House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately renounce two measures contained in the recent budget:

(a) establishing a national securities commission, because establishing such a commission would constitute an intolerable intrusion into Quebec’s jurisdiction, and the current passport system functions very well; and

(b) unilaterally amending the equalization formula, since the Prime Minister, in a letter to the Premier of Quebec dated March 19, 2007, promised that transfers to the provinces would be predictable and long term, and should also comply with the government of Quebec’s request to give the revenues generated by Hydro-Québec’s transmission and distribution activities the same treatment, regardless of the equalization calculation, as that given Hydro One’s revenues.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.

Today I am bringing forward this motion, the main purpose of which is to correct two major elements of the Conservative budget that go against Quebec's best interests. Indeed, the idea of establishing a national securities commission and that of unilaterally amending the equalization formula are two elements of the last budget that are in total contradiction with the requests made by all political parties represented in Quebec's National Assembly. In fact, these political parties passed a unanimous resolution condemning the two elements mentioned in today's motion.

First of all, with regard the finance minister's intent to create a single securities commission, as it has been said, securities regulation is a provincial jurisdiction under the Constitution. One of the biggest problems is that it is hard to understand why the government would want to go ahead with this idea when a very effective system is already in place. As for the jurisdictional issue, we all know that securities regulation falls exclusively under Quebec's jurisdiction, and the federal government has to respect that.

Establishing a single securities commission would create a regulatory monopoly, which is an extremely dangerous situation, and would mean that Canada would lose the present benefits of regulatory competition.There are in fact—this is what is hard to grasp—very few arguments to support the fact that this sort of structure would reduce direct costs. We have the example of Australia, which seems to be pointing to the absolute opposite direction to where the government wants to go. The opposite of this, a system based on harmonization and mutual recognition—what is called the passport system and is currently used—presents some advantages which have in fact led the European community to opt for that regulatory approach. So why does the Conservative government want to go in the opposite direction? The passport system works very well. It allows a coordinated approach to law enforcement and a uniform protection of investors. This system also enables each securities regulator to develop its own approach and areas of expertise. That makes it possible to have different but complementary approaches to compliance with the regulations by those affected.

This system would work even better if Ontario decided to not go it alone and joined the other provinces. If it did, this would make the present system work even better. But we know why it is not doing so: it would stand to benefit from the single regulator the Conservative government has in mind.

This different but complementary critical vision makes it easier to detect and prevent scandals such as we have seen in the United States, where these issues are submitted to a centralized authority. Those scandals had huge societal costs.

The presence of the 13 regulators ensures that the drafting and implementation of regulations will take into account the diversity of opinions and ensure adequate representation of small markets. A number of innovations have originated on the regional level, and that will not survive, or is not likely to, with a single regulatory body.

I could give examples of this diversity from the regional bodies: the west created the Junior Capital Pools, a capital pool company; Quebec, the stock savings plan and the workers' fund, under the aegis of the Autorité des marchés financiers du Québec. As well, there is the considerable contribution made by Quebec to the creation of the International Organization of Securities Commissions.

The creation of a securities commission would put all of those elements at risk. Should the government act on its intention, Quebec would really be in trouble.

Now that Toronto has acquired the exchange, Quebec's Autorité des marchés financiers is the last bastion against the disappearance of stock market activity from Montreal. The AMF has the regulatory power to require ongoing exchange activities in Montreal. It oversees exchange activities and has the power to establish operating rules, specifically with respect to percentages and shares held.

There are a lot of reasons why today's motion must be implemented as quickly as possible. The government must reverse the intention it expressed once again in the latest budget.

The decision to unilaterally amend the equalization formula without prior consultation or notice of intent on the part of the government is completely unacceptable to Bloc Québécois members and to Quebec.

Earlier, I talked about a resolution passed unanimously by all political parties in Quebec's National Assembly, and I want to mention it again. This unilateral decision is unacceptable to Quebec. It is unacceptable because it will deprive Quebec of $991 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year and even more in years to come.

There is a myth in Canada, particularly in the west, that Quebec is the spoiled child of Confederation, the one that takes everything and gives nothing in return, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that Quebec receives the most equalization payments, but that is just because Quebec is a populous province.

For 2008-09, Quebec will receive the lowest per capita transfer payments of any province receiving equalization. Quebec will receive $1,037 per inhabitant, while Prince Edward Island will get $2,310, New Brunswick $2,111, Newfoundland $1,781, and Manitoba $1,732. So Quebec is not at all the spoiled child. Quebec gets the lowest per capita transfer payments of them all.

I said earlier that this is unacceptable, but there is also another major reason. Not only was it unpredictable—there was no warning and Quebec will be deprived of revenue it was counting on—but this decision completely goes against what the Prime Minister himself said in a letter to the Quebec premier in March 2007.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative government boasted about correcting the fiscal imbalance. We said that it was not true. In a letter to Mr. Charest, the Conservative Prime Minister wrote the following:

But much more fundamentally, this means that for the first time in decades, provinces and territories can now count on long-term, predictable and substantially growing federal support for shared priorities including health care, post-secondary education, training and social programs, and the rebuilding of Canada's infrastructure.

Once the Conservative government and the Prime Minister unilaterally amend their commitments, which they said would benefit post-secondary education, health care and training and social programs, does this mean that the provinces will be abandoned? I think the answer is obvious.

It is completely unacceptable that the Conservative government has chosen to amend the equalization formula this way when, in this letter, it formally committed itself to making equalization predictable. The Quebec government and Quebeckers are getting swindled. Quebeckers are going to have to foot the bill because the Quebec government will have to continue providing these services. Quebeckers alone will have to pay, when the Conservative government committed to something altogether different.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the Bloc bringing forward debate on an important issue. I want to ask my colleague about this matter of a national securities regulator. The member will know that participation in a national securities regulator is entirely voluntary and it will be up to each of the provinces as to whether they participate.

My question is twofold. First, does my friend and his family feel it is honest to suggest that somehow there is a degree of coercion by the federal government in this matter of a national securities regulator when he knows full well that participation is entirely voluntary? Second, do members of the Bloc feel it is their duty to tell their provincial government in Quebec what to do with respect to a national securities regulator from Ottawa? They are speaking from Ottawa, but it is really up to the provincial government as to whether it participates. I would be interested in my friend's views on that issue.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the question of my colleague opposite, especially the second part of his question, saying that it is up to the Government of Quebec to decide whether or not to participate in a single securities commission. That decision has already been made. In a unanimous resolution, the Government of Quebec clearly indicated that it was not interested in a single securities commission. That totally flies in the face of Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction over these matters.

The hon. member's question is an inappropriate one. Quebec will not subject itself to such a decision, and the Conservative government's intentions are Machiavellian. According to experts consulted, the purpose of the bill would be to allow businesses to choose which securities commission they want to go with, should the Government of Quebec decide to maintain the AMF in Quebec.

We can see that this is a flawed process that would have businesses adhere to a securities commission without eventually being able to participate in the Canadian market. It is a con job. Quebec will continue to oppose such decision and intentions. Members of the Bloc Québécois—

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we are discussing this idea of a common regulator for Canada there are two issues which have to be addressed. Number one is whether we actually believe that the Conservatives have a plan that could make a common securities regulator work given their complete lack of interest in any kind of corporate accountability. That is a big question and that is the crux of the debate.

Second, I have a problem with the Bloc motion. I recognize the role that each of the provincial jurisdictions has, but we have a record in Canada of some of the dodgiest fly-by-night penny stock scams anywhere in the world that are being perpetrated where they get booted off the TSX and they move to the Vancouver Stock Exchange. We saw Bre-X out of Calgary. We have seen so many dodgy derivatives pushed on the market. It is an issue that has to be addressed because we have failed at the provincial levels, even with the passport system, to deal with this.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague speak of the need to reassure investors and consumers that the jurisdictions of Canada are serious about taking on the kind of corporate fraud that has been perpetrated time and time again.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

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

Obviously, we have absolutely no idea of what the Conservative government's plans are when it talks about establishing a single securities regulator. What is the game plan? What we are realizing is that there is none. There is no game plan. The government should put in place instead a process to prevent the foreign takeover of Canadian and Quebec businesses, as we are seeing more and more these days. The Toronto stock exchange is in difficulty not just because of the economic crisis, but to a large extent because of the foreign takeover of Canadian and Quebec businesses.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first of all like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain on his speech, but also to thank him for having presented this motion which is today before the House, because the subject is very important for Quebec and Quebeckers.

To begin, we have here with this motion another demonstration of the effective role played by the Bloc Québécois. For proof of this, what party is focusing on this situation brought about by the Budget Implementation Act, 2009 which will substantially penalize Quebec as well as the entire population because of the services that this province has to provide to the citizens we represent?

Under the calculation of equalization, Quebec would be penalized $991 million. That is no small amount. And what is that money being used for? By the way, we will not be guilty of the same paternalism we often encounter from the Conservatives, who say we have voted for a budget with billions and billions of dollars in infrastructure programs. They would almost have us believe that this money is coming out of the pockets of the Conservative ministers and members. Hold on there. Quebeckers pay $54 billion in income taxes to Ottawa every year. When the federal government invests in Quebec, I hope that no one here—among those listening to us and those in the gallery—thinks that the federal government is giving us any gifts. That is our money. This is precisely what Maurice Duplessis, in his time, was saying when he referred to federal encroachments in fields of provincial jurisdiction: give us back what is ours. That is what this motion means.

Which party is defending the consensus of the National Assembly at the three-day special session in January? Not one Conservative member has risen on this subject, nor one member of the Liberal Party. Only the members of the Bloc Québécois have addressed this. Our objective and our role, our reason for being, is to defend the interests of Quebec. This we demonstrate on a daily basis, not just during election campaigns, as we saw on the trailer of the former senator and minister Michael Fortier, which announced that the Bloc is unnecessary, that it has cost so many billions of dollars.

One thing: when you lie, your lie must not be so big that no one will believe it. If you tell a little lie, something a little more restrained, it raises a doubt, and people will say, yes, maybe it is true, maybe it is possible. They said that the Bloc had cost $450 billion because we were in the opposition. Hold on there. From 1900 to 2006, over 106 years, the Conservative Party was in opposition for 62 years. That means that, when the Conservatives were in opposition, that cost money, billions of dollars, and they did nothing? That is patently ridiculous.

When we say that the Bloc is here to defend Quebeckers' interests, it is because we can back up that statement. We raised this issue here in the House. The House is going to vote. Members from all parties will have the chance to say yes to Quebec, yes to the National Assembly consensus, or else to trample on that consensus. By the way, when we refer to the National Assembly consensus, we are talking about a unanimous motion passed by all three parties represented in the National Assembly, not just the Parti Québécois. There is also the Liberal Party of Quebec, headed by Jean Charest, and the Action Démocratique party, which was then led by Mario Dumont, who should be leaving political life today. That is the consensus we are talking about: a unanimous motion passed by the National Assembly.

Two provisions of the budget implementation bill clearly penalize Quebec: the new method of calculating equalization payments and the creation of a centralized securities commission in Toronto, even though the current system works well and Quebec and the provinces have their own commissions.

Quebec's Autorité des marchés financiers plays its role fully. Why does the federal government still want to stomp on the provinces' jurisdictions? Why are this Prime Minister and this Conservative government, which kept on saying they were going to practise open federalism, throwing everything out the window and slapping Quebec in the face at the first opportunity? This is totally unacceptable.

I call on the elected members of the Conservative Party from Quebec. I am a member from the Quebec City area. I call on the members for Beauport—Limoilou, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Lévis—Bellechasse and Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. I could also mention the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is the member for Pontiac. I challenge them. What do they think of the consensus reached by the National Assembly of Quebec? Do they agree to vote with the Bloc Québécois for this motion, which only confirms that consensus?

That is the difference between a Bloc Québécois member and a Conservative Party member from Quebec. My colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain has brought that difference to light by putting this motion before the House for debate so that the masks come off and we see who is really defending Quebec's interests in this House.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, I am back again on the national securities regulator. I do not quite understand. The Bloc is seeming to concentrate on a sense of outrage and injury and I do not see any need for it. The member who spoke previously said that the government of Quebec has already decided not to participate. That is its right. If the decision has already been made, why are we hashing it over in the House today?

The member suggested that giving businesses a choice in how they arrange their business affairs, whether they incorporate federally or provincially and how they choose to do business is somehow a bad thing. I do not know if the Bloc has noticed but we are in some very difficult economic waters. Surely it would be a good thing to do all we can to give businesses some choice and help them arrange their affairs to best succeed and best operate.

I am really puzzled that the Bloc is making such a big deal out of a purely voluntary proposal, and one which Bloc members themselves admit will give business a choice, which should be helpful to businesses in these difficult economic times.

I wonder if my friend could address that, because I think he is not keeping the big picture in mind in any way.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill, whom I know well and also appreciate. She and I have been in this House since 1993. My answer is simple.

Securities fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces, which includes Quebec. Just thinking about proposing this is a direct interference in an area under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has no business there. The existing system works. The Bloc is not the only one to say that: the World Bank and the OECD also agree. What more does the government need?

In Quebec, there is a consensus that this does not make sense. The hon. member represents the region of Calgary. There is a legislative assembly in Alberta. I am convinced that deep down, and because she is a parliamentarian of integrity, she respects the decisions of the Alberta legislature. This is precisely what we are doing here. This is why I said that we are carrying the Quebec consensus.

This new body is not accepted in Quebec. The government cannot claim that this is done on a voluntary basis. Everything is based on the offer. This entity will weaken the provinces' position, and financial market authorities in each of the provinces will become irrelevant. The federal government—

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sort of at a loss watching the sound and the fury coming from my colleague. His debate is taking place amidst an international meltdown of confidence.

Again, I recognize that people would not necessarily believe that the Conservatives have any real agenda that would actually bring about corporate accountability, but I have not heard the Bloc address the issue that across the various jurisdictions in Canada there has been one stock scandal and fraud after another. We have been known as the wild west for penny stocks. It has happened in jurisdiction after jurisdiction. We have some of the dodgiest derivatives markets in the world.

Saying that this is an unfair intrusion into the affairs of Quebec does not change the fact that there needs to be confidence. I have not heard anything from the Bloc in terms of how those members would address the people who are watching this country and ask where the accountability is in terms of ensuring investor and consumer confidence and making sure that each of the jurisdictions is doing the job it is supposed to do.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not for me to make suggestions regarding the Autorité des marchés financiers, since it falls under provincial jurisdiction. What we are asking for is to maintain the status quo. We want the existing structure to remain the same, because it is working.

Moreover, the Autorité des marchés financiers has uncovered scandals in Quebec. White collar criminals are a reality. We had some in Quebec, such as Vincent Lacroix and others. I could give names.

This structure is working. The market can regulate itself and the Autorité des marchés financiers is able to do its job effectively.

Since they are asking for a suggestion, I will give them one: let us keep things as they are and maintain the status quo.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat surprised when I read the motion moved by the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, the motion currently before the House.

There are two parts to the motion. The first has to do with the national securities commission, which would be voluntary, and second, the motion attacks the increases to equalization that the federal government pays Quebec.

As for the voluntary securities commission, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I am proud to announce here today that the securities commission proposed by our government will be voluntary.

I would also like to announce that if a province does not wish to join, it will not be forced to do so. Clearly, this announcement makes the Bloc Québécois' motion redundant and pointless. I would like to mention one other thing.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

Regarding the securities commission, I was very surprised to learn that the hon. member wanted to take away provincial jurisdiction over this matter. What he is saying is that the provinces should be forced to refrain from voluntarily participating in a common system. For instance, he is telling Ontario that it no longer has the right to choose whether or not it will join the other provinces in a voluntary system. He just announced that the Bloc Québécois no longer believes that this falls under provincial jurisdiction. We recognize that it falls under provincial jurisdiction, so we are giving provinces the choice. Once again, if Quebec or any other province decides not to participate, they will not be forced to do so.

I do not wish to appear sarcastic, since the question before us is so serious, but if I infer a little from what my Bloc colleague said, I could conclude for example that inviting someone out for supper can be considered a terrible intrusion upon their privacy.

And now for the issue of equalization, the second component of the motion tabled in this House by the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. First of all, I note that my colleague has said nothing about the fact that Quebec will continue to receive significant federal transfers from Canada.

Equalization payments of $8.3 billion, an increase of $3.5 billion, will go to Quebec. That is a 74% increase since 2005-06. I will repeat that. The Conservative government has increased equalization payments to Quebec by 74% since 2005-06. That is a huge increase. Quebec receives the largest amount of equalization payments of all the other provinces. Quebeckers are celebrating the fact that our Conservative team in Quebec kept promises made to their province. The 74% increase and, I repeat, the fact that Quebec receives the largest amount of equalization payments of all the other provinces, indicates that the Conservative team is keeping its promises made to voters and fellow citizens. The Bloc has never accomplished anything and that is why all it does in this House is complain.

Under the Conservative government, Quebec has made major gains, especially the 74% increase in equalization payments over three years. The benefits to Quebec by being part of Canada demonstrate the extent to which the sovereignist plan would instead go against the interests of Quebec. The real reason why the Bloc is upset with the Conservative government is because we are showing Canadians that our country works, that it is successful and that citizens of all provinces, including Quebec, benefit greatly from being part of our country.

I now invite questions from my distinguished colleagues.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's speech. He talked about giving us a choice. The choice he is giving us reminds me somewhat of a person who would receive his or her paycheque and be told by a neighbour, “You should give me your paycheque and I will tell you how you should spend it.”

I believe that the person who worked for that paycheque should be free to spend it as he or she pleases.

The parliamentary secretary would have us believe that we have a choice. However, it is basically a provincial jurisdiction. Therefore the government does not even need to do the thinking for us. It has enough thinking to do to take care of its own business without having to meddle in somebody else's business.

Since it is a provincial jurisdiction, we do not need the Conservatives to tell us what to do. They should work on other issues, like the economic crisis. I think it would be much better for everybody if they focused on something that would be really useful to workers, like the program for older worker adjustment.

There are far more important things than trying to find solutions or trying to create institutions just for the sake of it. This area falls under provincial jurisdiction. The government should really focus its efforts on initiatives that are relevant, not irrelevant.

Opposition Motion—Securities Commission and Equalization
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to stress the fact that all provinces have a choice. If a province wants to join the common system, it can do so. If it does not want to join in, it does not have to. It has a choice. On this side of the House, we respect the will of all provinces.