House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to this misguided motion that the Bloc has put forward today.

I want to be clear. Our Conservative government has always supported an open federalism, and that will not change. We have maintained that stance since we were first elected and brought it to the House in 2006. We support an open federalism that respects provincial jurisdiction. But this federalism rests on a core of federal jurisdiction. It works with the provinces, not against them. Our approach has translated into some important pragmatic initiatives for Quebec that have kept Canada united, even more than it was in the past.

The Prime Minister, seconded by the leader of the government and the minister of democratic reform at the time, put a motion forward that this House almost unanimously agreed to. There were a few nays that came from members of the Liberal Party of the day. The vast majority supported this motion. I want to put on the record the support that this government has for Quebec. The motion says: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada”.

That motion received tremendous support in the House, including support from our Quebec friends in the Bloc. Their support indicated that they also believe Quebec to be a nation of people, but within a united Canada. Canada has a responsibility to every province, and that includes Quebec.

We have also given Quebec a seat at UNESCO, the first time any government has done that. That increases Quebec's voice as a nation within a nation, the voice of Québécois within a united Canada. It gives them a voice on the international stage, which they did not have in the past.

Let me be upfront. Our government has cut taxes for all Canadians, regardless of which province they live in, and that includes Canadians who live in Quebec. They are Canadians first.

I have been on two or three trips overseas with my Quebec colleagues in the Bloc. They were as proud as I was to show their Canadian passport to enter and leave those countries and get back to Canada.

I was on one trip across Canada with the finance committee. A committee member who is no longer on the committee but is still a member of the House, a Bloc member, was anxious to get his picture taken every place we went. He was so proud to be Canadian. Those members should be proud to be Canadian, as all of us in the House should be.

Perhaps most important, our Conservative government recognized that there was a fiscal imbalance in this country between the provinces and the federal government, and we fixed it. We fixed it in conjunction with the provinces. A formula was developed, a formula that had not been touched for many years. That formula was brought forward to all the provinces for them to sign. It was a new formula that better reflected the economic situation across the country. Quebec signed on. We fixed that fiscal imbalance. The previous Liberal government did not even acknowledge that a fiscal imbalance existed. We took action because we knew it was the right thing to do for Canada.

We have taken action to restore the fiscal balance by setting up transfers in a principled, transparent manner. This agreement greatly benefited all provinces, and transfers are now at historic levels.

I want to make sure people understand this. The transfers are $54 billion. The government spends approximately $250 billion a year, maybe slightly more, depending on what happens in a year. Of that, $50 billion goes to pay the debt. That comes right off the top.

With $200 billion left, a quarter of it automatically goes to the provinces, whether it is the health transfer, the social transfer or the equalization payment. There are actually three fundamental payments and a variety of others on top of that. Therefore, of the $54 billion, about $26 billion of that are in the health transfer that goes to the province.

A significant amount of money that we collect as a national government is redistributed to the provinces to help them service Canadians in a manner that we think they deserve based on the taxes they have to pay for that service. This represents a 30% increase from the previous government, showcasing our commitment to open federalism that works for all provinces, including Quebec.

Not only are those transfers at historic highs, but they continue to grow. Health transfers will grow at 6% and the social transfers at 3%. I knew I would be speaking today so I asked what it meant in real dollars that we have committed to the 6% over the next number of years, up to, I believe, 2014. It would mean that what we are providing to the provinces, which includes Quebec which gets its 6% of that increase, would go to 26.9% and then, based on population, it will go to 28.5% and then to 30.3%. That translates to $26.9 billion, $28.5 billion and $30.3 billion.

If the federal government were not involved in that 6% and there were a 2% increase based on inflation, the provinces would get $25.9 billion, $26.4 billion and $27 billion, as much as $3 billion less than what the provinces would be able to raise on their own based on straight inflation. Our commitment to the provinces for health care for the people of Canada is to provide a 6% increase every year and Quebec is benefiting from that increase.

We need to keep our commitments on these transfers. I was a city councillor in the city of Burlington during the 1990s when the federal government cut transfers to the provinces. What did the provinces do? They cut back on what they were funding municipalities. I can say that as a municipal councillor for 13 years in Burlington and the region of Halton, the cutbacks were felt every budget year.

This government is committed to continuing the transfers at the levels they are at. We have gone through a very tough recession and are moving out of it cautiously but we are moving forward as a country. We are seeing positive growth but we do not know whether that growth will continue at the robust pace it was. Economists are saying that it should slow down a bit. However, we are not going to penalize the provinces, including Quebec, by reducing our transfer payments to them at a time when they need the money to provide the services to all Canadians, including Quebeckers, which happened in the past under the previous Liberal government. We are committing not to do this.

I want to provide a few quotes regarding our commitment not to touch transfers, which has been well received across this country. The Manitoba finance minister, Rosann Wowchuk, praised our government by saying:

The major part of our budget is that [they have] indicated that they are going to keep the level of payments to the province at the same level they committed earlier.

She when on to say that it was good news for them.

The Canadian Healthcare Association also welcomed our government's reassuring commitment to transfer payments. Its president and CEO stated:

To provide any kinds of services to Canadians we needed to know that there's some predictability to the funding coming across to the provinces and territories, so that's a major positive.

Finally, Quebec's own premier, Jean Charest, also praised our government for its commitment to protect equalization payments so that Quebeckers could continue to rely on social services they pay into with their taxes saying, “Quebec is receiving more money in equalization transfers this year than they did in previous years”.

This shows that the provinces and territories continue to rely on the federal government, on our government, to practise open federalism that respects provincial jurisdiction and provides resources necessary their duties.

I want to point out that I have a list of about 15 private members' bills. I have six of them here that all ask the taxpayer of Canada to pay more to support programs. These six bills were brought forward by the Bloc.

Bill C-301, for example, which was improvements to the employment insurance system, would have cost billions and billions of dollars. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report indicating how many more billions it would cost. I have not heard the Bloc Québécois members on the finance committee, which I belong to, say that they do not want that money because it is federal money or that they do not want the government getting involved.

At prebudget meetings that we are having at this time every day of the week, we have people, including organizations from Quebec, coming to the committee and asking for more funding for whatever project they are here for today.

The student unions representing the students of Quebec were at the committee today asking for a national student's charter. A national student's legislation would help to ensure that the money transferred in the social services envelope would be earmarked for post-secondary education. They were not there asking us as the federal government to get out of their way and stay out of Quebec's business. They were asking for federal involvement.

Another bill asks for the removal of the waiting period and family leave costs. Another good one is one in which the Bloc is looking for a tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions.

We heard from witnesses today at the finance committee that the province of Quebec has such a tax credit and they said that 1,500 people have taken advantage of it. However, they were not there asking us to get out of their way. They were not asking us not to be involved. They were asking the federal government to support Bill C-228. They wanted us to be more involved in Quebec's jurisdiction as presented by the Bloc. They were asking for more money and more support.

I find it very ironic that the previous speakers talked about their right to opt out, that we should not be involved in their business and that it is provincial jurisdiction, but week after week they bring private members' bills to the House that ask for more money from the federal jurisdiction.

That is why I am not in favour of today's motion. Today's motion gives us an opportunity to at least chat about these things honestly.

I have been here four and a half years. When I was first elected, I found it somewhat strange that I would come to the House of Commons, our national government that is here for all Canadians, and see a party here that was looking to end that coalition that we have as provinces and as a country from coast to coast to coast and that they wanted to separate.

Being from Ontario and not having been closely involved with federal politics, I did not understand. However, after I arrived here I got a new realization. I realized that Bloc members wanted their cake and to eat it too. They are not really here about separation. They are not here for what is best for Quebec because they are not able to deliver for Quebec. Their leader in the last election said that he was not interested in being prime minister. They are not here for the good of Canada and cannot point to one thing that they have delivered for their province.

The members of the Bloc are here and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. They are duly elected, and I respect that, but where I lose a little respect is on their principles. With the principle they are trying to portray in this motion, which is that the province should run its own business and the federal government should get out of it, then they should not be introducing bill after bill asking for more from the federal government. They also should not be at committee supporting other people's private members' bills that do not respect that principle. It makes it very difficult for me to understand what the purpose of the Bloc is here.

I will conclude with a few things and I will be frank. After 20 years in opposition, the Bloc members really have no results. If they can show me what results they have accomplished, I would be happy to hear about them. I would say that our Quebec members on our side in the government have done more in the four and a half years for Quebec than the Bloc has done in 20 years.

Our government will continue to deliver for all Canadians, including Quebec. We have fixed the fiscal imbalance by increasing transfers to provinces to historic levels. We have promised that we will not balance the books on the backs of the provinces like other previous governments have. We have delivered for Quebec with the increased transfer payments so that they can invest in their social system, and we did it all within five years while the Bloc has delivered nothing in 20 years.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning the member and I were at the finance committee meeting hearing from about 17 witnesses. We heard a lot of very similar issues about how important some of the federal initiatives were and how they would help hold the Federation together while we deal with the deficit. Many of the members' comments were about the fragility of a national government of the Canadian system and that a lot of investment has gone into it. There is a lot of important things, synergies and efficiencies in the system that probably would be lost if we start to chip away at those foundational blocks: the charter, the Constitution and some of the programs under agreement with the provinces.

I am sure the member has heard this several times already but I will read it into the record. It is a quotation in the National Post by the current Prime Minister dated January 24, 2001, in which he stated:

Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for health care--i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to ensure they have adequate revenues.

I wonder if the member agrees with the Prime Minister's view that we should support the Bloc motion today.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister does not agree to support the Bloc motion today. The question does not make any sense because that is not the case.

I would remind the member of two things. He has been on the finance committee since we have been back, which has been about four weeks, and we have heard over and over again organizations from Quebec asking the federal government to be involved, to help them out and to provide assistance.

Under today's current fiscal economic problems and the fact that we are trying to get back to balanced budgets, we will not be able to help everybody who comes to see us. However, I have been on the finance committee for four years and every year we have 400 to 500 people asking us for more money. It is nothing new but we need to make some choices.

However, the facts are that we hear over and over again that they want to be part of Canada. They think Canada and the federal government should be helping not just them, but all provinces, and we will continue to do that. That is why we will not be supporting the motion before us today.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, in view of the member for Burlington's statement that the Conservative members from Quebec have done more than the Bloc has done in 20 years, I would like to know what exactly have they done.

For 20 years, the Bloc Québécois has been an example of the democratic expression of a people. That means something because, as we have known for some time, the Conservatives have not embraced the principle of democracy in the House.

When he says that Conservative members from Quebec have supposedly accomplished more than the Bloc Québécois ever will, is he referring to the political contributions collected by Quebec members, including the Minister of Natural Resources, for the Conservative Party.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I respect the voters of Quebec and all of Canada for making the choices they have.

I am honoured to be a Canadian. I am proud that Canadians can go to the polls and vote for who they wish to represent them, whether it is municipally, provincially or federally, without fear or repercussion. I respect the voters of Quebec for choosing Bloc Québécois members.

However, this is a little lesson on government. Those in government bring forward legislation that becomes law, which can and will change the fabric of the country. Our Quebec colleagues on the government side have had input to every piece of legislation that goes before the House, as cabinet ministers and as members of the backbench, and on where we should go as a country. We look for their input. They have made a tremendous difference in the quality of life that Canadians are experiencing today which they would not have experienced under the Bloc Québécois.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague from the Bloc that I was elected in my riding to replace someone from his party. I sincerely think the people in my riding elected me entirely democratically. I would also like to remind him that Quebeckers refused sovereignty, not once, but twice, with the Parti Québécois, whom the Bloc represents here. He has no lesson to teach me about democracy.

That being said, I have a question for my colleague. A lot has been said about health today. I would like him to explain what our government has decided to do with regard to health transfers to Quebec.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do like numbers. That is why I am on the finance committee.

There has been an increase. Quebec will receive an increase in support of major federal transfers in 2010-11 totalling $17.2 billion, an increase of $5.2 billion or 44% more than it received under the Liberal government, and $6.1 billion through the Canadian health transfer increase of $1 billion.

We understand that all provinces, including Quebec, need support to provide the health care that Canadians expect and deserve. We as a government will continue to provide that support today and tomorrow for the proper health of all Canadians, including our Quebeckers.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, in Quebec, expressed himself by asking his colleague from Burlington a question. He talked about democracy and referred to the referendums. He may be right about 1980, but 1995 was another kettle of fish. Was that really democracy? We know very well that the whole thing was rigged by the federal government. I wonder where he was at the time.

I nonetheless have a question for the hon. member for Burlington. He referred to what the government has given us by adopting the motion on the nation of Quebec within a united Canada. It is in this “united Canada” that we still see the federal spending power lurking about. The federal government wants to control everything, including the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

That is what is going on now, and that is what the Conservatives want to continue to do, even though in December 2005 they said they would respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. If they respected the jurisdictions, then they would send transfer payments for programs.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and the government are willing to, have and continue to work with every premier and province across the country. Today the Prime Minister is talking about an announcement with the premier of Newfoundland. I quoted earlier the premier of Quebec who congratulated us on the work we were doing.

We are willing to work with every province and premier to make our country a better place for all Canadians to live.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Human Rights; the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, G8 and G20 Summits.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I will first announce the good news, both for my colleagues in this House and for all those watching on CPAC, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, because everyone is familiar with his legendary eloquence.

I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher who provided the impetus for this motion on opposition day today. I would say that he is the godfather of the motion, but I know we must use sponsor instead of that term in this House, as I recall being dressed down for that in the past. He does excellent work, and so we try to measure up to his standard, to provide the key points that will mean that this motion, on this opposition day, will pass virtually unanimously. The only ones who will perhaps oppose it are the Conservative members from Quebec, because it is very difficult to make them see sense.

First, let us step back and take a brief look at how the division of powers between Ottawa and the provinces stood in 1867. It was quite simple. Let us put ourselves in the context of the 19th century. At that time, it was easy, because if something directly affected people and how they organized society, it was under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Examples are civil laws that codified the relationships between people, the organization of society through social programs, health and education, and cultural matters. If something did not directly affect people or the internal organization of society, it could be federalized. Examples are monetary policy, international trade and the general regulation of trade and commerce and industry. In 1867, Quebec was not really industrialized, and that was not something that necessarily affected people.

The people in our ridings, a majority in Quebec, feel that the federal government is remote from their daily lives. In fact, what I have just read is a direct result of that, and people feel very remote from the federal government. What affects them on a daily basis are matters that fall squarely within the jurisdiction of Quebec. But the situation is not the same in the other provinces, because in the other provinces, the government they primarily look to is the federal government.

How can we get the other provinces to understand our strong desire to manage our own areas of jurisdiction as we see fit? We know that there are different ways of doing things that are often extremely effective and efficient.

At one point, I went on a cross-Canada tour. The tour touched indirectly on Canada’s social policies. It would be too long a story to recount, and that is why I chose the term “indirectly”. At the time, the federal government wanted to take control of many of these social policies. In all the Canadian cities I visited, Quebec was always looked to as a model.

Indeed, the motion that gave Quebec the status of nation, which passed in this House, was a step in the right direction. But the words “in a united Canada” were added. Did this mean that “Canada had Quebec in shackles”? Were we supposed to think that the term “a united Canada” was a straitjacket in which Quebec was to be bound?

I think so, and we can see this reflected in the positions of successive governments that have tried to limit Quebec’s initiatives and usurp areas of jurisdiction in order to create a Canada in the image of what we still see occurring today: nation building.

In the past, people talked about the federal government’s spending power in public every day, and about the taxes collected by the federal government, which were too high considering its areas of jurisdiction. Technically, that is where it stopped. However, Quebec’s financial resources were limited because the money was not divided up fairly, especially after Brian Mulroney's Conservative government swept through, leaving a deficit of some $40 billion when it was voted out in 1993. We know what happened after that: after the 1993 election, there were only two Conservatives left in all of Canada.

With an impending Conservative government deficit of almost $54 billion, using the rule of three, there should be only one single Conservative left in office after the next election. People remember, and they can make the same choices again. I do not think that we can expect to see the most generous members of that gang left standing.

I am now going to reread the motion because it says it all. Even the Conservatives should find it easy to understand. They must uphold the principle that they themselves adopted in this House: that Quebec is a nation. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should, as long called for by the Bloc Québécois and now called for by the Member for Beauce, end the so-called federal spending power in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, eliminate the federal programs that violate the division of powers, and transfer tax points to the provinces by: a) eliminating all federal spending in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, unless express authorization is given by Quebec or the province; b) providing a systematic right to opt out with full financial compensation and without condition of all existing and future programs, whether co-funded or not, that intrude into jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces; c) transferring, at the request of Quebec or a province, fiscal room in the form of tax points and/or GST to replace the amounts that the province would otherwise have received under the Canada Health Transfer, federal programs in its areas of jurisdiction and the transfer for social programs and postsecondary education indexed to 1994-1995 levels.

We are even giving the Conservatives the recipe, as we in the Bloc often do, but they will not listen to anything. They would rather stick to their own recipe and botch it.

Why 1994-95 levels? Because, when the Conservatives left office with a large deficit, the Liberals took office and drastically cut social programs, something that falls under Quebec's jurisdiction.

Why ask for tax points and GST transfers? To have an insurance policy against individuals who run up huge deficits, and then pull the plug. All nations need some stability. We send money to the federal government. Every employer and organization in Quebec could be asked to send their payroll deductions, the tax money, to the Quebec government instead, which would then send the federal government a cheque for those areas that fall within its jurisdiction. But the government has fallen so low and is doing such a poor job that the amount of that cheque would not be very high.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois boasts that it is the only party that defends the interests of Quebec, but in actual fact, that is total nonsense in view of its separatist option. The Bloc takes Quebeckers for fools. The proof is that in the last election in my riding, people decided that after 16 years they had had enough. The difference is already apparent.

The only party that has really responded to Quebeckers is the one led by my boss, Mr. Stephen Harper.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, order. Members may not use the names of other parliamentarians while speaking.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to restoring the fiscal balance and limiting the federal spending power, our government is the one that acted. In contrast to our Liberal colleagues, we did not cut expenditures. We increased the transfer payments.

The question is the following: how can the Bloc deny these realities and the gains our party has made for Quebec, when the Bloc itself supported the historic recognition of the Quebec nation initiated by our party?

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague is really far too generous to his own party. Politics can be full of surprises, and as it so happens, the member just gave us a fine example of that.

The Bloc Québécois has been here for 20 years and will continue to be as long as Quebec is not a sovereign, independent country. That will happen quite soon—as soon as possible, I hope.

My colleague claimed that his government had solved the fiscal imbalance and controlled the spending power. They controlled it so well that Quebec households have no spending power left. Our companies have little spending power and little ability to invest because the government interferes in areas that do not fall within its jurisdiction and spends enormous amounts of money. As a result, Quebec is unable to take its fate into its own hands.