail about the difficult situation that forced us to adopt this series of aggressive measures to help Canada make it through the worst economic crisis since the recession in the 1930s. But we worked together with the provinces for the benefit of Canadians. And now, with this bill, the Bloc is asking us to forever abandon this tool that successfully helped us through the crisis.
To that end, our government had to spend in areas of provincial responsibility, sometimes through shared-cost programs such as the $500 million recreational infrastructure Canada program or the $4 billion infrastructure stimulus fund. The provinces' approval of this approach reflected the belief that the response to the crisis had to be a shared response. Furthermore, the targeted, temporary and time-limited nature of the economic action plan reflected our government's desire to avoid long-term distortions of roles and responsibilities.
When the economic recession hit the world, we implemented one of the largest stimulus plans in the G7. Canada's economic action plan used every means at its disposal to stabilize the Canadian economy and get Canadians back to work.
Canada was able to respond to the crisis from a position of strength owing to the stability of its financial sector, the good financial health of businesses and households, the ongoing effect of broad-based tax reductions it had already instituted, as well as its strong fiscal position.
What was the outcome of this co-operation among the various levels of government? Canada is leading the global economic recovery.
Of all the G7 countries, Canada recorded the smallest decline in output during the recession. It is the only G7 country to have practically returned to pre-recession output levels. It is the only G7 country to have recorded, in March 2010, a year-over-year increase in employment. Since July 2009, our government has contributed to the creation of more than 420,000 jobs.
This exceptional performance has not gone unnoticed by other countries.
Canada's economic leadership stands out and has been recognized by international economic organizations and the press. In an article that appeared in the New York Times on January 31, 2010, economist Paul Krugman wrote that the United States must learn lessons from countries that have obviously made the right choices and that their northern neighbour is at the top of that list.
In this context, Quebec is benefiting from Canada's performance.
In his March 30, 2010 budget speech, Premier Jean Charest said:
The recovery plan we have implemented and the strategic investments we are making in our infrastructure, which total $9.1 billion for 2010-11, have enabled Quebec to distinguish itself and do better than any other economy in the world. With more than 3.9 million Quebeckers in the labour force, we are reaching new heights in our history.
At this time, we would like to point out the importance that Mr. Charest gives to the infrastructure program, which is both an essential component of the economic action plan and an excellent example of intergovernmental co-operation.
Although the economic recovery in Canada remains fragile, Canadians can be proud of how the federal, provincial and territorial governments have worked together to deal with the major issue of the country's economic vitality.
It goes without saying that the model proposed in this bill would have made the implementation of the action plan extremely complicated because of the delays the proposed amendments to the Financial Administration Act would have caused. Our government was able to quickly implement the economic action plan; however, the federal-provincial-territorial negotiations that would be necessary if this bill were passed would make such a quick and efficient response impossible. This is just one of the major flaws in this proposal.
There is also another disadvantage to this bill that does not really seem to pose a problem for the Bloc Québécois but that is certainly an issue for anyone who cares about the proper functioning of our federation: the role that the Government of Canada is called upon to play. The constraints imposed by Bill C-507 would make the federal government's leadership subject to the mercy of the provinces. The bill would deprive the Government of Canada of the latitude needed to react to changing circumstances both within the country and throughout the world. It would also undermine the Government of Canada's ability to strengthen the country in the interest of all Canadians.
I am sure everyone will agree that this bill would not improve the functioning of our federation in any way; the only party in the House that is not striving to achieve this objective is the very same party that is proposing that Bill C-507 be passed. This party's loyalties lie elsewhere and it is easy to see where.
By way of example, I would like to quote the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour who said in the September 11, 1997 issue of Le Droit, “We have to show that federalism is not advantageous for Quebec. Sometimes, it appeared to be working. Now, we will be able to take it apart at our leisure.”
The House resumed from November 2, 2010, consideration of the motion that Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Bill C-507 — Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
February 3rd, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on November 2, 2010, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power), standing in the name of the hon. member for Saint-Lambert.
I thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter. In raising his point of order, the parliamentary secretary set out two separate grounds on which he alleged that Bill C-507 infringes the financial initiative of the Crown. First, he claimed that the bill seeks to alter the terms and conditions of existing royal recommendations which authorize payments out of the consolidated revenue fund to provinces and municipalities for various purposes. This alteration would take two different forms. Where transfers are made conditional upon provinces meeting certain federal standards, these transfers would now be unconditional. Where the federal government provides funds to individuals, agencies or municipalities, these funds would now be transferred only to the provinces.
The parliamentary secretary maintained that this alteration in the way in which funds are transferred violates the terms of the existing royal recommendations on which those transfers depend.
The second cause for concern which the parliamentary secretary highlighted is the effect of the provisions of Bill C-507 on payments to provinces that choose to opt out of federal programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. These payments would be authorized whenever a province did not delegate its responsibility to the federal government in relation to a federal program in an area of provincial jurisdiction. He claimed that this would result in payments out of the consolidated revenue fund for purposes not currently authorized.
The Chair has examined carefully the provisions of Bill C-507 in light of the arguments presented. The nature of the royal recommendation requirement is explained in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 834.
A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered. Without a royal recommendation, a bill that either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown's financial initiative.
What is at issue in each case is whether the provisions of the bill introduce a new appropriation, increase an existing appropriation or entail changes to the objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications of the existing appropriations to enable these appropriations to be used for a new purpose.
Bill C-507 seeks to amend the Financial Administration Act by proposing new subsections 26.1(1) and (2) which would prevent the federal government from making payments in respect of expenditures in areas of provincial jurisdiction unless the province concerned delegates that power to it. Proposed new subsection 26.1(3) establishes a timeframe for that delegation. While it has been argued that the proposed new subsections 26.1(1), (2) and (3) would have the effect of altering the conditions under which the authorization to spend currently exists, the Chair is of a different view. These subsections in no way enable existing appropriations to be used for a new purpose. Instead, these new subsections would affect whether or not the moneys appropriated are actually spent. The appropriations themselves remain unchanged and such a consideration does not give rise to the need for a royal recommendation.
As for the second issue raised by the parliamentary secretary, the Chair refers honourable members to the proposed new subsection 26.1(4) which requires that payments be made to a province that does not provide a delegation under subsection 26.1(2). In the Chair’s view the effect of this provision would be to allow the transfer of funds without there being any conditions attached. In other words, those funds could be expended for purposes not limited to, or governed by, the conditions—or purposes—of the original appropriation. Obviously, this would be a relaxation of applicable conditions, to say the least, and would necessarily constitute an infringement of the financial initiative of the Crown as the appropriated funds could be used for purposes not approved by Parliament when it made the appropriation.
On this basis, it is my ruling that Bill C-507, in its current form, requires a royal recommendation. Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.
Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-507. However, I must say that this is beginning to seem a bit like déjà vu.
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. Moreover, the ideology behind it draws on ultraconservative theories that even the Reform government opposite refuses to tackle officially.
This issue was addressed by the Bloc on October 21 during its opposition day motion. May I remind the member for Saint-Lambert that her party's motion was defeated 42 yeas to 232 nays.
However, even with Bill C-507 on the order paper prior to the opposition day motion, the Bloc could not have envisioned a better time to bring this idea to the forefront of debate thanks to the member for Beauce. Remember that the member for Beauce in a speech to the Albany Club in Toronto on October 13 stated that the federal government intervenes in provincial jurisdictions and that, in his inflated opinion, it has no constitutional legitimacy to do so.
The member for Beauce’s 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 Beauce 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 the federation. I remind my colleagues who seem to have forgotten this, that we are still one country.
Before delving into the arguments against the motion, which seem exceedingly clear to me, I would like to point out the glaring inconsistencies in the Bloc Québécois’s bill.
Since when does that party which claims to be the only true defender of Quebec's interests want to promote a bill that would actually provide fewer services for the province while dismantling tried and tested programs? Does it really want less for Quebec?
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, this is not even an issue in Quebec. My fellow citizens of Quebec have much more pressing concerns, such as the future of their pension plan, their health care 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 central issues in 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 point out the subtlety of my referring to that constitutional legislation, 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 looking closer, perhaps I am mistaken.
The Bloc Québécois claims that the federal government should not help the provinces when it comes to health 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, 1982.
On the one hand the Bloc is saying that the federal government violates the Constitution the province refuses to adhere to, but on the other hand, wait. It now appears it is somewhat opportune to refer to it while that party is still refusing to admit the brilliance of its scope. When it works in their favour, the Bloc members like it and when they do not get enough out of it, it is a disgrace. It is looking more and more like a case of having 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 an equitable partner our 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 Bill C-507, which we are debating today. I can get a sense of their argument for 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 power being exercised by people who are so ignorant and contemptuous of the tradition of striving for balance to which I referred earlier.
Federal spending power is the 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 other initiatives.
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 our 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 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 our soldiers who have fought for democracy?
As a proud Canadian and a proud Quebecker, I really do not believe that to be the case.
Federal Spending Power Act
Private Members' Business
November 2nd, 2010 / 6 p.m.
Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is intriguing to hear the Prime Minister’s spokesman categorize the debate on limiting the federal spending power as theoretical given that it was his Prime Minister who promised to introduce legislation in the House to do just that.
As for his assessment that some, particularly in the Bloc, will continue to demand spending in areas where they do not want it, I think that any honest assessment of the bill and of the speeches made earlier by Bloc and NDP members—and I dare say by his own Prime Minister—shows that people are fully aware that this problem must be resolved. That is one of the challenges that needs to be addressed, instead of pouring oil on the fire as the Prime Minister’s spokesman did by oversimplifying things, which is neither in keeping with the standards of this House nor worthy of the individual who just spoke. He knows what he just said was not honest. I think that those of us who have spent their careers trying to build bridges between Quebec and the rest of Canada are extremely disappointed because it is his own Prime Minister who promised to introduce legislation.
Now, I must come back to an important point made by my colleague, the Bloc Québécois member for Saint-Lambert, in her speech. In response to my question, she said that her bill was optional for the other provinces. But the fact is that she failed to read her own bill. Clause 2 of Bill C-507 could not state more clearly that the legislation applies to all provinces. One simply has to read the summary of the bill:
This enactment amends the Financial Administration Act in order to end federal spending in an area of provincial jurisdiction in the absence of a delegation of power or responsibility in that area.
The bill applies therefore to all the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction.
Based on the response the member gave earlier, she would have had us believe that the bill applied solely to Quebec. And yet, the recent letter from the leader of the New Democratic Party to the leader of the Bloc concerning the Bloc’s motion could not have been clearer.
It is being said that the Conservatives are irresponsible because they failed to stand by their commitment to introduce legislation. And we agree. We do not agree, however, when the member for Saint-Lambert says that Quebec is the only province to be recognized as a nation. We do agree with the first part. But she wants Quebec to be treated just like the other provinces. The NDP does not agree with that. We want this recognition of the Quebec nation to be truly meaningful, and that is what the leader of the NDP sought to do in writing to his Bloc counterpart. It is why we kept all the provisions limiting the scope of our proposal, but made them specific to the provinces’ exclusive areas of jurisdiction; and yes, that includes Quebec.
We have no interest in playing games as the Bloc seems to want to do by introducing legislation it knows is doomed to failure because it will upset the provinces when they have asked for nothing of the sort. There is nothing optional about Bill C-507.
It is worthwhile to take a look at the NDP’s historical approach to this. At its founding convention 50 years ago, the NDP was the first Canada-wide political party to recognize the reality of the Quebec nation. That is a very important historical fact.
Then a broad consultation was held everywhere in Canada, called the Social Democratic Forum on the Future of Canada. This was a report by a group co-chaired by Nycole Turmel, long-time president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Dick Proctor, a former colleague of ours in this House from Saskatchewan. Charles Taylor and Bill Blaikie were also members of the forum. Of course, that was Charles Taylor of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission and Mr. Blaikie, who was once voted best member of the House.
The report led to a recommendation that we have asymmetrical federalism when it comes to Quebec, and co-operative federalism. Obviously, it is that last word that causes so many problems. It sticks in the craw of the Bloc members to think that something constructive could be done in Canada to improve things for Quebec.
That was implicit in her answer to my question: she wants to be able to keep saying, every time she talks about it, that Canada cannot be reformed.
That is what we are talking about. Canada is a work in constant progress. It is entirely perfectible, and one of the things we have done to make Canada better is to recognize the reality of the Quebec nation in this House. The NDP is now trying to give that a little more substance.
A series of positions that are quite clear were then adopted in the Quebec section. They are worth examining, in light of recent efforts by the NDP intended precisely to give some real meaning to that recognition of the Quebec nation. Five years ago, it was said that Quebec’s national character was based particularly, but not exclusively, on a majority French-speaking society that works in the common language in the public space. A bill was introduced in this House to extend the language guarantees in the Charter of the French Language of August 1977 to federal enterprises. That was in response to this first concern.
We raised something else, namely a specific culture that is unique in the Americas and that finds expression in a sense of identity and belonging to Quebec. I proposed a motion in the House following the Supreme Court’s decision invalidating Quebec's Bill 104, which opened an enormous hole in Bill 101 concerning access to English schools. We managed to get it adopted unanimously by the House. The House agreed unanimously that immigrants who choose Quebec must learn French first and foremost. That is important to the history of this country.
Finally, we also speak of Quebec’s specific history and institutions. The NDP courageously supported the Bloc motion to maintain Quebec’s political weight in the House of Commons. We did not see any contradiction between the need to increase the number of seats in provinces that required it, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, and the need to maintain Quebec’s percentage. We moved an amendment that the Bloc accepted, and there was a vote. Ultimately, it was defeated because the Liberals always vote against Quebec, whether in regard to the language of work, the specificity of its culture, access to French schooling, or its political weight. However, there is a progressive, federalist, Canada-wide party that can stand up in the House and say loud and clear that we should stop being half-hearted about our recognition of the Quebec nation. The time has come to really breathe some life into it.
Finally, because the fourth point deals with specific economic and political institutions, I would like to add in regard to the regulation of securities that, once again, when there were votes in the House—the Liberals are hiding now behind a reference to the Supreme Court—they voted against Quebec’s right to keep the regulation of securities within its jurisdiction.
Those are four examples. That was followed in the fall of 2006 by what is called the Sherbrooke declaration, which was approved at the first meeting I had the pleasure of attending for the NDP in September 2006. It was held in Quebec City. All of these principles favoured asymmetrical federalism and a federalism that worked through consent, consultation and negotiation. We wanted to eliminate the federal spending power from areas of exclusive Quebec jurisdiction. It is in keeping with this position, unanimously supported by the NDP, that we are trying today to repeat what the leader of the NDP recently offered the Bloc in regard to their motion.
If the Bloc is sincere, if it is serious, if the Bloc members are not just engaging in a positioning exercise, as they often do, if they want to have a chance to get this passed, they should agree to propose an amendment making it clear that they are speaking exclusively about Quebec and its exclusive areas of jurisdiction. The NDP will be there. That is totally in keeping with the positions adopted by our party pursuant to these very important consultations that found expression in the NDP’s Sherbrooke declaration.
We say in our document that we have to break the deadlock. That is what we are trying to do. Unfortunately, the Bloc prefers to keep us there.