Debates of Sept. 24th, 1997
House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.
- Monitor Jet Trainer Aircraft
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- Questions On The Order Paper
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Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
Motions For Papers
September 24th, 1997 / 3:10 p.m.
Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.
Motions For Papers
Is that agreed?
Motions For Papers
Some hon. members
The House resumed from September 23 consideration of the motion for an address to His Excellency the Governor General in reply to his speech at the opening of the session.
Speech From The Throne
Preston Manning Leader of the Opposition
Mr. Speaker, I rise to open debate on the Speech from the Throne. I wish to begin with some sincere congratulations. First I congratulate you on your re-election to the Chair. I extend best wishes to you on behalf of the members of the official opposition. We wish you patience and wisdom in your deliberations in guiding our deliberations and express the hope that the spirit of democracy expressed on the first day you were elected will continue throughout this Parliament. Congratulations to you, Sir, on behalf of all of us.
Speech From The Throne
Some hon. members
We would like to congratulate the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, and his colleagues on their election.
While we disagree profoundly with the policies of the Bloc, we respect the democratic process that permitted the election of Bloc members to this House. We will continue to try to convince them and their electors that real reform of the federation is possible and preferable to separation from it.
To the hon. member for Halifax and our NDP colleagues we extend congratulations as well. I also ask the leader of the NDP to convey our best wishes to her predecessor, Ms. Audrey McLaughlin. So often members leave the Chamber of their own accord after serving their time with little acknowledgement or recognition. I ask members to simply join in applauding Ms. McLaughlin for her hard work, her compassion and her contribution to Canada.
Speech From The Throne
Some hon. members
Speech From The Throne
Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB
I congratulate the leader of the Conservative Party and his colleagues. We exchanged some harsh words during the course of the election campaign. It is perhaps time to bury the hatchet. I will not try to bury it in his head if he will not try to bury it in mine.
I congratulate the Right Hon. Prime Minister. He has had a long career in politics. We were attempting to terminate it a little earlier but we were not quite successful. It is a remarkable achievement to lead a government into a second term. That is no insignificant accomplishment and we want to congratulate him.
Jason Moscovitz on the night of the election said that the member for Sherbrooke won the leaders debate, that Reform won the campaign but that the Prime Minister won the election. We would have preferred his victory to ours.
I would also like to congratulate the prime minister and his gracious wife Aline on their 40th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. Forty years is a long time and we take inspiration from the fortitude of Madam Chrétien. If she can put up with the prime minister for 40 years I guess we can put up with him for another four.
To all hon. members I would like to extend congratulations on elections and re-elections. I want to pay a welcome and special tribute to our 60 Reform MPs. We have 40 members who are returning and we have 20 new members, including some of the youngest members in the House of Commons, three under 30 years of age. I would like to say to all the younger MPs and to the new MPs that we wish to encourage them. I think they can bring invigoration and a fresh spirit to this institution which sometimes shows signs of age. I would encourage all members to encourage these new members and to give them the respect they deserve. They do represent really the vanguard of the future and we welcome them to this House.
Last of all but not least I want to acknowledge and thank the people of Calgary Southwest. As I have frequently said to them, this seat in my judgment does not belong to me. It does not belong to my party. It is their seat. I consider it an honour to sit in it, occupy it on their behalf and to represent their views.
Turning to more important business, on June 2 over 12 million Canadians participated in the federal election. When the ballots were counted the seats were allocated, whether we like it or not, the way we see them in the House. It seems to me at the outset it would be important to ask ourselves precisely what did Canadians do on June 2 and what message were they endeavouring to send by what they did.
I suggest they were saying four things. First, they reduced the representation of the both the government party and the official opposition of the last Parliament; fewer seats for the Liberals and fewer seats for the Bloc. There is a message in that of dissatisfaction. It was not enough dissatisfaction to upset the government but it was dissatisfaction that the government needs to heed.
Second, the public increased support for three very different parties, the Reform Party, the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives. There is a message in that. The public is searching for different ideas and different personalities to represent different realities in the country. That is one the public wants to see, for better or for worse, reflected in the House. It is incumbent on us to reflect that.
The third is one of the most interesting things. When historians write about the 1997 election I think this is one of the things they will single out. The Canadian people regionalized this Chamber in a way that they have not done for a long time.
If we look at the votes, while Reform got one million votes east of the Manitoba-Ontario border, all our seats are in the west. The Bloc is exclusively a Quebec party. Even within Quebec its vote is regionalized primarily in the area east of Montreal. The NDP is divided between members in Atlantic Canada, in the west, but with no seats at all in central Canada. The Progressive Conservatives have 90 per cent of their seats east of Ontario, with a majority in Atlantic Canada. While the Conservatives will continue to represent themselves as a national party in the House they are in essence an Atlantic party with a Quebec contingent.
For the government of course two-thirds of its seats are in Ontario, with half of the remainder in Quebec. While in theory it too is a national party, or claims to be a national party, in fact in the House it is an Ontario party with a Quebec contingent.
If there is a lesson in this, it is that this country continues to pay a price for failing to reform the upper house. In Germany, Australia, the United States and in other big federations of the world regional interests are expressed in their federal arenas through an effective upper chamber. When you do not have that one of the consequences is a regionalization of your lower house.
Those who think regionalization of this House is a backward step or something that will hurt national unity should join the ranks of those who demand an effective upper chamber to represent regional interests.
The fourth thing that Canadians did in 1997 was allow a 10 year old federal party, with roots in the west and proud of it, and with aspirations to become a truly national party, to occupy the role of official opposition and to become the alternative to the government.
As we begin that new role and analyse the Speech from the Throne, we owe it to the public to share with it how we see this role being discharged.
We see ourselves as having a twofold mandate. The first is to hold the government accountable, to commend it on actions which we consider in the national interests but to criticize it on actions which we consider not to be in the national interests. Second, we see our role as one of proposing constructive alternatives consistent with the big themes of equality, accountability and fiscal responsibility on which our members were elected.
In relation to the Speech from the Throne I would like to perform these two functions. I want to commend the government where it deserves commendation. We want to criticize the features of the speech which we consider inadequate. Most important, we want to present constructive alternatives where we see those deficiencies.
As the Speech from the Throne remarked, the 36th Parliament of Canada is a transition Parliament. It is the last Parliament of the 20th century and the first of the 21st century. Therefore people can ask in which direction it is going to look. Is it going to continually look back over its shoulder at old ideas and concepts from the past or is it going to squarely face the future?
The throne speech professes to look ahead. It is important that we look at the reality behind the words.
I see a great historical and political analogy between the end of the 19th century politically and the end of the 20th century. By the end of the 19th century the governing party, the Conservative Party, had run out of leadership, ideas and energy. It had run out of steam.
Macdonald, the guiding light, was gone. The lesser lights, though well meaning, who took his place were unable to build on the foundation which he had laid. Once new ideas, such as the federal union, the national policy or the transcontinental railway, were by that point in time the status quo. As J. Arthur Lower the historian put it, the once vital era of Macdonald sputtered to a dreary conclusion after the death of its guiding spirit.
While an exhausted government was still running the country, Canada itself was bursting with the new ideas, new energies and new potentials of the 20th century, and while the government was mired in the past, the people started to seek ways and means to express their frustrations with a government whose time had past. With their desire to see new ideas expressed in the federal arena they started to search for new personalities and new groups. The personality they settled on was Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the new group of MPs around him.
The throne speech quotes Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I would like to quote Sir Wilfrid Laurier back to the government. He said about the government of the day's unwillingness to face realities: “A true patriot does not, like the ostrich, hide his head in the sand and ignore the facts, but he looks the real situation of the country in the face”.
He was talking about fiscal realities. He described Canada not as a country led and inspired by government policy but as a young giant shackled and manacled by government policy.
He said about the Conservative government which was re-elected in 1891 but with a reduced majority: “Another such victory and the government is undone”.
He said about the need for a fresh start: “I say that the time has come for gentlemen on the other side to cease their boasting and self-glorification and for the people of the country to open their eyes and see that a new departure must be made from the policy which has been followed for the last 10 years. I have said that a change has become absolutely necessary to the well-being of the country”.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the weakness of the previous government's legislative program in a debate on the speech from the throne, precisely like this, said: “The speech from the throne has been for some years past a very dry skeleton. This year it is drier than ever and the few bones that are in it rattle together with an ominous sound”.
I see a striking parallel between the end of the 19th century politically and the end of the 20th. The once great Liberal Party is running out of steam. The leading lights, Laurier, King, Trudeau, gone. Once new ideas, constitutional change, unity through special status, the welfare state as a way to care for people, prosperity through government spending; all of those ideas are either passé or hopelessly out of date.
Canada outside of Parliament is brimming with ideas, excitement, ways to solve problems, ideas that see little reflection in the representations of the government or in the speech from the throne. I suggest that the current government, like the old Tories that followed Macdonald's day, is mired in the past and out of touch with reality.
The throne speech, despite forward looking language, offers no brilliant illumination of the horizon of the new millennium. There is no connection to the forces of innovation and change and reform that are at large in the country which if harnessed to national policy will help propel Canada into the 21st century with vigour and optimism.
I say in applying glorious analogy to this throne speech, it is a dry bone speech lacking in the flesh and blood and muscle and sinew and heart and soul required to inspire Canadians for the 21st century.
I would apply the words exactly: “The speech from the throne has been for some years a very dry skeleton. This year is drier than ever and the few bones that are in it rattle together with an ominous sound”.
With this sobering historical parallel and Laurier's analogy before us let us analyse the government's speech from the throne. We want to examine the dry bones. We want to give credit where credit is due. As any dog will tell you, a dry bone is better than no bone at all.
Where deficiencies exist what we will endeavour to do is not simply to be critical but to offer new ideas that can perhaps turn this dry bones throne speech into something vibrant and new and appropriate to leading the country into the 21st century.
Let me look first at the economy. The government proposes little with respect to the economy. It mentions none of the resource sectors. It mentions nothing about the manufacturing sector. It does mention investing in knowledge and creativity.
We find all the government's references to high technology tiresome because the rhetoric is there and yet we cannot even get electronic voting in this House. Let us start practising high tech if we believe in high tech and not just talking about it.
The principal argument in the government's throne speech with respect to facilitating economic recovery is that it now has the deficit under control. When we first came here in 1993 our analysis was that the federal financial vehicle had four flat tires. One of them was the deficit, one was that spending was out of control, one was the debt out of control, the other was taxes out of control.
The government has partially fixed one of those flat tires, and we give it credit for doing that. We disagree with the way it was done. We do not think the timetable was right but at least one of those tires is now getting close to being in good shape.
The question is what to do about the other three tires. In the speech from the throne there is virtually little or nothing on the subject of how to fix the problem of the debt and how to fix the problem of excessive taxation and how to ensure that future spending will not get out of control the way it did in the past.
We ask where are the commitments in this speech from the throne to debt reduction targets and tax reduction targets? Where are the principles that will guide us on these issues? Does the government have a view on what is the optimal size of government, on what is the optimal revenue that it should be taking out of the economy? Does it have a view on what is the optimal debt size for a government of this nature in this type of a country? The government may say wait for the budget, but the government had no hesitation at all about naming 29 measures for spending more money with absolutely nothing on these other great questions.
My colleague, the member for Medicine Hat, has been circulating a discussion paper entitled “Beyond a Balanced Budget”. What he is finding and what we have found for the last three years is that there are all kinds of ideas out there in the country, with the think tanks, with the business people who have had to rationalize these problems within their companies or they would go under, with younger Canadians who have been thinking about these things because it is their future that is jeopardized. The tragedy is that very little of that thinking is seen at all in the government's program or in the speech from the throne.
My colleagues in their discussion of the speech from the throne and in legislation that comes before this House will endeavour to bring that muscle, sinew, tissue, spirit and body required to add some substance to the dry bones on economic recovery contained in the throne speech.
Let me talk for a moment about the social safety net. The government to its credit acknowledges that the social safety net is frayed, that we are in trouble with respect to health care, with respect to pensions, with respect to child poverty and in some respects with regard to education. We agree with that assessment. However, in the throne speech there is only dry bones, administrative tinkering to deal with the problems of these programs.
The social safety net in our judgment requires a new approach. It requires acknowledgement that the frontline caregivers in this country, mothers, fathers, families, and services given by governments closer to the people are the elements of social safety nets that need to be strengthened by government policy. Where is the recognition in the speech from the throne that many government initiated social programs, no matter how well meaning they would be, are simply no longer affordable, no longer workable and no longer even supported by the clients that they were intended to serve.
The speech from the throne refers to children but it seems to refer to children as if they were disembodied spirits not connected in any way, shape or form with families. In fact they are in most cases connected with families, many of them in desperate straits. That family is the most important primary caregiver in our judgment and if you want to do something for social policy, do something for the family.
The hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill and other of our colleagues will be advancing some new principles and ideas for real social reform in the days ahead. We do not just criticize the government's attempts to patch up a creaking welfare state. We think that there are new ideas that involve personalizing, decentralizing and localizing social service delivery that can offer more hope to people in the future. That will be our contribution to this throne speech debate in the area of social reform.
With respect to criminal justice, we look at the speech from the throne and we ask what happened to the new justice minister's new tough agenda on criminal justice that was announced in August. She was going to do something to tighten up the Young Offenders Act. She was going to have sentencing reform. She was going to have parole reform. Yet there is absolutely nothing on that in the speech from the throne at all. The one sentencing measure actually made sentencing easier rather than tougher.
Where is the response to the needs of victims of crime? I think of the families of the victims of Clifford Olson and what they have endured as a result of the faint hope clause. Did the government not feel any twinge of conscience in seeing those people watch Clifford Olson parade passed the cameras on his way to a parole hearing? Our hearts go out to them. I feel like apologizing to them on behalf of at least part of this Parliament for our inability to prevent them from suffering the pain that they did.
Where is the government's response to families that suffer and are at risk because of violence and because of defects in the Young Offenders Act, defects in the parole system, defects in the court system and defects in the penal system?
I think of the member for Surrey North, himself a victim of crime with the murder of his son, and how he has struggled and fought to get to this House so he could represent victims. When it comes to the speech from the throne, this being the passion of his political life, what does he see? He sees a little section with three or four paragraphs in it. It would have been better, Mr. Prime Minister, to have not had that section in the speech than to have it there with such a bare bones agenda.
My colleagues, particularly the member for Crowfoot and others interested in criminal justice reform on the Reform side, will endeavour to remedy this deficiency in the government's legislative program by proposing reforms, particularly those that put the rights of victims ahead of anything else.
With respect to accountability, members who were here in 1993 will remember that the throne speech referred on numerous occasions to integrity, to ethics, to ethics commissioners, to guidelines for ministers, to accountability. We cannot help but notice in this year's throne speech that element is completely missing.
In no way does the government accept responsibility for political interference with the Somalia inquiry. In no way does it acknowledge its responsibilities in that area and agree to implement the recommendations of that aborted inquiry.
We see no acceptance of responsibility by the government in stonewalling the Krever inquiry. It was all for that inquiry as long as it was looking into the misdeeds of the Tory government. As soon as it started to get back to the period before that, the government stonewalled the inquiry.
Perhaps most serious of all is that we see nothing in the throne speech which would make ministers more accountable to this House and politicians generally more accountable to the people of Canada. If you go out not just in this country but in virtually every country in the world, there is a current running around ordinary people demanding a greater degree of accountability from their politicians. This is not just a phenomenon in Canada. It is a phenomenon in eastern Europe. It is a phenomenon in China. It is a phenomenon in Asia. It is a worldwide phenomenon: democratic revolution from the bottom up.
Yet there is not a flicker of recognition in the speech from the throne of that desire for accountability, not even a willingness to look at some of the mechanisms that can be used to hold people more accountable: greater use of referenda mechanisms; greater use of citizens initiatives; treating petitions with respect instead of parading them here in the House and storing them in the basement the next day never to see light again.
In speaking on the speech from the throne, one of the things that we will endeavour to add to the non-existent skeleton of public accountability is a proposal for making this chamber and its members, not just ourselves but all members, more accountable to the people whom we serve.
Lastly I want to turn to the never ending subject of national unity. I note that the government has made some modest changes in its approach to national unity, small steps I suggest, but in the right direction.
In 1995 prior to the last referendum the government was completely unwilling to challenge the legality of a unilateral secession. It was unwilling to address with frankness and clarity the practical, hard questions that arise when some province decides to secede; issues like boundaries, debt allocation, what happens to minorities who do not want to remain in the seceding province, et cetera. Not only did the government not have that on its agenda, but it castigated as traitors to the unity effort those who insisted such questions be dealt with and that such consequences be communicated to the people of Quebec.
Until recently the government has also been putting all its unity eggs in one basket, a basket with a hole in it. It has been relying on the distinct society clause to move public opinion in Quebec, despite the fact that that has been tried before and despite the lack of support elsewhere in the country for that approach. That was the government's position in 1995. As I say, we see now some modest changes.
The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, to his credit, is starting to address the negative consequences of secession and we commend his efforts.
The government appears to be accepting some advice from the premiers, although we question this based on the Prime Minister's replies in question period today. However, we thought there was some movement in accepting the inadequacies of the distinct society clause and accepting the premiers' view that the language has to be changed and the concept has to be changed. The concept should be changed by marrying it to the principle of equality and making crystal clear that any recognition of uniqueness in Quebec or elsewhere, a uniqueness that we applaud, will not confer on one province powers not conferred on another.
These changes are far too small. They do not add up to a fresh vigorous vision or federalist initiative to unite the country for the 21st century. They are just a skeleton, dry bones rattling against each other. If the government desires to clothe the skeleton of its national unity strategy with real spirit, substance and muscle, I would urge it to start accepting more substantive proposals from other quarters beginning with the premiers. Let me mention what some of these would be.
The section in the throne speech on unity is extremely brief. It contains only one paragraph recognizing the work of the premiers in Calgary on September 14. The paragraph reads:
The government will work closely with provincial and territorial governments to further advance the progress made by nine premiers and the territorial leaders last week in Calgary toward the full recognition of the diversity inherent in the federation, including the unique character of Quebec society.
Members who have read the premiers' declaration from Calgary will note the selective editing in the speech from the throne. It quotes what the premiers said about diversity and uniqueness. We have no quarrel with that. However, it completely ignores what they said about equality of citizens and provinces, and it completely ignores the subject to which they devoted three-quarters of their communique, namely a process to involve the public at the front end of the consideration of any proposals having to do with national unity.
The official opposition urges the federal government to pay more attention to what premiers and Reformers have said on both equality and on public participation.
The premiers' framework of principles for discussion mentioned equality five times. In the throne speech the government uses a hundred adjectives to describe Canada but it does not make one single mention of the equality of citizens and provinces.
If the government thinks it can develop a unity position that ignores the principle of equality of citizens and provinces and more importantly, ignores practical measures to make it workable in the real world, which involves getting equality into the exercise of the federal spending and taxing powers, if the government thinks it can ignore that principle, it will be designing a unity position that will not be acceptable to millions of Canadians. Why take that chance on the unity issue?
We also say if we take the premiers seriously that the government should develop a deeper commitment to public consultation on unity initiatives. It could start by doing two things. It could start by assuring this House that it will respect the output of the public consultations the premiers are initiating in their provinces even if it does not agree with all the points that are raised.
More particularly, the government will answer definitively the question asked today by the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona: What is its role going to be in ensuring that unity proposals developed in the rest of the country are heard and considered in the province of Quebec?
Lack of meaningful public involvement was the single greatest weakness of past constitutional efforts. It marred the 1982 Constitution. It was not just some Quebec politicians who were left out of the 1982 Constitution, it was the public who were left out. It marred Meech. It was fatal to Meech.
Then there was the consultation that was done in Charlottetown. The public's view was that it was after the fact consultation. Meech was just packaged up in a slightly different form. Spicer went out across the country and came up with dozens and dozens of recommendations, not one of which really found its way into the Charlottetown accord.
We Canadians, in pursuit of national unity, have been like a family packed into the family car trying to get to a destination called united Canada. But so far the only people who get to drive the car are old line politicians and leaders. Canadians are jammed in the back asking “Are we getting to united Canada yet? Are we getting to a united Canada?”.
But what has been our experience? For a number of years we let Mr. Trudeau drive the car. Everyone remembers Trudeau, one hand on the wheel—he was a great cavalier driver—and the other hand out the window giving the finger to Alberta and other places. We forgive him in retrospect. Canadians in the back are asking “Have we got to a united Canada?” And what did Trudeau say? He said “We have not got there but it just over constitution hill. Get to constitution hill and we will have a united Canada.” We got to constitution hill. We got the 1982 Constitution and we were not at united Canada. In fact Levesque was getting car sick in the back and tried kick out the window.
Then we got another driver, Prime Minister Mulroney. Canadians in the back were asking “Are we at a united Canada yet?” And he said “No, but it is just over there by Meech Lake.” So we go to Meech Lake and we are not at united Canada. He said “No, it is at Charlottetown.” We go to Charlottetown and we are not at united Canada yet.
A little later our current Prime Minister gets to drive the car. He drives very, very slowly. And we are in the back asking “Are we at united Canada? Mr. Prime Minister, are we there yet? Are we there yet?” But there is no answer. He is dozing at the wheel and we almost went into the ditch at the referendum.
The distinguishing characteristic of all these drivers, and every male member of the House can identify with this, they never stop to ask instructions about how to drive.
We are saying that if we stop to ask instructions that the public has good sense of where a united Canada lies. That is why I plead with the Prime Minister to give greater weight to public consultation. If you come up with some new initiative on uniting Canada, certainly the House has to look at it and give it due deliberation. What is even more important is that the public gets a kick at the cat at the front end because if they do not they are going to reject whatever package we come up with no matter how well it is conceived.
What are some of the other things that maybe should be in a national unity initiative that really address where the public's mind is at? I suggest one of the other ingredients which the premiers are starting to talk about is a rebalancing of the powers and also institutional change.
We had a meeting of our little caucus unity team just this week. If we had been writing the speech from the throne and wanted to demonstrate to Canadians that we had some substances behind our unity proposals, what would have been in our legislative package that might have sent that signal? I have a list two pages long. We would have had a bill expressly recognizing equality of citizens of provinces and applying that principle to the exercise of the federal spending and taxation power. Some day in the House I would like to discuss in detail the inequality that exists in the country with respect to the exercise of the federal spending and taxing powers.
We would have had a bill with statutory adjustments respecting provincial jurisdiction over natural resources, respecting provincial jurisdiction over worker training, respecting provincial jurisdiction over social services, respecting provincial jurisdiction over housing, respecting provincial jurisdiction over tourism. We do not regard, nor do most of the provinces regard, mere administrative agreements which vary from province to province and do not exist in half of the provinces, as being anywhere near recognition of provincial responsibility in these areas.
We would enact bills to strengthen the economic and Canadian union. Where is the bill from the government to establish a mechanism to beat down internal barriers to trade? This House has the power to pass that bill whether the provinces agree with it or not.
Where is an act to facilitate the development of national standards? The federal contribution to the total health care bill is now less than 10 per cent. It will be technically and economically unfeasible for the junior partner in health care to dictate standards in the way it did in the past. That does not mean we will not have national standards or that people do not want them, but we need a new mechanism for the federal government to facilitate national standards for interprovincial agreement.
I look at the speech from the throne and if I were an aboriginal person I would not pick it up. There is nothing in it that really addresses the problems of aboriginal people. Where is the bill that starts to decentralize and ultimately do away with the department of Indian affairs and transfers functions and funding to local aboriginal governments? Where is the parallel bill? They will never get that bill accepted even by rank and file aboriginal people unless there is a parallel bill establishing mechanisms for financial accountability and democratic accountability on reserves.
Where are the bills and motions to strengthen the regional sensitivity and accountability of national institutions? Where is the motion in the House to amend the standing orders so that the defeat of a government motion does not result in the defeat of the government unless specifically designated a vote of non-confidence? That would allow more regional representation in this House than it has ever enjoyed.
Where is a non-constitutional Senate reform amendment, at least to make the place elected? Where is the constitutional resolution to at least start the Senate reform process? Where is representation by population in this House? Where is the bill to get that? If the upper House was regionalized we could have genuine representation by population in this House and it would be different in the upper House.
Where is the bill to provide for constituent assemblies if and when this country ever decides to completely write its Constitution? This House is supposed to be looking ahead. We cannot wait until the day when Canadians finally decide they want to rewrite the Constitution to start setting the mechanism up. We should set the mechanisms up in advance. Two mechanisms are needed. One is a bill for constituent assemblies, the other is an ironclad guarantee of constitutional referenda at the end of the day.
I suggest to the government that if it had brought in a package of those types of proposals, or even the promise of bringing them, it would add up to something. They add up to a Canada that respects uniqueness. They add up to a Canada that respects equality. They add up to a Canada that has the institutional arrangements to make that practical. They add up to a new division of powers for the 21st century. There is none of that in this speech from the throne.
To add breadth and depth to national unity strategies we ask where are the policy initiatives to address the big regional concerns that are so apparent in this House? If the federal government had been truly consulting Canadians it would be acutely aware of our regional differences. I said at the outset that this House more accurately expresses some of those regional differences than many House have in the past.
I was frankly surprised when I first opened the speech from the throne that some of the big headings were not the regional interests of the country. Where in the speech from the throne is the new Atlantic Canadian economic initiative, one that recognizes that the approaches of the past, the subsidies and handouts and that type of thing, are simply not working? Where is the economic initiative that uses the new tools of expanding trade, of beating down internal barriers to trade, of expanding trade with New England and of making Atlantic Canada the gateway to European trade with the American community? Where is the proposal for public-private partnerships to build roads and short line railways and container ports? There is nothing in this speech about the new ideas that are out there and nothing related to Atlantic Canada.
I ask where is the new vision for Quebec, the troisième voie? In this throne speech there is no fresh vision for Quebec.
There is no third option for Quebec. There is no option between separation and the federalism we have today. There is nothing but the revamping of the division of powers under way at present. There is no third option which would allow a true reform of the federation by rebalancing powers.
With all the new Ontario members in this House, surely in caucus they must have been looking for an open invitation from the federal government to develop a co-ordinated fiscal policy to sustain the economic recovery in Ontario. We simply cannot have the biggest government in the country, this government, and the government of the biggest province in the country, Ontario, pursuing fiscal policies that are either going in opposite directions or at 90° to one another. You could not think of a way to hinder economic recovery better than that. You cannot have Ontario with the priority of tax relief and the federal government having the priority to spend. The danger to the investor is he sees that whatever tax relief Ontario gives, the federal government will move in to that tax room and the taxpayer will never see it.
What about the north, our last frontier, demographically and ecologically? There is no recognition of the north, no vision of the north. Even Diefenbaker had a vision of the north. He did not have much substance but he tried to get a vision of the north. The north is completely neglected, left as a distant ward of the federal government, ignored or forgotten.
I left the best for the last, the west. I ask the government members to listen for a moment. Where is the acknowledgement and the recognition of the new west and what it brings to Canada's 21st century? There is a new influence for good, for prosperity and for unity emerging in this country. It is an influence whose strength and vitality in the 21st century is like that of Atlantic Canada in the 19th century and Quebec and Ontario in the 20th century. It is the growing influence of the new west, that portion of our country that stretches from western Ontario across the vast prairies and woodlands of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, into the plains and foothills of Alberta, across the mighty Rockies to the Pacific coast of the great province of British Columbia.
The new west is built on the principle of freedom of enterprise, fiscal responsibility, compassion for the young, the old, the sick and the poor, equality of citizens and provinces and democracy that reflects the common sense of the common people.
The new west is exercising new muscles and energy, not simply to get its old grievances addressed, but by offering a new source of hope and energy to unify our country and strengthen our economy.
Reform is the principal spokesperson for the new west in the federal Parliament. Those who think that Reform is simply a protest party or that the new political energy in the west is simply protest are 15 years behind the times. The west can take care of its own regional grievances. The west believes that it can compete with the Americans and beat them two times out of three if it is on a level playing field. It demonstrates it every day.
Pacific rim trade is now twice Atlantic rim trade. Its possibilities are infinite. The greatest single private sector job creation machine is operating today in the city of Calgary. It is no longer based on oil and gas. It is an example that can be multiplied in other parts of country. The west is ready to bring those ideas and energies to the national scene, not simply to advance its interests, not to protect its interests, but to make a contribution to the new Canada.
This throne speech fails to speak to that spirit in the west. It fails to try to harness that substance to the national interest and thus misses a golden opportunity at the end of the 20th century to harness energy and vigour to the task of uniting our country and making our economy strong.
I conclude by commenting on the the dry bones throne speech once again. Perhaps some would say that dry bones are enough. I hear an hon. member saying that it is, but there are others among us who are not satisfied. There are those of us who want something bigger, deeper, fuller and wider; who want tissue, muscle, heart, spirit and soul added to those bones; who want to exit the 20th century with a baying, not with a whimper. This throne speech is a whimper.
I do not believe the government is up to that challenge but prove me wrong if I am wrong. The challenge to other members of this House, and I do not just say Reform members, I say the challenge to other members in this House, including some of the government backbenchers who know that what I am saying is true, our challenge is that what realities the government has failed to recognize, let us recognize. What sources the government has failed to consult, let us consult. What voices the government has failed to hear, let us speak for them. What values the government has failed to represent, let us represent. What ideas the government has failed to acknowledge, let us pursue. What policies the government has failed to develop, let us propose. What hope the government has failed to give, let us inspire so that the 21st century does in truth belong to Canada.
To sum up, I move:
That the following words be added to the address: “and this House regrets that your government is proposing a legislative program that is mired in the past, out of touch with the present, and incapable of leading Canadians with foresight and vigour into the 21st century”.
Speech From The Throne
This is an opposition amendment to the speech from the throne moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
Speech From The Throne
Jean Chrétien Prime Minister
Mr. Speaker, this week we begin the last Parliament of this century and the first of the new millennium.
I congratulate you on your election and express to you my high regard for your office. You bring decorum and dignity to this House and represent its great traditions and the historic responsibilities of your office.
Among those responsibilities which you discharge so will, is turning off the microphones when they are meant to be off. I can assure you that both my party and I will support you fully in this task and the other important functions of your office.
I also want to congratulate the hon. member from Parkdale-High Park for her eloquent speech as mover of the address in reply to the speech from the trone, and the hon. member from Beauce for his speech as seconder. I am very proud of their maiden speeches and I must say their careers are definitely off to a good start. I can tell both members have great futures ahead of them in this House.
Since I last spoke in the House, we have had a general election. This is the 11th time I have been elected to Parliament. The voters of Saint-Maurice have supported me for the tenth time and their confidence in me inspires me in my public life. They have taught me that politics is about people.
What I've learned on the sidewalks of Shawinigan, at the kitchen tables of rural farmhouses, and with workers on factory floors enriches all I do here as a member of Parliament and Prime Minister. The people of Saint-Maurice want a government that listens to them and respects them, and that is the kind of government I want to lead.
Parliament opens appropriately as another glorious Canadian summer comes to its end. Our farmers reap their harvest and the young return to school. This fall, Canadians, especially young Canadians, begin to reap the rewards of what we have done together in the past four years.
When I stood before you in January 1994, many forecasted bleak economic harvests in our future. In reply to the speech from the throne I said then that everything that we would do would be “aimed at rebuilding our economic vitality to ensure that every Canadian is able to realize his or her potential”.
Now we can say that we needed no polls to tell us that most Canadians did not think that we could ever gain control of the massive deficit that had deeply wounded the economy and Canadian self-confidence.
Who then would have believed that Canada would create 974,000 jobs between October 1993 and September 1997? Who then would have predicted that our interest rates would fall far below those of the United States, in fact three and three-quarter per cent for the prime rate?
Who then would have believed that we would have inflation lower than 2 per cent, growth close to 4 per cent and the highest rate of job creation in the G-7? Who then would have believed that four years later all the international forecasters would be predicting that Canada will enter the next millennium with the best economic performance of the G-7 countries?
Who then would have believed that I would be joining Canada's premiers in a spirit of co-operation in the fall of 1997 to discuss how we could help our youth, how we could improve our health system, how we could strengthen our social programs in an era of balanced budgets?
By working together, by being bold, by conquering fear and despair, Canadians have done much for themselves and for others. We have rebuilt economic vitality. Indeed last week the Governor of the Bank of Canada said, “Canada is in better shape now than it has been for many years to face the economic challenges of the future”. He said, “The Canadian economy has the potential for a long period of sustained growth in output and employment, with rising productivity and improving living standards”.
Now is the time for Canadians to realize their vast potential, to turn toward the new century, to invest wisely and strategically in people and ideas, to build a secure foundation for Canada's future.
We made our priorities clear in the election campaign and in the speech from the throne. We will invest in children, our most precious resource. We will invest in knowledge to prepare Canada's youth for the technologies and knowledge based society of the future. We will work closely with the provinces to strengthen our health system following the excellent suggestions of the National Forum on Health.
As a nation we invested in medicare exactly 30 years ago. I was in the House when we did that. What incredible dividends it has paid to Canadians, to our economy and even to our sense of identity. By strengthening and modernizing medicare to meet new needs, our health care system in the 21st century will yield even greater returns.
I would like with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to salute the Minister of Finance who introduced medicare, Mr. Sharp, who is in the gallery.
Speech From The Throne
Some hon. members
Speech From The Throne
Jean Chrétien Saint-Maurice, QC
Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of the election campaign we said that we would spend some of our fiscal dividend on health care.
We will be introducing legislation to increase health care transfers to the provinces in accordance with the recommendation of the National Forum on Health that the cash floor be $12.5 billion. This means that in 1998-99 the provinces will receive $700 million more than is currently budgeted. In 1999-2000 the provinces will receive $1.4 billion more than is currently budgeted. Canada will remain the best country in which to live because it cares about its people. These are words that we did not hear in the speech from the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon.
We will work very hard to continue to strengthen the economy, to continue to create a climate for more jobs and for sustained economic growth.
I want to pay tribute today to the Minister of Finance for his remarkable achievement in managing the finances of the nation. I want to tell the House that we will never again allow the finances of the country to get out of control. We have already begun to reduce the debt as a proportion of the size of the economy. By 1998-99 the government will balance the budget for the first time in almost 30 years.
Working together with members of Parliament, with the provinces and, above all, with Canadians, we have removed the burden on our future that the deficit represented. No longer will we pass on present problems to future generations of Canadians. No longer will we have the large deficit that prevented governments from meeting real human needs. No longer will anyone be able to call Canada a bankrupt nation worth leaving. No longer will critics say that Canadian federalism does not work.
Canada is working so well that leaders throughout the world are speaking about the Canadian miracle and the Canadian model. There is a new optimism in Canada. Canadians have begun to dream again, and this Parliament's challenge is to live up to the spirit of those dreams.
Now we must move forward together into a new millennium. Many in the House today are having their first taste of Parliament. From my long experience I can say that the taste will be enormously satisfying, of course spicy at times but in the end satisfying. Some denigrate what Parliament can do but they are wrong.
I have seen over the years how individual MPs on all sides of the House advance causes they believe important to them, their constituents and Canadians. Over the last four years our government has opened this process more fully than ever before for private members' bills, for serious work by parliamentary committees and for open participation in parliamentary debate. We will continue.
The situation today is much better than when I became a member of Parliament. Even as a private member I was able to pass an important private member's bill changing the name of Trans-Canada airline. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the House. I asked some of them to shut up and to help, and we made that change. My success was shared with members on both sides of the House.
When I first got on a plane marked Air Canada I knew that the new member for Saint-Maurice had made a little difference. Many members will, as individuals and as part of this great Parliament, make a difference.
Let me tell you what we can do together as Canadians and parliamentarians. When I first entered Parliament, Canada faced a major crisis of poverty among seniors. Despite general prosperity, many seniors found themselves victims of inflation and of the fact they had not been able to save much during the hard years of depression and war.
The challenge was great, and the responsibility for dealing with it was shared. The federal government had an old age pension scheme, but, of course, the provinces had principal responsibilities in health, welfare and housing.
The government of Canada worked with the provinces and through Parliament used the flexibility and creativity of our federal system to confront seniors' poverty. We proved then that we share more than we admit; we differ less than we profess. Saskatchewan led in medicare; Quebec worked effectively on pensions; and Ontario and New Brunswick were innovative in housing. But it was the Government of Canada that gave national leadership to assure that the creativity of our individual provinces was shared by all Canadians.
Today the rate of seniors' poverty in Canada is less than one-third of what it was only a generation ago. When the UN names Canada as the best country in the world to live in, it is partly because our seniors now live much longer lives, and are more comfortable financially. And in this mandate my government will assure seniors' security for the future. We will introduce legislation this fall to sustain the Canada Pension Plan and the Senior's Benefit, making Canada the first G-7 country to make its public pension system affordable and sustainable for the millennium.
As we responded to the challenge of seniors health and poverty a generation ago, we must now face the challenge of a new generation of Canadians. They are the generation which will inherit Canada in the new millennium. They are our children and our grandchildren, and they will judge our generation by how well we have prepared theirs for the 21st century.
Election campaigns are exciting for me, as for all of us, because we get a real chance to meet Canadians of every kind. My wife tells me that my excitement is greatest when I am around young people. The hopes and the dreams of the young are an inspiration for me, but in recent campaigns I heard too many fears mixed with their dreams.
Let me say frankly that we have lots of work to do. With the fiscal crisis at an end, our government has more ability to act.
As the Minister of Finance said in his last budget, “a government relieved of its deficit burden is not a government relieved of its obligations. It is a government able to exercise its obligations”.
We owe our greatest obligation to our young, the future of Canada. As I think of the hopeful yet troubled eyes of the young people I met this summer, I become even more determined that our government will not evade its own responsibilities and opportunities.
I know, as all of us do, that poverty is an enemy of a good start whether in aboriginal communities or in the urban centres of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Parental love, family support and strong communities are antidotes to poverty's sting but they are not enough. People also need our help. By investing now in the well-being of today's children we are improving the long term social and economic health of our society. Together federal and provincial governments must respond through the national child benefit system we are now building.
During the course of this Parliament we pledge to do more to meet the needs of low income families with children. We will do so by increasing the child tax benefit and we will work in co-operation with the provinces as they invest in services for children. Children must remain at the top of our national agenda. We must make certain that wherever they live or whatever their background they have a head start on a good future. A head start helps but it is not a guarantee they will win the race or even finish it.
We have the best educated young Canadians in history. Young Canadians can go to the best schools in the world, but too many drop out and too many do not find work. Youth unemployment is simply too high.
The private sector has created almost a million new jobs over the past four years, but as a society we need to do more to create jobs for young people. We will discuss this and more at the first ministers meeting this fall.
We will step up our efforts at offering first jobs through internships and summer placements. We will challenge the private sector to train young Canadians to take leadership roles in the new knowledge based society of the future. We will challenge the private sector to do more to meet the employment needs of young people. We will develop with the provinces a mentorship program, and we will partner with the provinces and communities to give the young at risk a better chance at acquiring the skills and experience they need.
The more education young people have, the better are their chances to find a job. We will challenge parents, communities, schools and provincial governments to encourage young people to stay in school.
In my family every spare penny my parents could save went to education. For my parents the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and education was the way their children could get into greener fields. Even though I was a bit of a trouble maker at school—and I have kept a bit of it—my parents never lost their dream for me and my better behaved brothers and sisters. Their faith and devotion to our education put the spring in our leap that carried us over to the other side of the fence. Today, together, parents, communities and governments must assure the barriers are not so high that young Canadians do not make it to the other side of the fence.
The struggle against the deficit was not undertaken so that we could celebrate our accounting accomplishments. We fought to lessen the debt burden hanging over an entire generation. We fought so that we could reduce payments to bankers and begin to invest in the future of our young people. That is what we are going to do.
We on this side of the House, plus two or three on the other side, do not believe that the role of government should be that of the 19th century laissez-faire state waiting to deal with emergencies.
Rather we believe government in the 21st century is an efficient, effective partner to make wise and strategic investments in areas that really count for the future prosperity of our country. One of the most important of these areas is knowledge and learning. It is the key to growth and jobs in years ahead.
That is why, in the last budget, we announced the creation of a Canadian Foundation for Innovation. With the dividends from successful fiscal management, we made a one-time investment of $800 million designed to rebuild the research infrastructure of our universities and teaching hospitals.
While I do not want to scoop the fiscal update of the Minister of Finance which will be delivered in mid-October, it is no secret that because of the good work of the government and of the Minister of Finance, we are doing a great deal better in 1997-98 than had originally been projected.
I expect, therefore, that in the weeks after the Minister of Finance tables his fiscal update to be able to take advantage of another dividend from our successful fiscal management, to announce the deal of another one-time investment in learning and knowledge similar to what we did last year when we created the Canadian Foundation for Innovation but on a bigger scale.
This time the purpose of the investment in our future will be to reduce barriers to access post-secondary education. There can be no greater millennium project for Canada and no better role for government than to help young Canadians prepare for the knowledge based society of the next century.
As our most significant millennium project we will establish at arm's length from government a Canada millennium scholarship endowment fund. The income from the fund will reward academic excellence and will provide thousands of scholarships each year, beginning in the year 2000 for low and moderate income Canadians to help them attend universities and colleges.
We will be working closely with appropriate partners to help in the actual design of the fund. It will not be a monument made of bricks and mortar but when future Canadians look around, they will see its legacy everywhere.
I hope it can do in the 21st century for our economy and our country what the investment after World War II in post-secondary education did for our returning soldiers, for our economy and our country in the last half of the 20th century.
On a very personal basis I hope it will be able to do in a different area for many thousands of young Canadians what my parents were able to do for me, my brothers and my sisters.
In addition to this one-time endowment, the government will make further changes to the Canada Student Loans Programme and will increase assistance for students with dependents. With these and other measures, to be developed over the next few months in concert with the provinces, we will build on the progress made in the last budget to address the increasing cost of post-secondary education and the resulting debt burden on students.
When I was young, pursuing my education meant that I had to leave home for boarding school. Small communities lacked the resources to support institutions of higher education. What is wonderful about modern technology is the way the most remote communities can be in thouch with our greatest institutions. SchoolNet, developed by our Department of Industry, allows schools to deliver the same information at the same time to Whitehorse and Weyburn, Victoria and Victoriaville. Bill Gates has said that SchoolNet is “the leading programme in the world in terms of letting kids get out and use computers”. And we know that we can, and must, do even more.
As I travelled through Canada during the last four years, I saw how new technologies are strengthening rural Canada. We promised in our election programme that we would help rural Canada share new technologies and we will keep that promise. It is tremendously important to know that our great country with its millions of square kilometres will be the most connected country in the world by the millennium. Distances will matter much less; and we will see tha differrences need not divide. The promise of technology is astonishing but technology must have a soul.
It was very troubled to read a survey this summer that suggested that young Canadians knew too little about each other and what we have done together. According to the survey, in every province except Quebec, more Canadians thought Neil Armstrong was the first Canadian in space rather than Marc Garneau. Only 28 per cent of Quebec youth could name John A. Macdonald as our first prime minister, although 78 per cent of them could name Wilfrid Laurier as the first Francophone prime minister. Too often we forget, or do not know, what we have achieved together. It is unacceptable that our youth may know all about computers but so little about their country.
At one level, this is why our future youth programs will emphasize exchanges. I never knew Canada until I sat at kitchen tables in Saskatchewan, skiied in the Rockies, walked on the tundra in the Arctic, played pool on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, and talked with aboriginal elders around fires.
Similarly, Canada touches my heart and affects my thoughts as I discover the grandeur of our history. It moves me deeply to learn that over 150 years ago, when religion and race caused wars everywhere else in the world, here in Canada Robert Baldwin resigned his seat in the Parliament of the United Canada's so that his colleague, Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine, could run in a seat in the heart of English Canada.
Lafontaine became the francophone Catholic member for a thoroughly English and Protestant riding. Working together, Baldwin and Lafontaine brought us responsible government.
How many young Canadians know that just over a century ago as religious quarrels engulfed the world, Canada, a country with a large Protestant and British majority, elected its first francophone Catholic Prime Minister? It had the good sense to re-elect Laurier for three more terms, a reasonable goal for any prime minister, it seems to me.
We must find ways for young Canadians to learn what they share, to know what we have done and to gain pride in their nation's accomplishments. The Government of Canada will work with our great museums, other federal and provincial institutions and with voluntary groups to develop ways to increase Canadians' knowledge of what we have done together.
We Canadians have built together an astonishing country, respected, even envied throughout the world. This fall more than 100 nations will come to Ottawa to sign a treaty banning forever the use of anti-personnel landmines. I am proud that it was an initiative taken by this government in 1994. I am very proud too that my government, through the foreign minister, refused to accept a second best treaty. The foreign minister deserves our congratulations for a job well done.
We worked with others of like mind and showed that Canada can make a real difference in the world. At one of the international meetings I recently attended, a world leader told me that only Canada could have been the leader in the campaign against landmines. I most strongly agree with the recent comment of the opposition member for Esquimalt—Saanich, a medical doctor who has seen landmines tear apart human bodies and who has worked with us to achieve the ban. He told reporters that the landmine treaty marks the “the onset of a new era in Canadian foreign policy using our moral force for humanitarian purposes. This treaty,” he said, “will save tens of thousands of lives”.
That moral force comes from what we are, what we have done together and what values we share in common. Canadians expressed that spirit nationally during the Saguenay and Manitoba floods. As we stood at the dikes and watched the raging waters we shared the experience as Canadians.
My government feels the burden of that moral force in all that we do. That is why we will take a very broad approach to promoting and strengthening our unity. When we seek to realize the highest aspiration of Canadians we help make Canada more united.
I welcome the Calgary initiative of the premiers and territorial leaders. It is a positive and constructive statement and affirmation of important values about what Canada is, and what makes us Canadian.
It contains a key message. The French fact is a fundamental part of our Canadian identity, and as such the unique character of Quebec society with its French-speaking majority, its culture and civil law tradition, is fundamental to the well-being of Canada. The French fact is an essential part of my identity, one that has nurtured me, one that has given me strength and identity, one that has made me the Canadian I am.
I welcome the commitment of the Premiers and Territorial Leaders to involve the people in their provinces and territories in strengthening the unity of this country by joining in giving voice to these values.
The message to Quebecers, to all French-speaking Canadians, indeed to all Canadians, is one of openness and solidarity. It is a message that should be heard.
I welcome the very constructive approach that the leaders of the Reform Party, the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party are taking on this issue.
I urge Quebecers to hear the message coming from Calgary and to join in building on it. The words form Calgary should be taken form what they are, an inclusive and timely message for all to hear. It is an important step in building understanding and confidence. Nothing more should be read into it.
Since this is not a constitutional or legal text, I would urge Canadians not to be drawn into a legalistic analysis of a statement of values. The day may come—I hope it will, and it will if Quebec ever has a government willing to work for those Quebecers who wish to remain a part of Canada, and they are the majority—when there is a legal and constitutional text to consider as such. The words from Calgary are an attempt to express worthy Canadian values and that is how they should be welcomed.
I pledge to all Canadians that we are open to all good ideas to strengthen the unity of our country. We invite the ideas of all opposition parties, and we will have an opportunity to discuss them either in this House or in committee. But we will never be hostage to demands that diminish or deny to each and every Canadian the benefits of his or her citizenship and our nationhood, our existence as an independent nation recognized by the UN.
We will continue to be frank and open about the consequences of what those who seek to partition Canada are proposing. Clarity does not cause fear, it is the enemy of fear. Our adversary is confusion. I am convinced that when things are clear, Quebecers and other Canadians will choose to stay together because it is the best choice for them and their children. As I have emphasized today, we are committed to collaboration and partnership with all those who, in good faith, will work with us to realize the wonderful opportunities that await Canada and Canadians.
Our strength, our character and our recent successes have positioned us to pursue those opportunities in new ways to meet new challenges of a new century.
We began this century as a small nation, without a flag, without our own Canadian citizenship and even without Newfoundland. Alberta and Saskatchewan were not yet provinces. The slums of Montreal and Halifax had a high rate of infant mortality than do the modern slums of Calcutta where Mother Teresa toiled.
Few Canadians even met others more than 50 miles away. On the prairies new settlers lived in isolation throughout cold winters, unaware of the petroleum riches beneath them. And yet we knew we had a future.
At the beginning of the century Laurier dreamed of that future when he said:
Three years ago when in England, I visited one of those models of Gothic architecture—The cathedral was made of granite, oak and marble. It is the image of the nation I wish to become. For here, I want the granite to remain granite, the oak to remain oak, the marble to remain marble. Out of these elements I would build a nation great among the nations of the world.
We have built that nation and we continue to shape its elements. Our young will do so in the next century. Their architecture will be new but it will be Canadian. Greatness may have a different meaning but it will be Canadian.
Today there is in Canada once again a wonderful sense of a country moving, of a country that matters, of a country that dreams again. For a long time for too many Canadians Canada has seemed stuck. Now everywhere Canadians together are making choices for a new millennium.
I pledge to Canadians that this Parliament and this government will be worthy of their dreams and their aspirations. With every ounce of energy we have, with the support of our colleagues and our fellow Canadians, we will keep this wonderful country, this Canada, our Canada, united. Together we will move into the next millennium as a prosperous, tolerant, generous, caring and modern country.
This country will be a model to the world. We are all very privileged to be members of this Parliament. People see Canada as the country to look at. When we travel around the world we realize that we are the envy of the world. Millions and millions of human beings around the world would give their last penny to share this citizenship of ours. That is why we have the collective duty to work together to make this country even greater and to give the best country in the world to our children and our grandchildren.
Speech From The Throne
Some hon. members
Speech From The Throne
Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC
Mr. Speaker, may I begin by congratulating you on your election as Speaker. I wish to assure you that, in this House, the Bloc Quebecois will always behave with the greatest respect for this institution, just as we have in the past.
After the last election, we find ourselves in a fragmented Parliament, a Parliament reflecting the true face of Canada. The Bloc Quebecois finds itself as the principal Quebec party, the main voice for Quebec in Ottawa. Forty-four members, constituting the majority of the Quebec deputation, 60 percent of the deputation in fact, that is what the Bloc Quebecois represents.
Indeed, speaking of the true face of Canada, we had an eloquent example yesterday in the Speech from the Throne. Two main conclusions can be drawn from the intentions of the Liberal government.
The first is no surprise: continuation of Plan B, the hard line with Quebec. I will return to this point later.
A second conclusion must also be reached: after going after the deficit at the expense of the unemployed and the most disadvantaged members of society, by hacking savagely at transfer payments to the provinces for health and education and at unemployment insurance, now this government has the gall, the indecency, to make use of the surpluses generated by its own cutbacks to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
Clearly, the aim is political visibility rather than efficiency for the public. With this objective, this second conclusion falls in line with our first one.
The cuts to unemployment insurance, the cuts to social assistance imposed on the provinces and the reductions in health and education transfers occasioned by this government's deficit reduction have wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands of Canadians.
Rather than repair the damage it has done, the government is concerned with only one thing. It wants to use the money it saved to increase its profile for purely political purposes.
If I had to summarize the speech on government policy, I would say that the word is federalism in capital letters.
In its speech, the government is inviting us to take part in a great debate on the post zero deficit age. The Liberals are proposing that half the surplus go to paying the debt and to reducing taxes. The other half would go to misusing its spending power in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Having been the cause of many social ills, the government now wants to set itself up as the saviour. It will have cut $42 billion from social programs, health care, education and social assistance, thus forcing the closure of hospitals, driving thousands of workers denied unemployment insurance toward welfare and causing massive cuts in schools.
The surpluses that will be generated after the deficit is eliminated should not be used for federalist propaganda, but should go directly to reinstating the transfer payments made to the provinces for social programs. Specifically, this would mean more money for hospitals and CLSCs. It would also mean more teachers and student services.
Secondly, surpluses should go to job creation through a targeted reduction in payroll taxes. In its electoral platform, the Bloc proposed that the employment insurance fund surplus be used to lower employment insurance premiums by at least 35« and to re-invest $2.5 billion in improving assistance to the unemployed, including the seasonally unemployed.
Not returning the annual surplus of approximately $7 billion in the employment insurance fund, and not telling workers and the unemployed about this surplus, is a clear misappropriation of funds. The suggestions I am now making had the agreement of the premiers in St. Andrews recently.
Next, the surpluses must be used in the fight against poverty. And this includes improving the employment insurance system, given the deep cuts made over the last five years, particularly in benefits to seasonal workers.
Finally, there is the long overdue $2 billion in compensation paid to the Maritimes but not to Quebec for harmonizing the GST, one of the demands from Quebec that was also supported by all premiers at the St. Andrews meeting. And only after it has fulfilled these obligations should the federal government think about lowering taxes or reducing the debt.
But instead of repairing the damage caused by its policies, the government announces that it will now use this breathing room to systematically interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The worst interference ever seen in the history of Canada. Even Pierre Elliott Trudeau never dared to go this far. And that's saying something.
The government is confirming its interference in the health field by creating a pharmacare plan, when Quebec already has its own such plan.
Moreover, after taking over 30 years to partially withdraw from the manpower training sector, this same federal government is now seeking, six months later, to maintain, confirm and increase its involvement in youth training.
One the very few new things mentioned in this speech is that the federal government will now get directly involved in education, in order to, and I quote: “measure the readiness of Canadian children to learn”, through an innocuous leaflet sent to every home. And then are we going to have national standards in the education sector? Are we going to have national exams in that sector?
I say we will never let the federal government get involved in Quebec's schools. Never.
However, these measures and policies are just part of a more global strategy designed to achieve the first objective that we pointed out, namely to pursue more aggressively than ever the government's plan B. This is the logical consequence of the last election, when we witnessed repeated attacks against Quebec, its politicians and its democratic institutions.
The prevailing ideology in the rest of Canada is getting further than ever from Quebec's traditional demands and aspirations. Such hardening is being promoted in an irresponsible fashion by the comments of the Reform Party, by the actions of the Liberal Party of Canada, and by the collusive silence of the leader of the Conservative Party. As for the NDP, it has always ignored the Quebec issue, and in fact this is why Quebecers have always ignored the NDP.
Slowly but surely, through the use of psychological profiles, changing democratic rules, hate-filled Internet sites and the promotion of partition, public opinion in the rest of Canada is falling into collective beliefs that still smack of colonialism as regards Quebec, in that they view us merely as a quaint entity.
This attitude is obvious in the government's throne speech. Never before, in a Speech from the Throne, has a government so directly threatened Quebec's right to decide on its own future.
Moreover, the Liberal government is dropping the solemn commitment made after the referendum to recognize Quebec as a distinct society, after putting it in a motion passed by the House of Commons, and after repeating it in the form of an election promise in its second red book.
Further watering down recognition of the Quebec people, this government has embraced the definition in the Calgary declaration, referring to the “unique character of Quebec society”, as unique as B.C. salmon, and without constitutional amendments.
If we carefully examine this agreement, it is easy to understand why the Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs were so enthusiastic. This is the worst it has ever been for Quebec. Several experts agree it is far less than Meech and even less than Charlottetown.
The federalists were rather quick to applaud the results of a recent survey on this agreement. They should not get carried away, because as Quebecers become better acquainted with the contents of this agreement, their support will be affected accordingly. In the rest of Canada, we already hear people saying that Quebec has been given too much. There is a very real possibility it will be Charlottetown all over again.
The only message sent to Quebec in this throne speech is that we should be satisfied with Canada as served up in Calgary, otherwise it will be Plan B.
All in the defence of national unity, the government even has the nerve to emphasize the bilingual character of this country, when the facts tell a different story altogether. They show a shocking rate of assimilation among francophones outside Quebec, a national Constitution that since 1982 has never been translated into French, and a few weeks ago, the closing, to all intents and purposes, of the only francophone hospital in Ontario, the Montfort. That is Canada's bilingual character.
I have only a few words for the rest of Canada about the premiers meeting which was held in Calgary. Forget the Calgary deal, it will never pass Quebec.
The Bloc Quebecois has never deviated from its basic principles. Now more than ever, we deem sovereignty to be necessary. The constitutional impasse is still there, even more so since the Calgary declaration. The main purpose of the Bloc Quebecois is clear: to advance the sovereignist project while staunchly defending Quebec's interests.
During this next mandate, defending Quebec's interests will have to involve defending Quebec's democratic institutions. When we came to Ottawa, we knew it would be hard, that harsh words would be exchanged. Yet we would never have dreamed that we would have to defend democracy, we would never have dreamed that the federal government would stoop so low as to question the very foundations of democracy.
This best country in the world is behaving like an imperial power looking down its nose at its ignorant colony, which dared to get just a little too uppity on the evening of October 30, 1995. A colony which no doubt needs psychoanalysis, I suppose, as the hon. member for Don Valley West so clearly demonstrated to us with his pseudo-psychoanalysis of the Premier of Quebec. Some might also add that the people who voted yes did not know what they were doing, while everything was perfectly clear to those who voted no.
Yet the rules governing the last two referendums were accepted by all parties, including the federal government. A federal government which, let us recall, accepted Newfoundland into Confederation with a close vote in a second referendum. Casting doubt on those rules now indicates obvious bad faith and, in particular, a profound disdain for the near-victory of the yes side in the last referendum.
Let us look a little closer at the rules the Prime Minister is trying to discredit with the help of his hatchet man, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
In Quebec, all of the province's political leaders agree on the rules governing Quebec's move to sovereignty. There is clearly a consensus in Quebec on this, which the federal government is refusing to recognize.
This consensus is grounded on three basic principles: first, the existence of the people of Quebec; next, respect for fundamental democratic principles; finally, the integrity of Quebec territory. All of Quebec's premiers, be they federalist or sovereignist, from Daniel Johnson senior to Robert Bourassa, have defended these three principles.
The federalists, in their post-referendum panic and without an argument to stand on, are going after the process, trying to discredit it by all possible means. By doing so, however, they are the ones discrediting democracy in Canada by deriding the rules underlying it. Partition, a reference to the Supreme Court, doubt cast on the rule of the simple majority, a country wide referendum, all threats and fears are fair game.
Under the tutelage of the Reform Party, the Liberal Party of Canada has chosen not to face the issue. Everything is being questioned with the almost acknowledged aim of frightening Quebecers and with the obvious aim of saying, “You will never do it”. The bidding is escalating at the expense of Quebecers.
Although they are not acceptable, these attacks against Quebec's democratic institutions are not the real problem. Although they are irresponsible and dangerous, the threats of the partition and hacking-up of Quebec are not the real problem. Although it is both absurd and disgusting, the reference to the Supreme Court aimed at depriving Quebecers of their right to decide their future democratically is not the real problem.
The real problem is this stubborn denial of the very existence of the people of Quebec. This is the real problem, which in turn leads to all sorts of undemocratic excesses cloaked in legality and clarity. Such hypocrisy. This is the root cause of the deadlock. The Liberal Party of Canada's approach has failed, because it denies the existence of the people of Quebec people, a people different from the people of Canada.
By so doing, the big guns in the federalist camp are endorsing the position of the leader of the official opposition, who stubbornly denies the existence of the people of Quebec as one of the two founding nations of Canada in 1867.
Canadians are a people. The aboriginal peoples are made up of several peoples. People all over the world are divided into various peoples. If it is good for everybody else, why would it be bad for Quebecers?
I appeal specifically to members from Quebec in this House who, over and above their mandate, are citizens who must believe in respecting democracy and above all in the existence of the people of Quebec.
We urge you not to be part of the government's blind denial of the facts when it refuses to recognize that the people of Quebec people exists and is free to decide its own future.
To conclude, let me say a word or two about Canada's future. In its Speech from the Throne, the government is predicting a brilliant future for Canada during the third millennium. It even invites us to celebrate this future success ahead of time. We see things differently.
We believe that Canada is at a crossroad. It has a choice. The federal government can remain true to its traditions of tolerance, openmindedness and democracy, traditions upheld by Lester B. Pearson, among others. Then, the government will give Quebec the right to decide its own future in accordance with the democratic rules which are part of the common heritage of the peoples of Canada and Quebec.
Thus, it will become once again a model at the international level, with which a sovereign Quebec will be able to build a real partnership. Not a pseudo-partnership where Quebec would simply carry out orders from Ottawa, but a fruitful partnership between two sovereign countries. This is simply reasonable, this is plain common sense.
Or the government can let itself go and drift away from democracy, this has already started, driven mostly by the anti-sovereignist phobia of the Prime Minister and his Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. And this is the open door to all excesses, a slide towards anger and intolerance, towards totally anti-democratic behaviour. This is a dead end street.
Unfortunately, it is this second alternative which seems to prevail at the present time, because of a Prime Minister who is blinded and intoxicated by the arabesques and arrogance of his Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. This is regrettable, but I am deeply convinced that in the end the Canadian people, whom I sincerely trust, will not allow it. The government will have to pay a heavy price for having defiled its own institutions.
Members of the Bloc Quebecois will continue to stand by the democratic traditions of Lester B. Pearson's Canada. We will continue to respect this House despite the fact that many members on the government side try to defile it and use it for their own anti-sovereignist obsessions, as they are presently trying to do with the Supreme Court. Even if they continue to move down this dead end street, they will not prevent Quebec from progressing toward sovereignty. I do hope that Quebecers will have their own country by the year 2000.
In concluding, I move:
That the amendment be modified by adding after the words “legislative program” the following:
“that denies the existence of the Québécois people and their culture, which once again reflects the government's centralizing vision by confirming and increasing its presence in areas of provincial jurisdiction such as social programs, health and especially education, and”.