House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, as people used to say when I was young, the truth hurts. It is the job of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance to sit down and negotiate. What is he waiting for? He must act now.

Why does he not act? We all know the answer here. It is because the future prime minister does not want this to be negotiated now. He wants to wait until after the election. He probably has some surprises in store for us, with cuts once again. This is probably what is awaiting us. This is why today the government is presenting us with a bill at the last minute to draw things out and to look good during the election campaign.

Do not tell us that we cannot read bills. This is not true. In the Bloc Quebecois, we are doing our job conscientiously. I can tell you one thing, this is a Trojan horse, as we say. It is very dangerous to present us now with a bill such as this, and then, when the future prime minister wins the election, he will make major cuts in equalization payments once again.

We do not want this bill. We want a calculation that is equitable, fair and that responds to people's needs. This is our goal and we will fight to the end to ensure that this happens.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, does my colleague, the member for Laurentides, not agree that negotiating with the provinces is the responsibility of the present Minister of Finance and his parliamentary secretary? Why do they not do it? Precisely because they will no longer be the finance minister and the parliamentary secretary. That is the cold hard reality.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. There is also the fact that we, as parliamentarians, have work to do. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance has work to do. He is not doing it these days. The Minister of Finance is not doing his job either. This creates a situation where we become suspicious.

We suspect that there will be some radical changes after the next election. It is normal that we would think that way. They do not want to negotiate now because they want to look good during the electoral campaign. However, I can guarantee that members of the Bloc Quebecois will expose them during the campaign. I can guarantee that they will not get away with this.

We will vote against the bill and we will make sure that Quebeckers and Canadians are made aware of what they are trying to do in this House.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleagues on their excellent speeches. I will continue in the same vein as my colleague from Laurentides.

This is a short bill. It covers two situations. The first one, about which we have talked a lot and which explains why this bill has been introduced, is the fact that there is a deep division within the government. Actually, the next prime minister will review everything that is done. Therefore, they will not negotiate.

It could also happen that the negotiations will be postponed, since the purpose of this bill is to extend until March 31, 2005 some arrangements that were to end on March 31, 2004. The provinces might wonder, and rightly so, whether the government is trying to give the former finance minister and future prime minister, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, the opportunity to negotiate after an election.

The truth of the matter is that those who take their responsibilities seriously are saying that this bill is not needed right now. Or negotiations are underway, and that is fine. Since we are supposed to sit until December 15, and resume in February, there is no reason to rush. If the government is ramming this through, it is because it knows we will not be sitting during this period of time.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

An hon. member

That is nonsense.

Mr. Speaker, let me translate what I am hearing from the other side. Somebody said that it was nonsense. This whole bill is nonsense. Maybe it was not planned that way, but when we look at it—and it is our duty to do so—we see that it would only postpone and delay the negotiations.

That is what it would do. I was a negotiator for 15 years. I learned to read documents and not rely only on what my counterparts would tell me. I found out that I was right to do so. Spoken words fly away, written words remain.

What does it mean for the people watching us? Why are we against this bill? If there were no problems with the current equalization legislation, if the provinces were pleased with it, we would not be here considering this bill.

The truth is we need to negotiate this. The provinces have met. Thanks to the leadership of Quebec, they have agreed on a number of demands. On October 10, as the hon. member for Joliette pointed out, the provincial finance ministers and their federal counterpart said that they would negotiate in good faith in the hope of reaching an agreement before March 31.

That was on October 10 and today is October 30. What has happened since then? Why? If the government did not want to draw attention to this issue, why did they do this? It does not make any sense.

Either no one is steering the ship or the ship will not come back to the House of Commons before the next election. There are not a million explanations for this. Or it is a rather strange way of governing.

For those who may be listening to us, equalization is important for the provinces. It is a way of bringing some fairness to the ability of each province to provide services. However, right now, this system is flawed.

What the provinces are asking is that the revenues of all provinces, instead of just five, be taken into account. This would increase by $3 billion the amount of money to be distributed, except that $3 billion is nothing compared to the wealth generated in Canada. It is a drop in the bucket. It is between 1% and 1.3%.

The provinces want this because it would take into account their ability to pay and that of the federal government, which keeps increasing at the expense of the provinces, the unemployed and low-wage earners. I will digress here and say that the employment insurance plan is supposed to be a plan for which contributions are taken out of our pay cheques for a specific reason. And yet, that money is used to increase the federal government's surplus, which is now somewhere around $48 billion.

The provinces have been forced into a difficult position with regard to the delivery of health care services. We heard much about it. We did not hear as much about services in education. As for social services, we heard even less about that. Why do we want to renegotiate the equalization formula? To bring some fairness to the distribution of what is called the tax base, which means the ability to collect taxes.

The federal government has the ability to collect a lot of money in taxes, but it does not have the needs. The provinces do not have the same ability to collect because there is not enough tax room left by the federal government. However, they are the ones who have to provide services to the public. This is why we need to negotiate.

What the provinces are asking first is that the government consider the revenues of all the provinces, not only the five provinces with average revenues. Alberta, Ontario and the poorest provinces are excluded.

Second, they ask that negotiation be more transparent. At this time, 3,000 elements are taken into account. Those in the know say there are really very few experts in this sector. Transparency is absolutely essential and this is what the provinces want.

The provinces also want the cap on equalization removed. Indeed, they have increasing needs in all the sectors that we have listed.

Why do we find ourselves in this somewhat aberrant situation where the provinces, on October 10, said they were waiting for negotiations and wanted to renew all this, and on October 30, a bill says that this is postponed until March 30, 2005?

We must ask the question and we are asking it. What answer will we be given? We will be told that the government is forward thinking. I heard the member opposite say quite loudly, “You do not understand anything; if at the expiry date there is no legislation, there will be no money”. What is he saying? You understood perfectly well; it is easy to understand. He is saying that, on October 30, the House has one week left and we must pass this bill. Then, we will say goodbye, and we will see each other again at election time.

I am sorry, but that is the message the government is sending. Do they think we will agree with such a message, when that would mean saying that the government is no longer able to assume its duties, that it does not want to put itself in a position of having to assume them before the next election? The provinces are waiting to negotiate and they need to negotiate with someone who is able to do so.

Earlier, I said I had lengthy experience in negotiation. If there is one thing we learn in negotiating, it is that you are not really negotiating until you have the person who makes the decisions at the table with you.

When people who are negotiating do not have a mandate, the negotiations do not happen. It may be that the messages being put forth by the member for LaSalle—Émard, saying that he will reassess all decisions made by the government, has bothered the equalization negotiators so much that they are saying they had better pay attention.

It is hard to think of it any other way, and that is serious, because it confirms once again that this government is paralyzed. Instead of facing up to it and making the necessary decisions, this week we have been treated to a kind of farce—I say what I think—when, the same day we read in the newspapers that the member for LaSalle—Émard says he will reassess all the decisions, he comes in to vote in the House against the Bloc's motion, applauding the Prime Minister and urging him to stay as long as he wants.

What does that have to do with the business of Parliament? What does that say about government responsibility? It means—and I will be polite—that at the very least, there is an extraordinary lack of respect for the House. It means that we can sit here in this House and tell ourselves that what we do may serve no purpose. The work we do here in committee and in the House may be wiped out and we will begin again at zero, since the government is no longer governing and there will be a new prime minister. However, he will not be able to take up his duties as he should have.

On that topic, I heard the Prime Minister give an answer to some questions we have been asking ourselves here on this side of the House. He said that he had lived through a similar situation when there was a change in government after the Conservatives.

I agree, but currently, it is the same party and that makes it very strange. We are in that situation and it is surprising. We did not expect to be in such a situation.

Since we are confronted with this situation day in and day out and since it is deteriorating, this bill is confirming all our fears. No one can deny that this bill could mean either that an agreement will not be negotiated or that it will not be negotiated within the timeframe, but possibly after the election.

This is frustrating for parliamentarians. Above all, it is insulting to be told we do not understand anything. What the government is trying to do is to anticipate the consequences of its inability to govern.

We cannot support or accept that. We will continue to oppose it vigorously, because it is nonsense. We will not allow that to happen. We will use every means at our disposal.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

October 30th, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

We will show them.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

These are all phrases we can use. This is sad. As individuals involved in politics, as representatives elected by the people, we would normally expect to come and do some serious work in this House and not to be stuck here for months, watching time go by until a new government can take over. That is nonsense.

Some people somewhere in government have to consider Canada's image. I am the foreign affairs critic. Canada, which boasts about its reputation, is doing itself serious harm. It is being observed. It is putting itself on the map, so people are watching. The current situation in no way demonstrates good governance or transparency. Not at all. This is serious.

That is why we want this bill to be defeated. However, we still have one hope, and that hope has just been introduced. We are telling the House how we feel. If, in response to our amendments, the government responds to our fears, we might change our minds. However, if things remain unchanged, including the text of the bill, we can only be angry at what is before us.

Bill C-54 bears a number with a past. This was the number of the so-called Internet transaction bill, which infringed on Quebec's jurisdiction. This was long debated. As things currently stand, if Bill C-54 is not amended, we will strongly oppose it.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the Bloc is trying to demonstrate in its view why this federation does not work and its attempt to try and delay this legislation is a good example.

I really believe the member, who I thought would be much more thoughtful in her comments for someone who has negotiated for 15 years, has demonstrated a lack of understanding. The legislation is an insurance policy but that party over there does not believe that. I cannot believe the hypocrisy of that party. If on April 16 we do not, for whatever reason, have an agreement and the moneys do not flow, those members will be complaining bitterly. They will be raising the roof in here.

The member is right on one point. On April 10 the Minister of Finance had very useful and productive meetings with his counterparts, and the negotiations are going on.

I want the Bloc members to get one thing straight because I am tired of listening to them say that this has suddenly appeared. The fact is that negotiations are going on and they are going well. Nobody said there were no negotiations. What we are saying is that in the unlikely event we have an insurance policy.

This is not sinister. I realize that they think everything we do here is sinister but this is something that the provinces need. They want it and they expect it. There are no surprises. This is like the Holiday Inn. There are no surprises.

We assume, because the provinces are supportive and we are having good negotiations, that this is just an insurance policy. However the Bloc members, because that is their nature, think this is some sinister plot, and they bring all sorts of other things into this which are not germane to this debate.

If there is no agreement in place after March 31 and the first payments do not arrive in Quebec on April 16, I defy the member to stand up and say that it is okay because it was her party that opposed the legislation to have insurance.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, if anyone has been responsible in terms of Quebec and the provinces, it is the Bloc Quebecois. I challenge the hon. member to admit that he is only introducing this bill because he thinks he will not get another opportunity to do so. That is the truth and that is why we are opposed to it.

Obviously, we are responsible. We want there to be money on March 30 or April 1, 2004. We also want there to be negotiations. The member cannot respond to what I said about the contents of this bill. The only thing that he is answering is that we were ready to let the time expire and that we are not considering the enormous harm this would cause the provinces.

We want there to be negotiations. We do not want to give the government the means to slow down this process and use that as a pressure tactic. The government is capable of giving us guarantees. In committee, the Bloc will make amendments. That is what we want.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Mercier. I did not know she could get mad, but she has just proved it today.

I have a question or a comment for her. The Prime Minister—and I am not talking about the member for LaSalle—Émard but rather about the little guy from Shawinigan—announced a few months ago that if the Canadian government accumulated a surplus in the current fiscal year, $2 billion would be returned to the provinces for health care.

About three weeks ago, on a Wednesday afternoon, the current Minister of Finance proudly announced that the government would have a $7 billion surplus. A few minutes later, in a press conference, some journalists asked him if he would hand over to the provinces the $2 billion promised by the Prime Minister. He answered that he would not, that it would be premature. He said that he had to study the situation and that he would give an answer later on.

What does she think about the reaction of the current Minister of Finance?

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, everybody knows how badly the provinces need that $2 billion. But we were just told that it was not certain that they would get it. I thank my colleague for his question, because this is a very serious issue.

The facts that keep accumulating explain why we are so suspicious of such a proposal. This is why we are trying to get all possible guarantees to make sure that the money is there, that the negotiations turn out well and that the new proposed amounts take effect on April 1, 2004, as planned.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

I will try to ask my question as quickly as I can so that my colleague will have time to answer.

First, it is insulting to be told that we cannot read a bill. Several of us have been parliamentarians for 10 years, so I think we are quite capable of reading a bill. They are angry, precisely because we read the bill and discovered that its main purpose is to accommodate the future prime minister. Let us not kid ourselves; that is the fact of the matter.

I held a press conference in my riding on Monday and journalists from my region asked me, “What is going on in Ottawa? Everything has come to a halt, there is total inertia over there. What are you doing now? What will happen? You cannot work, everything has stopped, there are two prime ministers. What is going on?”

I would like to ask my colleague if she hears the same comments from journalists and constituents in her riding, to the effect that Parliament is paralyzed. Could she comment on that?

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for this excellent question.

It is true people are worried and they wonder what is going on or not going on here. If a debate like this one can give us the opportunity to express the concerns of the people about the federal government's incapacity to govern the country, at least it will have served a purpose.

I cannot help but deeply regret this situation, because I do not think it is beneficial for democracy.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak about Bill C-54. I congratulate all my colleagues who spoke before me.

Where is democracy heading in Canada? That is a question I would like to ask every member in this House, and all those who are listening to us or watching us on TV. More and more, we wonder where democracy is heading in Canada.

The current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance has been asking ambiguous questions since the beginning of our exchanges on Bill C-54. The Bloc Quebecois is against the principle of Bill C-54 and its position did not come out of a magician's hat. We will try to have the bill amended so that, should there be an agreement between the provinces and the federal government on a new formula by March 31, 2004, such an agreement would take precedence with regard to payments to the provinces.

The Bloc Quebecois' position is based on the consensus of the provinces. I did not come up with that consensus since I am not here representing provincial governments. The provinces do not want to have an equalization formula, one that no longer reflects the current realities of their citizens, rammed down their throats

The provinces agreed to sing from the same songbook as the Government of Quebec to present their demands to this government. As you know, there was a general election in Quebec and the nasty separatists are no longer in power. A Liberal government is now at the helm in Quebec. Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance understand that? They are his people.

The Liberal MNAs are opposed to the approach of this government, their federal big brother. We have always been told that the Bloc was a branch of the Parti Quebecois. Now the government's provincial brothers are opposed to what it is doing on the issue of equalization.

The Bloc takes as a basis the fact that the provinces are demanding that the formula be modified to take into account the fiscal capacity of all 10 provinces of Canada. I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary knows what fiscal capacity means. I am not talking about Quebec only, I am talking about a consensus among the provinces on the formula proposed by Quebec. The provinces want this to be factored in.

Such a measure would cost the federal government $3 billion more a year. The federal government is opposed to it, because it does not have the money.

A few days ago, and all the members of his party applauded, the Minister of Finance told us there was a surplus of $7 billion, yet when he tabled his estimates, he talked about a $3 billion surplus.

We are not talking about a few coins in his piggy bank. I doubt you have a piggy bank large enough to contain $7 billion, Mr. Speaker. If so, you would be an exception to the rule.

The Minister of Finance said there was a $7 billion surplus. The current equalization formula needs to be reviewed and adjusted to the current reality.

This is done for the next five years and has to be adjusted to the reality in the provinces.

My colleague from Laurentides talked about how her area had been hard hit when the Boisbriand plant closed. My are has been suffering from the softwood lumber crisis. The Sherbrooke area has other problems. In my riding, Alcan has just become the top aluminum producer in the world, but we have the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Why? What do we do with our raw materials? We ship them off elsewhere; we do not process anything.

The same scenario is found in all the regions in Quebec. That said, the provinces are saying, “Enough is enough. You base your statistics on the rich provinces, but we are no longer rich. We want to renegotiate with you and come to the table. We have the time”.

March 31, 2004 is five months away, after all. I do not know what the member for LaSalle—Émard is up to behind the curtain of the House of Commons or behind his desk with his friends, the big contributors to his campaign fund.

If thre is good will, everyone can sit down in five months, particularly since there is consensus among the provinces. They will not arrive with the intention of squabbling. No, they have informed the government of their conditions.

I congratulate them, because they always describe federal-provincial discussions as constantly having one participant who is not in agreement. But this time they all reached agreement in advance and have told the feds, “It is your turn now to listen to us”.

We are part of that consensus, and we are telling the federal government, “Sit down and negotiate instead of having the pipe dream that everything is fine, that this is the greatest place in the world”.

No, there are regional and provincial inequities. This applies regardless of what is concerned, poverty for instance. Let them stop pretending otherwise: we have the highest percentage of children living in poverty, according to UN statistics. When I heard that, I thought of our present prime minster boasting about how we were the richest country in the OECD.

This then is the consensus, and we will support it. The parliamentary secretary, the present PM, the member for LaSalle—Émard and future PM behind the curtain, the present Minister of Finance, all want to shove something down our throats that we will not swallow. We are going to oppose it, because doing so makes sense.

During the election campaign, we do not want to hear them talking about “the Bloc Quebecois members who were against it”. They did that in 2000, claiming we were opposed to the infrastructure program. This is not true. What we said was that it was not big enough.

That is the situation. Let them negotiate. Afterward, if things go well, we will vote in favour.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wish to inform the hon. member for Jonquière that she will have approximately 12 minutes remaining when the matter is next brought before the House.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.