House of Commons Hansard #271 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously reaffirmed the consensus to the effect that Quebec must have sole responsibility for policies pertaining to manpower and occupational training. To do so, the Government of Quebec must regain control over the management of employment and manpower services, with fair financial compensation and no strings attached.

Given that the National Assembly has instructed the Quebec government to undertake formal discussions with Ottawa to ensure the respect of this consensus, does the Minister of Human Resources Development intend to fall into step and discuss with his Quebec counterpart the unconditional transfer of responsibilities

for providing services and setting standards in the area of manpower, along with the related funds and fiscal resources?

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the Quebec government accepted the amendment proposed by the opposition Liberals recommending that the Quebec government sit down and undertake a serious negotiation. That is a very good step which I think demonstrates there can be some openness in terms of pursuing these very important matters of how we can redefine the roles and responsibilities. I certainly will be approaching those discussions with a very open mind about the kinds of interests and the ways in which we can deal with the problem.

We have been in contact with Madam Harel's office. We hope to be able to organize the meetings as soon as possible and as soon as we can fully look at all the respective programs that are being considered in light of the statement and conditions set forward last week by the Prime Minister.

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the National Assembly's resolution clearly reaffirmed the consensus reached in Quebec that manpower issues should unconditionally come under the jurisdiction of the Quebec government, as prescribed by the Constitution.

Are we to understand from the minister's answer that he is prepared to conduct discussions with the Quebec government about Ottawa's withdrawing, unconditionally and without federal standards, from the area of manpower and transferring related resources to Quebec, as requested in the resolution passed unanimously by the Quebec government and the Liberal opposition? Everyone agrees in Quebec. Does the minister really intend to do so?

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, it was already made very clear in the Prime Minister's statement of well over a week ago that the federal government will withdraw from the area of manpower and training. We have made that very explicit. We have also followed that up with the legislation which was tabled on Friday. It will oblige the federal government to work in concert with the provinces in detailing those kinds of relationships. We made it very clear that there would be no training voucher of any kind without the consent of the provinces. We will be sitting down with the provinces to work out a clear harmonization of programs where it is required. It can develop beyond that.

What is important-and this is what the hon. member should applaud-is that for the first time since the Quebec government was elected well over a year ago there has been a major change in its position. It is now willing to sit down under the present Constitution to talk about how we can establish a partnership to help people get back to work.

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am convinced that not only the minister, but all those watching these proceedings and all members of this House understand our concern. The Government of Quebec was taken for a ride so often by the people opposite that we have become extra careful. We want to know if this is going to take place under optimal conditions.

I would like the minister to be unequivocal. Will he agree, as suggested by the Quebec government at the request of the Quebec National Assembly, Liberals included, to discuss with the Quebec employment minister the possibility of repatriating to Quebec responsibilities pertaining to manpower without letting the threat of national standards hang over our heads as he has in the past? Is he prepared to make a commitment to achieve results along the lines of the consensus expressed by the Quebec National Assembly? I think that the question is clear enough to deserve a clear answer.

Manpower Training
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I gave a very clear answer to the previous question. We have already stated clearly in the House and we have entrenched it in the proposed legislation, which I hope the hon. member will vote for as he is so interested, that we recognize and accept the full jurisdictional competence of the provinces in the area of training. There is nothing ambiguous about that. It is perfectly clear.

Now we have to sit down to work out the basic rules so that we can apply all the programs. We have to ensure that the clients of our insurance program who paid premiums to get benefits will be assured of receiving those benefits. It is as simple as that.

Unemployment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. Since Friday, the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Labour have been repeating the refrain that the federal government will not use the unemployment insurance fund surplus to reduce its deficit, but will instead put it into a separate reserve fund. Need I remind the Minister of Finance that, in his 1995 budget, pages 89

and 94, he took those surpluses into account in calculating the revenues and expenditures of the federal government?

Are we to conclude from the statements by the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Labour that the Minister of Finance has decided to set up an unemployment insurance reserve fund and to give up on his plan to apply UI surpluses to the federal government's revenues and expenditures?

Unemployment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the hon. member by simply repeating what we said yesterday.

During the course of our extensive public discussions we received a number of recommendations, including recommendations from the trade union movement in Quebec, that we establish a reserve fund to stabilize premiums. In that way we could prevent the kind of drastic economic downturn which occurred in the early nineties when, because there had been no reserves set aside, the recession was worsened by the previous government's necessity to substantially jack up premiums.

That was recommended by the trade unions in Quebec. It was recommended by business groups and by the general public. It is good, prudent economics to set aside a reserve fund so we will not have the additional costs faced in 1992 which would make a downturn worse than it would be otherwise.

Unemployment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, this was an important question concerning the Minister of Finance's budget, yet it is the Minister of Human Resources Development answering-everything is topsy-turvy. I shall repeat the question.

It is clearly set out in his budget, as in the federal government's financial report, that the annual activities of the unemployment insurance program have a direct impact on the deficit and the net indebtedness of the federal government.

Under these circumstances, is it or is it not true that the federal government intends to set up a reserve fund. If so, will the Minister of Finance admit that his deficit forecasts based on using the UI surplus will be struck a fatal blow by the creation of this reserve fund?

Unemployment Insurance
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, just let me answer the member directly as to how it does affect the deficit not just of the government but of the people of Canada.

Because of the failure of the previous government to set up a reserve fund in order to stabilize premiums, the interest charged against the UI account between 1992 and 1993 amounted to $1 billion which had to be paid by workers against the premiums. That is what members of the Bloc Quebecois are now recommending, that we put additional burdens on workers because they will not support the establishment of a reserve fund.

Federal-Provincial Relations
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to some provinces, the government's attitude is now we see them and now we don't.

The federal government has been utterly indifferent to B.C.'s concerns on aboriginal issues and the mismanagement of the salmon fishery, and the Prime Minister's constitutional veto scheme ignores British Columbia completely. About the only time the government recognizes B.C. or Alberta is when it comes time to extract money. These western provinces are becoming increasingly alienated from Ottawa. That alienation will deepen when the human resources minister withholds $47 million from B.C. for introducing residency requirements for welfare.

What does the human resources minister really expect to accomplish by fining British Columbia for attempting to manage its welfare rolls more effectively?

Federal-Provincial Relations
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, that is a very surprising question coming from the leader of the third party whose members stand up every day and demand that we ensure that individuals live up to the law.

The British Columbia government has broken the law. If I understand the leader of the third party, he is saying that it is okay for the provinces to break the law but it is not okay for individuals. We believe the law applies to everybody whether they are a provincial government or an individual.

Federal-Provincial Relations
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the law is not the issue. If the provinces could fine the federal government for every commitment it has broken, they could pay off their deficits.

The real issue here is the government's Neanderthal approach to federal-provincial relations. The government talks about ushering in a new era of flexible federalism. The reality is that a bankrupt federal government is attempting to use fines and threats to control provincial areas of jurisdiction.

The human resources minister attaches strings to manpower training funding and imposes fines on British Columbia. The Minister of Health does exactly the same things to Alberta.

Is this really the government's vision of federalism, federalism with strings attached, red tape federalism, federalism by threats, federalism by fines?

Federal-Provincial Relations
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Human Resources Development and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid that the hon. leader of the third party is looking in a mirror. That is his version of federalism. I will tell you what we see. We see a federalism which allows and enables Canadians to move freely throughout this country to search for work and to exercise the right of mobility.

It is very interesting that in its proposal the Reform Party says there should be a free movement of goods and a free movement of services, but apparently in the lexicon of the Reform Party there can be no free movement of people. The real problem is to defend the right of Canadians to move freely about this country.

Federal-Provincial Relations
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government imposes fines on British Columbia and Alberta to impose its outmoded view of federalism. It dismisses fundamental objections to its ill-conceived Quebec package from western provinces out of hand.

All of this undermines rather than strengthens national unity. In its misguided attempt to appease Quebec separatists, in its ham-fisted approach to retaining federal control in areas of provincial jurisdiction, the government runs the risk of pushing provinces like British Columbia and Alberta out the back door.

Does the Minister of Human Resources Development realize that his steadfast resistance to real decentralization is as great a threat to the national unity of the country as the efforts of Quebec separatists?