House of Commons Hansard #10 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to comment at great length. I think he has a chance to clarify his role in relationship to the fiscal imbalance.

I would like to point out a few things before he does that. Both orders of government, the federal and federal, have access to the same major revenue bases, such as personal income taxes and corporate income taxes, as well as sales tax and payroll taxes.

The provinces have also exclusive access to some rapidly growing tax bases, including revenues from natural resources, gaming and property taxes.

I am sure he is also well aware that international comparisons show that Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the world, with provinces that have complete autonomy in setting their tax policies to address spending pressures related to their responsibility.

As well, the current federal debt is about $467 billion, whereas the total of all provincial debt is $274 billion. The government cannot be accused of maintaining a fiscal imbalance when the provincial collective debt is much lower.

I want him to state an opinion on these undeniable facts.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

October 29th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that an hon. member from a party that denied the existence of the fiscal imbalance for years, from the height of his arrogance, condescension even, should ask me such a question.

I am no expert at accounting, but I would bring my colleague back to the debate before us today: it is a question of principle. Quebec was recognized as a nation. And as such, Quebec, through this motion presented by the Bloc Québécois—which is the embodiment of the aspirations, the needs and the grievances of all of Quebec society and of the National Assembly of Quebec—is entitled to demand the elimination of the federal spending power. That is the subject.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the motion. I would like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Lambert on his excellent speech and thank him for sharing his time with me.

I would like to read the motion introduced by our excellent member for Papineau.

That, in the opinion of the House, given that the Prime Minister has promised to eliminate the fiscal imbalance and that this imbalance cannot be eliminated without the elimination of the federal spending power in areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, the bill on federal spending power that the government will introduce should, at a minimum, provide for Quebec to have the right to opt out with no strings attached and with full financial compensation from any federal program, whether existing or not and cost-shared or not, which invades Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

I felt it was important to reread the motion for all of our federalist colleagues in this House, and especially for our colleagues from Quebec who belong to federalist parties. I want to make it perfectly clear that the motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois today is based on the traditional demands of all parties in Quebec's National Assembly. There is nothing new in it.

In its throne speech, the Conservative government told us about placing limits on the use of the federal spending power in shared-cost programs. The Conservative government decided to put restrictions on what Quebec has traditionally asked for. That is why we, the members of the Bloc Québécois, are working hard to defend the interests of Quebeckers. All parties have been making this demand for a long time now.

As far as I know, the Liberal Party in Quebec's National Assembly is a federalist party. It is hard to tell where the ADQ stands on this issue, but the Liberal Party in Quebec is a federalist party. This motion contains one of Quebec's traditional demands. Our colleagues must understand this. This is important because in this House, members too often fail to understand Quebec's demands.

Three Canadian provinces and three territories all have fewer inhabitants than the former city of Montreal. I am not talking about the new amalgamated city. Those provinces and territories may not have enough inhabitants to support programs, social or otherwise. Quebec does. Of all North American jurisdictions, Quebec does the best job of distributing wealth among its citizens.

Quebec is different when it comes to spending powers and provincial areas of jurisdiction. We did not invent them; they are in the Constitution of Canada. The areas of jurisdiction are in there. It was the federal government, in its Constitution, that decided on the division of powers, which would go to the provinces, and which would remain with federal government. The federal government's determination to invade provincial areas of jurisdiction simply means that there is too much money in Ottawa and not enough in the provinces. That is the hard reality.

We in the Bloc Québécois can understand Quebec's traditional claim. We have social programs and we lead the other Canadian provinces in wealth sharing. That is why we want to have as much control as possible over all the taxes collected in Quebec. Otherwise, let the federal government give Quebec its fair share. Let the federal government give Quebec full compensation, with no strings attached, for whatever Ottawa might decide to spend in other Canadian provinces for whatever programs it chooses. We have no problem with that. The problem is that we want Quebec to receive full, fair compensation with no strings attached. This is not hard. It is a traditional demand by Quebec's National Assembly.

All we are asking is that the federal government stop interfering in jurisdictions it does not have, as defined by the Canadian Constitution. If it does so in other provinces or territories, then it must give Quebec full financial compensation. That is all we are asking.

I do not understand why the federalist parties' MPs from Quebec are not supporting this motion today. It is the traditional demand by Quebec's National Assembly, which simply says to Ottawa that if Ottawa needs to create programs in other Canadian provinces because they need federal assistance, it should go ahead and create them. We have no problem with that. But it must give Quebec full financial compensation so that it can spend its own money where it wants, in accordance with the Canadian Constitution. There is nothing wrong with that.

Year after year, regardless of the party in power, both the Liberals and the Conservatives interfere in provincial areas of jurisdiction and create new programs trying get re-elected. This results in new programs and expectations, but in the end there is not enough money.

It should never be forgotten that more than half of our taxes go to the federal government. I heard colleagues saying that we had the same tax base. That is not true. More taxes are paid to Ottawa than Quebec, for once reason because federal corporate taxes are higher than provincial ones.

I have trouble understanding that today, in this House, there is no support for Quebec's traditional demand to eliminate the federal spending power in provincial areas of jurisdiction, when it is in line with the Canadian Constitution. I have a lot of trouble understanding that.

Furthermore, asymmetrical federalism, or the way it has been interpreted by the federalist parties here in Ottawa, has created this unfairness towards Quebec, which has never wanted this federalism. The province of Quebec never wanted it. Nevertheless, the federalist parties in Ottawa, and sometimes even members from Quebec, have continued to interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction in order to get elected, to win elections with promises that try to solve problems by throwing a little money around.

In the end, what Quebec wants when it is experiencing a crisis—such as the forestry crisis—is for the federal government to withdraw from regional development issues and give the envelope to Quebec so that it can organize its budgets to solve the forestry crisis, the manufacturing crisis or any other crisis that may arise.

As we all know, there is no will here in Ottawa. Quite simply, the government has decided that it does not have enough money to solve the problems or crises. The government should therefore withdraw from these areas of jurisdiction and allow the provinces to act. When regional development, health care or education programs are offered in other provinces, such as Quebec, the money should simply be given to that province.

There is nothing to worry about. Quebec has already proven that it is the best place in North America for sharing the wealth. We do so in the interest of our citizens, as we have always done, and done well. The federal government should never be afraid to give Quebec its envelope, its share for programs it creates in other parts of Canada. We know how to look after our citizens in Quebec.

As we all know, Quebeckers have shown unquestionable logic since 1993. They have been sending Bloc Québécois members here to defend only the interests of Quebeckers. One of those interests includes calling on the federal government to stop its use of the federal spending power in jurisdictions that belong to the provinces and to take care of its own business, particularly, national security.

We all know what happened in that case. During the 1990s, the federal government pulled out of national security, including security at ports and airports. It entrusted this responsibility to private companies, resulting in the security problems we have been having since 2001. Huge amounts of money now have to be reinvested. Why did the government do what it did? To turn around and spend money in areas of jurisdiction that belong to the provinces. That is what the federal government did.

Since the very beginning, if it had listened to Quebec, Canada would never have known these problems. It would have spent money on its own areas of jurisdiction. It would have taken care of its own affairs, rather than trying to meddle in the affairs of others.

That is the difficult reality of our situation. In the meantime, Quebec must manage crises that are different than those affecting other areas. Manufacturing is more important to our province than to others. We have been hit hard by the crisis resulting from the increase in the Canadian dollar, ushered in by the booming western economy where oil activity is doing well. This is spurring the Canadian dollar, which obviously hurts the manufacturing and forestry sectors, among others. It has hit us harder than others.

If we had full control over our money, our taxes, we could try to deal with the crises in our own way, in the Quebec way, as we have always done—by sharing the wealth and trying to help one another. That is our way—I am not making it up. With regard to sharing wealth, any economist will tell you that, in North America, Quebec does it the best. We have set the standard and we are proud to defend this interest. However, we do so without having complete control of our taxes.

In addition, the federal government appropriates more than half of Quebeckers' taxes and reinvests the money in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own. It does not return the money as we would hope. It attempts to create programs in order to be elected. They are all just as guilty—the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP would do the same thing. It would probably be worse if the NDP, a more centralizing party, were in power.

They try to be elected on the backs of Quebeckers, to take our taxes and to create structures and election platforms. That all goes against the interests of Quebeckers. If my colleagues truly wish to prove they take their interests to heart, they need only vote in favour of this mission. I challenge all members to do so.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the member mentioned that Quebec is a large province, but Canada is a very small country from the worldwide point of view and I believe we are the most decentralized country in the world.

The federal spending power is implicit in the British North America Act. It is recognized by the courts. It has been used by successive governments to implement programs, such as the Canada Health Act, employment insurance, Canada pension plan, old age pension, old age supplement, family allowance, the child tax benefit and so on. These social programs, which started mainly in the fifties, reflect Canadian values and reflect our shared destiny as a country.

Because of these programs that were implemented, maintained and enhanced by successive governments over the years, does the member not agree with me that we are a stronger country because of these programs?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how my colleague can see the strength of a country in what he tried to explain to us. However, I will use the example of health care, because it is obvious.

When the health care system was set up jointly with the provinces, the federal government was paying 50% of the bill. That was the commitment made by the federal government. However, in view of the fact that, with regard to health care, it only has the spending power, it decided in the 1990s to reduce provincial transfers in an attempt to eliminate its debt, or its deficit. Thus, in 2000, when I first came to the House of Commons, the federal government was footing only 13% of the bill. As you might have guessed, of course, Quebec and the other provinces were paying the difference. If this is the Canada that my colleague wants to sell to me, it will certainly be a tough sell.

One of the reasons in all likelihood is the intrusion of the federal government through its spending power. Under the Constitution, nothing forces the federal government to pay its fair share. Thus, it was able to adjust its budgets to the vagaries of its spending and, finally, cause grief to the provinces, including Quebec. This is one of the reasons why we are asking it today to give up this federal spending power.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for the clarity of his speech. Indeed, there is intrusion in the areas of provincial jurisdiction from one government to another, and it continues. Canada's Confederation was not created in this way. It divided powers very clearly, and that is what we want. We want at least that the terms of Confederation be respected.

My question is for my colleague. The current federal government—as the previous one—is constantly doing piecemeal management of issues that are not its business.

Is it because they are not interested in financial management? Do they think that this will bring them votes? They should restrain themselves and mind their own business, as my colleague just said. What is their business? It is the laws of Canada, international affairs and national defence. Or, is it because they are doing such a bad job of managing international affairs and national defence that they want to intrude in piecemeal financial management?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi for his question. He is absolutely right. The worst thing about the Conservatives is that they give the impression they are trying to resolve the problem. The example of the federal spending power is quite striking. They give the impression they are going to restrict it, but then they add in cost-shared programs. That has not existed in five years. There is no longer any spending in cost-shared programs.

What is more, they try to use American-style politics where they fool people into believing that they want to resolve the problem, but in fact do nothing about it. It is so low and so pernicious. They try to convince people that they are different, but in reality nothing has changed. When they say they are going to restrict federal spending in cost-shared programs, that means they are going to continue to spend in other programs such as health, education and culture. We know what that means.

Once again, everything the federal government does, has done and will continue to do is simply in an effort to get votes. Why are the Conservatives doing this? Why are they investing in jurisdictions that do not belong to them? They are trying to win votes. Quebeckers figured that out a long time ago—or they will figure it out.

That is why, if there is an election one of these days, there will still be a large Bloc Québécois contingent here in this House.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this debate on the motion by the Bloc. I want to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.

A little over a month ago, I stood as a candidate in the byelection for the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean against the Bloc candidate. The Bloc had held this riding for 14 years. That election was a direct struggle between the platform of the Bloc, which is one of separation and impotence, and the platform of my party, which is one of equity, unity and openness.

The voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted on September 17 for openness over impotence. They preferred our federalism of openness. They saw what our government, led by our Prime Minister, can accomplish for Quebec, which is real results. That is why they gave us their support. So it is with a great deal of emotion that I rise today in this House to oppose this motion by the Bloc.

Our government is committed to practising a federalism of openness that recognizes the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of our great country. We are committed to respecting the fields of jurisdiction that are exclusively provincial and ensuring a proper accounting by clarifying roles and responsibilities. In a little over a year, we have kept our word. We have done what we promised to do.

We have taken action by restoring fiscal balance in Canada, by basing fiscal arrangements on principles and by making long term funding predictable. Indeed, thanks to the restoration of fiscal balance, federal support to the provinces and territories has reached unprecedented heights.

In the Speech from the Throne, we presented other measures promoting our concept of a federalism of openness. We made a commitment to introduce legislation that will place formal limits of the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. At the same time, the legislation will allow provinces to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.

It is not a case of disparaging the federal spending power, as the leader of the Bloc did when he spoke in this House in reply to the Speech from the Throne. He called for the elimination of the federal spending power as one of the five conditions for his party’s support of the Speech from the Throne. Today, we have before the House a motion from his party in support of his proposal.

The federal spending power has been an important factor in social development throughout our history. It has made it possible to set up national social programs, such as health insurance, in concert with the provincial and territorial governments. It has played a vital role in promoting equality of opportunity for all Canadians. It has also helped ensure that Canadians have access to basic social services of comparable quality, wherever they live.

For our government, the debate is not to eliminate the federal spending power, but to define new rules for its judicious use. Total elimination of the spending power without exception would be contrary to the interest of Canadians, Quebeckers included, for it would prevent the federal government, for example, from allocating funds to education and to health transfers.

I personally know what the result of eliminating the federal spending power would be for my electors in Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. It is clear: elimination means separation. A party that proposes such a motion in this House should be aware of the contradiction in what it is asking. One cannot on the one hand demand an end to the federal spending power and on the other call for the federal government to invest in communities that are experiencing economic difficulties.

Unfortunately, that is the spirit of the Bloc: the spirit of contradiction. That is why the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted for real change on September 17. They voted for real results. They voted for a party that understands the problems of Quebec and knows how to solve them. They voted for the party that has the will to strengthen the Canadian federation by recognizing the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of this great country. They voted to build a stronger Quebec within a better Canada.

A solid federation and a dynamic democracy make Canada strong and united. Our practice of federalism enables us to establish a fair balance. We can pursue national objectives while taking account of the various local and regional concerns.

In reality, the Bloc should acknowledge the wisdom shown by our founders, the Fathers of Confederation, in opting for open federalism. For this is the formula best adapted to the changing needs and aspirations of Canadians. The flexibility of the Canadian federation is well suited to seeking solutions to public policy issues, and helps us to meet the challenges before us.

The success of the Canadian federation is admired throughout the world. Some see us as a model of effective governance. Other see us as a model of respect and recognition of diversity, and others still as a model of the search for a pragmatic consensus. This is the model country that the Bloc Québécois wants to destroy. As I said earlier, the voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean realized this. They recognized all the other advantages of our federation and what our government can do for Quebec, and this is why they voted against the Bloc Québécois and for our party on September 17.

When we took power in 2006, it was clear that federalism was not working as it should. It was a federalism based on the old dynamic of federal-provincial conflict. It was a centralizing and domineering style of federalism, which wanted Quebec to stay in its place. It was chequebook federalism and was not based on principles.

Since unexpected federal surpluses were used to spend huge amounts of money in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, often without much consultation, some government initiatives were implemented without stable, long-term federal funding.

The days of this style of paternalistic federalism are long gone. Our government practises an open federalism, which is based on the notion of a strong national government working with strong provincial and territorial governments.

The key to the future that we see for Canadians is a federalism of openness in which all Canadians, whether they live in Roberval, Moose Jaw or Nunavut, can participate.

Our open federalism is one that recognizes the maturation and evolution of the provinces and territories within the federation. It is one that respects the important role that the provinces clearly have to play in the development of national policies. It is also a federalism that respects the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and limits the federal spending power.

Our government honours its commitments to its provincial partners: that is just as true of Quebec as of any other province. We have taken concrete steps to do so thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister. We will continue to play a leadership role in order to promote national interests in collaboration with the provinces and territories.

We will continue to affirm the importance of maintaining an open, honest and respectful relationship with the provinces and territories.

We will continue to affirm the vital contribution of the Quebec nation within the Canadian federation.

As set out in the throne speech, our government will table its bill placing formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. And as further set out there, this bill will allow the provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.

I can tell the hon. members from the Bloc that our policy on the federal spending power reflects our will to strengthen our federation and make it more effective, in a manner that fully respects the areas of jurisdiction of each member of the federation.

Our will to establish a more effective federal-provincial partnership is resolute. As the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean have indicated, Quebeckers, like all other Canadians, want to see their governments working together, cooperating to advance the progress and prosperity of all.

Inspired by this desire of the people, our government is pursuing the mission with which Canadians entrusted it in January 2006. Our government, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, shall not stray from this policy. And that is to the full advantage of Quebec, Canada and Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, our new colleague from the party newly in power prides himself on having won a seat in his region after a 14-year-long Bloc Québécois reign. Fortunately I do not have a large ego, since I could really talk about us ending 87 years of Liberal reign in my riding of Papineau. I have a hard time understanding the member's thinking about the fiscal imbalance and the proposed limitation on the federal spending power in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

I would like to ask him—since he must have learned the lesson recently—what is his definition of the words “fiscal imbalance” and what is his view of the federal spending power in its own areas of jurisdiction.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I am new in this House, but I am not the only one, because other members have also been at one time. As the full time mayor of a municipality that had huge needs, I was able to see the importance of money transfers to help our communities. When, as mayor of a municipality, I received a gasoline excise tax transfer to improve municipal infrastructures—I will only refer to this aspect—I was able to see how important it is to have a cooperating central government that is working with all the provinces.

I am taking this opportunity to say that some are quick to claim to know what is perceived in Quebec as being the thing to do. On October 17—which is not long ago—minister Benoit Pelletier said:

How can we, on the one hand, urge the federal government to invest in single industry towns and, on the other hand, ask for the complete elimination of the federal spending power?

The fact is that if we completely and bluntly eliminate the federal spending power, we are also eliminating at the same time all the payments and all the transfers, including equalization payments.

I strongly object to being told that Bloc members are the only ones who can represent Quebeckers. I can represent the interests of Quebeckers just as legitimately as them.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member believe the Conservative Party still believes it solved what it once recognized as the so-called fiscal imbalance?

As well, does the hon. member believe the Prime Minister, as he put it, solved the problem along with ending “the annual pilgrimage of premiers and mayors to Ottawa for financing?” It seems to me, judging from today's debate, they are still very much knocking on our doors.

In 1999 nine out of ten provinces signed the social union framework agreement and passed it in their respective legislatures. Of course Quebec did not. What new limits does the government have planned for federal spending powers and will all 10 provinces have to agree before any new agreement is struck?

Finally, if the Prime Minister were genuinely interested in resolving these issues, he would hold a first ministers meeting and put them on the agenda. He has had 21 months. What is the holdup and why will he not call a first ministers meeting?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

It is nice to hear that, over the past 21 months, we have made progress on this issue, considering that, for 13 years, hardly anything was done with the provinces and municipalities.

For years, municipalities in Quebec, including the one I was representing, wanted the fiscal imbalance affecting the provinces and municipalities to be recognized. However, the previous government never moved forward on this issue. Even now, it is strange to hear the hon. member almost admit it implicitly, by putting his question to us.

We have worked for 21 months to improve relations with the provinces and their components, and we are going to continue to do that.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable
Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis Secretary of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Mégantic—L'Érable and a Quebec federalist, I am honoured to take part in this debate today on the Bloc Québécois motion. I would like to talk about the concerns that have been raised in the past about the federal spending power and how our government proposes to address this issue.

This power must not be eliminated, as the Bloc is demanding. The Bloc will never form the government and therefore does not have to come up with realistic, achievable solutions. The Bloc has no responsibilities.

The Prime Minister's Conservative government is practising open federalism. We are acting responsibly, and that is why we are keeping our word and proposing to limit and not eliminate the federal spending power.

The Bloc cannot contradict itself at every turn and yet hope that the people of Quebec will support it in this effort. This Bloc motion quite simply means the end of any money transfers for health, social programs and even equalization.

This motion comes on the heels of the speech the leader of the Bloc Québécois gave in this House in response to the Speech from the Throne. I invite you to read Hansard. The leader of the Bloc Québécois said that one of the five conditions his party had set for supporting the throne speech was the elimination of the federal spending power.

As my colleague so aptly put it earlier, the Bloc cannot, on the one hand, call for the elimination of the federal spending power and, on the other, demand that the federal government invest in communities going through hard economic times. Quite frankly, no matter what the Bloc thinks, Quebeckers are much smarter than that. They showed just how smart they are when the byelection was held on September 17. They recognized that our party, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, is delivering the goods for Quebec. That is why they decided to support us.

The Bloc introduced this motion in a desperate bid for credibility. The motion is irresponsible and bad for Quebec and for the country. I know they are trying to connect with the people, but they should still act responsibly, even if they are not accountable.

What is frustrating the Bloc is that Quebec is growing stronger with the Conservative government. Quebeckers want a strong Quebec in a better Canada, and that is frustrating our separatist friends opposite.

The Bloc Québécois do not try to hide the fact that they want to tear Canada apart. They therefore oppose any positive initiative that would improve our country. It is unfortunate, but that is the sad truth.

During the last election campaign, we in the Conservative party promised to respect all areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and to ensure accountability by clarifying roles and responsibilities.

In just a little over a year, we have kept our word once again. We did what we promised. In 2006, when we came into power, we set out to change how things are done here in Ottawa, because, for 13 long years, the Liberals practised a centralist, paternalistic federalism.

Let us not forget that our government, a Conservative government, is the one that, in budget 2007, finally corrected the fiscal imbalance. We did so by ensuring that our financial relationships with the provinces and territories are based on principles that are predictable over the long term.

In the past, unexpected federal surpluses were used to spend enormous amounts of money in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, often without much consultation. This spending led to unnecessary, unfortunate tension between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments. It resulted in new financial pressures on provincial and territorial governments. All too often, it distorted the provinces' spending priorities, especially when they had to come up with matching funds. This spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction created uncertainty, when initiatives were launched without any stable, long-term federal funding in place.

Our government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has proven that there is another way to practise federalism. This new federalism is one of openness. It only makes our country stronger and more united. Our government's policy, and this goes for Quebec and the rest of Canada, is to act in accordance with our Constitution. The Fathers of Confederation never imagined, when they drafted our Constitution, that it would provoke the confrontations we have seen over the past few decades.

Unfortunately, the Liberal governments of the past 30 years are to blame. These Liberal governments did everything they could to squabble with the provinces. They should be ashamed. The Liberal governments of Trudeau and Chrétien practised an ineffective and centralist federalism. Their goal was quite simple: divide and conquer.

Quebec suffered for it under the Trudeau government and under the Chrétien government, when the current leader of the official opposition was an influential member of cabinet.

The leader of the official opposition is here in this House carrying on the old Liberal tradition of proposing a centralist federalism to the detriment of the legitimate aspirations of the nation of Quebec. Our approach, however, could not be any clearer: we are practising open federalism. Contrary to the Bloc members and the Liberals, we are not trying to pick a fight; we are trying to find common ground. The nation of Quebec comes out a winner and I am very proud of that.

The way we practice federalism allows Canada and Quebec to strike a fair balance. We can pursue national objectives while taking into account various local and regional considerations and by constantly adapting to change. Quebeckers can now see that the word “federalism” does not necessarily mean “paternalism”, or at least not when a Conservative government is in power.

Liberals in power dictated social policy to the provinces through an unlimited power to tax and spend. This power has been the biggest irritant over the past 60 years and we are in the process of resolving the problem.

Our approach toward the federal spending power is respectful of Quebec and the other provinces. We are going to set new parameters in which the federal spending power can and must be used. Our goal is not to discredit the federal spending power that has been an important factor in the social development of our country. It allowed the allocation of funding for the establishment of programs in health, social services and education.

Our goal, as I was saying, is to define new rules for fairer use of the federal spending power. That is what we will do by introducing our bill to impose explicit restrictions on the federal spending power for new cost-shared programs in exclusively provincial jurisdictions.

This bill would also allow the provinces to opt out with fair compensation if they offer compatible programs. Completely eliminating the spending power, as put forward in the Bloc Québécois motion, is not in the best interest of Canadians or of Quebeckers. The Bloc has to understand that times have changed. Quebeckers and Canadians realize that times have changed. That is why they chose our Conservative government to change the way business gets done in Ottawa. That is why, during the September 17 byelection, they elected a new Conservative member in Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, a riding held by the Bloc for the past 14 years.

Quebeckers like our approach. They want to strengthen the Canadian federation by recognizing the strengths and contributions of Quebec and the other provinces.

Naturally, this approach, which promotes Canadian unity and the development of our Quebec nation, is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois. Our government has already done so much to reconcile Quebec's legitimate aspirations with our goal to strengthen the Canadian federation. Our government promised to invite Quebec to be a part of the Canadian delegation to UNESCO and to take its place at the table, a place that reflects Quebec's exceptional contribution to our shared heritage. Our government kept its promise.

Our party is the only one in this country's history to recognize the Quebec nation.

The Bloc Québécois has been in this House for 17 years. In that time, what has it done for Quebec? Nothing. How many promises has it made? Seven hundred and fifty. How many of those promises has it kept? Not a single one.

The House of Commons has 308 seats, and the Bloc Québécois will be fielding only 75 candidates during the next election. The Bloc will never be in government, nor will it ever have any responsibilities toward Quebeckers. It should tell Quebeckers that.

We, on the other hand, are providing Quebeckers with a government that takes action, that keeps its promises and that fulfills its mandate in accordance with its policy of open federalism. Quebeckers know that Liberal means a step back and that Bloc Québécois means running around in circles. They also know that with the Conservative Party, Quebec will make great strides forward.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened patiently to the slogans spouted by the member opposite. I have two questions for him.

First, when it comes to the spending power and the firm lines between federal and provincial jurisdictions, what approach would he suggest for the environment? This area was not addressed when the Canadian Constitution was adopted in 1867. How will he deal with the environment? Is it an area of provincial jurisdiction? Is the federal government allowed to spend?

Second, when it comes to the fiscal imbalance, he said a number of times, as did his colleagues—clearly, these must be lines sent out by e-mail here on the Hill—that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved. However, earlier, one of his colleagues quoted the Premier of Quebec, who said that a step had been made in the right direction. Furthermore, the fiscal imbalance was resolved a few weeks ago, but negotiations were then started with Nova Scotia, because it was obviously not resolved. When will the fiscal imbalance be resolved?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending Power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis for his two questions.

First, in terms of the environment, an historic step forward has been taken since we came to power. We distributed $1.5 billion to Quebec through the Canada ecotrust. We gave $358 million to Quebec, although the Bloc was asking for less. Once again, we see that the Bloc is useless in the House.

This is an open federalism that works. You will also recall that, for the 2007 budget, our government held consultations with the provinces and territories to finalize its commitments made in good faith and with the intention of making our federation work. The Bloc Québécois, on the other hand, knowing that it is useless, only wants Quebec to separate from the rest of the country.

As for the second question raised by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis, he might find it amusing to say that our comments on the fiscal imbalance are all part of lines we have received in e-mail, but at least they are part of our own lines, whereas they are not part of his leader's lines. The Leader of the Opposition denies the existence of the fiscal imbalance. Thus, I find it amusing to hear my opposition colleague ask how we will resolve the fiscal imbalance when it has been resolved and, furthermore, when his leader continues to deny it.

Over a fixed period, $39 billion has been committed to resolve the fiscal imbalance. That is action and that is what citizens want. We keep our promises and, unlike the Bloc, do more than just talk.