House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was students.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 1998
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1998
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 1998
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 158
Government Orders

May 25th, 1998 / 12:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Division No. 158
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to debate and vote on the following motion:

That this House congratulate the board of the new Ottawa Hospital on its decision to confirm David Levine in his position as chief executive officer and reiterate—

Division No. 158
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Division No. 158
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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Division No. 158
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12:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. member have permission to put the motion?

Division No. 158
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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 158
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

The House resumed from May 13, 1998 consideration of Bill C-36, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 24, 1998, as reported (without amendment) from the committee; and of Group No. 1.

Division No. 158
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-36 before us contains various provisions, including one regarding the millennium scholarships program, which the Prime Minister would like to impose on and force down the throats of the provinces, particularly Quebec, whose loans and grants system is working remarkably well.

Incidentally, last Wednesday, in the City of Lac-Mégantic, I attended the opening of a new foundation, which does not make any waves or cause any jurisdictional problems. The founding president of the Montignac Foundation, Serge Poulin, who is the vice-principal of the Montignac school, together with the board, will carry out his duties on a voluntary basis and will be required to raise up to $1 million within five years in support of Montignac's high school graduates.

Unlike the federal government, this foundation does not plan to spend 5% of its budget on administration costs. Everyone involved unanimously agreed to work for free, not only in managing and administering the fund but also in raising funds, while it is a well known fact that the federal government has already earmarked $2.5 billion in the 1997-98 budget for scholarships that will not be granted to students for another two or three years.

It is a real scandal, and, in addition, it is causing barefaced duplication. The last time I spoke on this bill, I compared the duplication to the situation of a farmer with a mixed quota of processing milk and fluid milk. That means two ministers of agriculture will be managing the same cow, which belongs to the same producer.

There will be two levels of government, two heads of government, two forms for every student to complete to obtain money to continue studying.

Of course students do not care whether the cheque bears a maple leaf or a fleur de lys. We all know that the Government of Quebec will deduct from bursaries to students any amount it discovers the federal government has given them.

I would like to congratulate Serge Poulin, the founding president, and the members of his board of directors along with the members of the 15 municipalities surrounding the city of Lac-Mégantic, who will manage the Fondation Montignac. The region of Lac-Mégantic is very prosperous, with a level of unemployment no doubt under 6%. However, the average income is lower than that in the eastern townships. With this sort of foundation, we will enable dozens and dozens of students to continue their studies.

In closing, I invite the federal government and the Minister of Human Resources Development, in particular, to sit down with Pauline Marois and come to an agreement. It is disastrous when the government is continually sowing the seeds of discord and always looking for an argument or a run in with the provinces, given that education is a provincial matter.

Division No. 158
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak on Bill C-36, the budget implementation bill, and to represent my constituents.

I suppose what is most frustrating, though, would be for them to witness this last vote. The government should be ashamed of itself. It has just forced closure again, again and again. There are 107 amendments to this bill. There has been less than one day to debate these at report stage and what does this government do? It does like it has in the past from the very first bill, right back to Bill C-2. It forces closure.

The government pulls every single trick and all the people on that side of the House get their little marching orders, they stand up like trained sheep and do what they are told to do. It is absolutely disgusting and appalling.

I want to talk about Group No. 1. I have not quite figured out whether this is the Prime Minister's slush fund or if it is the finance minister's. The Prime Minister has announced a $2.5 billion slush fund which nobody will see until at least the year 2000. We have no idea what direction it is going. He is sort of burying it in a dark hole. We are not sure if it is being put away for the finance minister's announcement when he wants to seek the nomination of this party to sit on this side of the House. We do not know where it is going.

Imagine if it does go to some of the students. Only 6% of the entire student population would receive any benefit of this $2.5 billion slush fund belonging to we are not sure who.

I find that very disturbing but even more disturbing is that this government stands up on that side of the House, gets on its moral high horse and all of a sudden it is so proud of doing something for young Canadians, putting something back into education. This government has a very short memory. Over the last four years during the last parliament this government cut $7 billion in transfer payments to the provinces. What do those go to? Education.

Students are struggling. Now the government is on its moral high horse again to announce a slush fund. It does not want to do it too early in its term. It is going to wait and the fund will benefit at best 6% of students if it ever gets to them. That is a disgrace.

I will talk about the budget. The minister was quite upset at being criticized by the auditor general for his accounting practices so he sent his cronies to talk to the auditor general. The message was basically that if you do not like the way we are keeping our books, we will just change the rules. Who do you think you are to criticize the government, you are only the auditor general.

I have to commend the auditor general on his reply. On March 18 the auditor general stated this to the government: “I believe the change will open the door for governments to influence reported results by simply announcing intentions in their budgets and then deciding what to include in the deficit or surplus after the end of the year once preliminary numbers are known”. The auditor general is trying to very politely tell the government to quit cooking the books. That is exactly what the government is doing. I cannot believe the Liberals sit on that side of the House with their faces buried in their papers. They are not paying attention.

Look at the facts. Look what those guys did less than a half hour ago. They stood up like trained sheep and followed their marching orders. How can they do that? We watched it on hepatitis C and we watch it on vote after vote. Why do they even come to Ottawa? They are ordered here. They think they have some dignity coming to this House and voting like that. I have been here for one year. Time after time I see closure.

They can crack jokes but this is serious business. The people of Canada are incredibly frustrated that the Liberals sit on that side of the House and force closure on bills like this, that they make a slush fund for the finance minister to dispose of when he feels it is right for his political advantage while students are out there struggling. They are struggling all over British Columbia where I come from.

Canadian students are facing rising tuition costs and expenses and the government's response to them is we will create a slush fund but come back and see us in the year 2000 and we will decide if you qualify. If you buy a young Liberals membership we will see where you fit in the mix and if you will get some of this fund. We have not quite decided who will benefit from it.

That is absolutely shameful. Students are looking for help. They are facing rising tuition costs on account of this government's massive cutbacks to post-secondary institutions, $7 billion since the Liberals formed government.

That is straight fact. Look at the numbers. Any financial expert can tell them that. They sit over there and think it is a big joke. The day of reckoning will come, next election day. How they can actually stand up and vote to force closure on 107 amendments is incredible. We have had one day of debate.

There was a time when those members sat on this side of the House. They thought it was appalling to force closure. But how quickly it changes when they are on that side of the House. Time and time again we have seen what these members have done. They get their marching orders from the whip. I think they call it a triple whip vote. That is what we are getting again.

How can those guys sit on that side of the House with straight faces and joke and laugh about something this serious? We are talking about the budget implementation act and I am specifically talking about the $2.5 billion millennium scholarship fund which is a nice fancy title for the Prime Minister and his cronies.

If this government had anything to do it would put that $2.5 billion into tax cuts immediately where there would be a tangible benefit, where jobs could be created for students who will be getting out of university in the next week or two looking for jobs. Students are facing dismal prospects right now across the country due to the government's high taxation on small business. This government could have done something positive for the students of this country. Instead it chose to play its political games, cooking the books, hiding the money and deciding what fits its political agenda and how it can benefit from this. That is exactly what the government has done.

I honestly believe that students and all Canadians in the next election will come back to this. We will make sure they remember that time after time this government forced closure when it was convenient, when it suited its own political agenda. There is no substance in this. It is just hiding $2.5 billion. The government calls it a scholarship fund but it is not accessible until the year 2000. Even then it may benefit 6% of the students of this country.

How can government members sit on that side of the House and be proud of themselves?

Division No. 158
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maud Debien Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, about 10 days ago, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to amend its bill on the millennium scholarship fund, so as to respect Quebec's unique student loans and grants program.

Over the next few minutes, I will explain why the representatives of the people of Quebec asked Ottawa to unconditionally withdraw from this area and to provide full financial compensation to the Quebec government.

Let me first discuss the federal government's unconditional withdrawal from education. Many reasons justify such a measure, but it is always worth repeating them.

First, under the Constitution, education is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. We can never say it too often. The federal government argued that its initiative is not related to education, but to the funding of education. Yet, it is clear that the federal program interferes in the education sector by evaluating scholarship recipients and asking them for an activity report.

Second, the issue is even more sensitive in the case of Quebec which, as you know, is not a province like the others, even though some refuse to recognize that fact. Again, anything relating to language, culture and education is vital to Quebec's national identity.

Finally, the federal government's project is a waste of time, money and resources. Indeed, the Quebec government has been administering its own loans and scholarships program for 34 years. It has the expertise and the necessary infrastructures to ensure the smooth operation of a new scholarships program. Why create a new structure, the millennium scholarship foundation, and provide it with the required staff and mechanisms, when everything is already in place in Quebec?

Such shameful duplication is condemned so strongly that a consensus quickly developed in Quebec to have all student scholarships administered by the Quebec government.

This leads me to discuss the second Quebec claim, that is the transfer to the Quebec government of the financial resources reserved for Quebec, so that it can implement an additional scholarship program if needed.

The main reason for this is the current imbalance between the federal government's financial resources and those of the provinces.

In February 1957, ten years before he became Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau wrote the following: “The total wealth at the disposal of the Canadian tax system needs to be divided between the federal government and the provincial governments so that each may do as it sees fit with its share”.

In other words, each level of government must have its share of taxes so that it may meet its constitutional responsibilities. The present Prime Minister would do well to read what his mentor had to say on this.

The federal government does, however, have greater powers of taxation than the provinces. This problem dates back to the beginnings of Confederation, worsening as the provinces began to develop programs to meet the growing needs of their populations in the areas of health, education and welfare. Instead of splitting tax resources differently with the provinces, however, the government of Canada offered to co-finance programs under certain conditions.

Worse yet, the federal government did not settle for controlling the provinces' exercise of power. Often, solely in order to raise its profile, it wants to be the one to control a program in an area of provincial jurisdiction. As we know, very often it does this by taking advantage of its spending power.

What is the millennium scholarship foundation but just one more abuse of the federal spending power, despite this government's promise to limit spending in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum?

The present Prime Minister of Canada is launching unprecedented assaults on the provinces. Even Pierre Elliott Trudeau supported the Quebec premier in his opposition to the federal grants to universities in the 1950s. On this he wrote the following: “If a government has such a superabundance of revenue that it undertakes to provide part of the common wealth which does not fall under its jurisdiction—that government is conspicuously guilty of going against the principle of proportional taxation”.

Judging by these words from a Quebecker who cannot be labelled a separatist, the Government of Canada collects too much taxes compared to the provincial governments. This is no doubt the reason the Minister of Finance is trying to camouflage his budget surplus. Every year he has underevaluated his taxation revenues, overestimated his reserve for contingencies, and as a result exaggerated the size of the federal deficit. Today, he is trying to include in the 1998-99 budget expenditures that would be made over a period of ten years. What will he invent tomorrow to interfere, once again, in areas under provincial jurisdiction?

The federal government now has more money than it needs to fulfil its responsibilities. That money is not the federal government's money. First of all, it is the money the provinces should have received through transfers, which were cut by several billion dollars. It is also the money of the workers, whose EI contributions were diverted. Finally, it is the money of taxpayers from Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and all the other Canadian provinces where the federal government collects taxes.

If there is a need for scholarships, the provinces must meet that need themselves. The federal government just has to give them part of the fiscal base so they can collect the necessary taxes directly or, as a former premier of Quebec used to say, “to give them back their loot”. But, as we can see, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In other words, the federal government should withdraw from the area of scholarships with full compensation to the provinces, as demanded unanimously by the members of the National Assembly of Quebec. As a matter of fact, that is the intent of the amendments to the bill that were brought forward by my colleague, the member for Quebec. It is so convenient to attack the separatists when things are not going well in the Canadian system.

But if there is a sovereignist movement in Quebec, is it not primarily because the Canadian federation is not working? If it is not working, is it not mainly because the federal government is infringing upon provincial areas of jurisdiction, which is leading to costly overlap?

To answer these questions, let me remind the House of what the late political analyst Léon Dion wrote in 1980: “The political stability of our country relies on Quebec being granted control over all linguistic and cultural matters as well as the financial means to develop and implement the programs it would see fit to promote in these areas as suitable for its own people.”

Canada is a dysfunctional entity. For the last 50 years, Canadian federalism has moved away from the model developed by its founders, since respect for the autonomy of the provinces is at the heart of the 1867 pact.

The Millennium Scholarship Foundation is but another example of this distorted federalism. Since negotiations are underway to allow the Government of Quebec to regain exclusive control over scholarships, it would be appropriate to suspend the implementation of the millennium scholarship program.

However, the federal government seems to be too concerned about its political visibility and not enough about the welfare of the students to support the amendments put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.