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

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, funds, such as the medical equipment fund, are very important. They reflect on the specific needs of certain areas. In a lot of places, they simply cannot afford that kind of equipment, so it makes sense to have it.

Shortly after that, the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin established the Public Health Agency of Canada, which came about sort of as a result of SARS and other issues because epidemics and problems like that do not have borders and are not jurisdictional issues. If the provinces and the feds can work together to determine what the needs are, solutions can be found that will benefit all people.

That is the kind of flexibility we need in our arrangements, federally and provincially, with everybody at the table with their own points of view being represented.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, one of the agencies that has been so successful in our region is, of course, ACOA. ACOA has delivered some great programs for economic development that allowed people not only to maintain their communities, but they have also managed to be on the leading edge of many of the industries that allowed them to plug into commerce around the world.

Interestingly enough, there is also an agency that exists in Quebec, of similar fashion and similar form, that also has been a great contributor to the Quebec economy.

I wonder if the member could comment on that. This resolution would basically mean, in my opinion, the dismantling of these economic agencies.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague was here when I spoke about the importance of ACOA. The beauty of ACOA was that it recognized that there were a couple of distinct gaps in Atlantic Canada. One was that the venture capital funding to support commercialization was not there to get products through the development stage and marketed. The Atlantic innovation fund was very successful in that.

On the other hand, a program that came to be known as SCIF, the strategic community infrastructure fund, was very important in ridings like Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor because it recognized that communities do not have the funding and cannot even match funding in some cases. They need more support. It is the role of the federal government to go in and assist in those areas.

The agency for the regions of Quebec had a similar kind of role in Quebec and I think it performs a vital service for this country.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this opposition day. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

To ensure that those who just tuned in via CPAC, our fellow citizens who have been so faithfully following our proceedings this session, who enjoy so much listening in, hearing us debate and go about our business day in and day out in this House, have a clear understanding of the subject matter of today's debate, I will read again the very important motion introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher. It states:

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.

In short, the federal spending that encroaches on provincial jurisdictions is in direct opposition to the division of powers in Canada. In principle, both orders of government in Canada are equal and equally sovereign in their respective areas. The division of jurisdictions is supposed to be watertight in order to prevent the majority nation, the Canadian nation, from imposing its views on the minority nation, the Quebec nation.

The division of powers that took place in 1867 between Ottawa and the provinces is quite simple if we look at it in the context of the 19th century. Matters that directly affected people and their way of organizing their society fell under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. This was the case for instance for the civil laws that codified the relationships between people and the organization of society through social programs, health, education, cultural matters, etc. If, however, an issue did not directly affect people or the internal organization of their society, it could be placed under federal jurisdiction. This is the case for monetary policy, international trade, and the overall regulation of trade and industry. In 1867, Quebec was not really industrialized and that aspect did not affect people very much.

Thus, Quebeckers believed they had acquired the autonomy they needed to allow them to organize their own society without external interference. And it was on that basis that Quebec agreed to enter into the Canadian federation in 1867. However, the federal spending that encroaches upon areas of provincial jurisdiction calls into question this division of powers and Quebec's autonomy. In fact, this was the pact at the basis of the Canadian federation, which Canada is denying daily and has been denying for three generations by interfering freely with Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

Benoît Pelletier, the former Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs under Jean Charest, said the following:

I...have a great deal of difficulty in reconciling the values underlying the Canadian federation with the idea of a federal spending power that is in no way subject to the division of powers.

It is for that reason that the Séguin report in its turn expressed the opinion that:

The “federal spending power” displays a singular logic in that the federal government intervenes every time in a field falling under provincial jurisdiction without having to adopt a constitutional amendment.

In short, the federal spending power is the way English Canada unilaterally put an end to the pact in which Quebec agreed to be a part of Canada. Through the spending power, it managed to unilaterally change the distribution of powers to its benefit without having to go through the cumbersome process of constitutional amendment.

However, there is consensus in Quebec: federal spending power is not legitimate if it affects Quebec's own spending responsibilities.

Quebec has always felt that spending power is nothing more than a power to implement. This is why Quebec maintains that the federal spending power is limited to the areas in which the federal Parliament has legislative authority.

That is why, regardless of the party in power, Quebec has consistently maintained that Ottawa simply does not have this power to spend money in whatever area it chooses, and that any federal intervention in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction is in direct violation of the Constitution.

Federal government interference proves that the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved. The fiscal imbalance is due to the fact that Ottawa raises more in taxes than it needs to discharge its own responsibilities. As a result, Quebec no longer has the tax room it needs to fund its own activities independently. As long as Ottawa has the authority to spend in areas under provincial jurisdiction, the fiscal imbalance cannot be resolved. Conservative members who claim that the fiscal imbalance is resolved have not understood a thing. The fiscal imbalance cannot be resolved without putting an end to federal spending power in areas that encroach upon the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

The Séguin commission made the following statement:

The problem of the “federal spending power” is closely tied to fiscal imbalance, and its use is underpinned by the surplus funds that the federal government controls.

Quebec is not Ottawa's subcontractor. No, the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved and is, in fact, getting worse. More and more, as a result of the fiscal imbalance and its offshoot—spending power—the Quebec government is being relegated to the ranks of a federal government subcontractor. Through its interference and conditional transfers, Ottawa is imposing Canada's priorities and choices on Quebec. The situation has gotten so bad that Quebec's own-source revenues hit an all-time low in 2009-2010, when a quarter of Quebec's budget envelope was being controlled by the federal government.

Now more than ever, it is time for the federal government to hand over the GST to Quebec, as well as a portion of individual income tax, so that Quebec is no longer at the mercy of federal transfer payments and Ottawa's whims.

Where does the Quebec nation stand in all this? In 2006, the House of Commons finally recognized the Quebec nation. And recognizing a nation is more than just a symbolic gesture. Nations, like people, have fundamental rights, the most important being the right to control the social, economic and cultural development of its own society, in other words, the right to self-determination. One cannot, on one hand, recognize the Quebec nation and its right to make choices that are different from Canada's and, on the other, deny the nation the ability to assert that right by maintaining the federal spending power. Denying Quebec the power to spend undermines its very existence as a nation.

The commitment made in the Speech from the Throne means absolutely nothing. The Conservative government's promise to limit federal spending power since the 2007 throne speech was just empty rhetoric. As a matter of fact, all we have been hearing since then is empty rhetoric.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canada Health Act has five principles: universality, public funding, comprehensiveness, accessibility, and portability. The only way for the government to enforce the provisions of the Canada Health Act is to have the ability to withhold funding where those principles are not respected.

Without the Canada Health Act, a province like Quebec that would opt out would clearly have to expand into the realm of the private sector delivery of health care, which is more expensive and which would cater mostly to those who have the money to pay for those health care services.

Does the member not think that that kind of action would be irresponsible, since it would jeopardize the health and well-being of all of the citizens of Quebec?

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, everywhere across Canada, private clinics are opening their doors. Just because the federal government is interfering in provincial jurisdiction does not mean that the private sector should take its place.

The federal government should take care of its own responsibilities, such as soldiers, veterans and Aboriginals. It is barely doing its job and it does so very poorly, as we can see. Rather than taking care of its own responsibilities, it tries to take on the responsibilities of others, but it is not very successful in doing so.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that the member has responded to the fundamental fact that to shift to a system which uses, and that finds it acceptable to use, private sector medical services means that professionals would be drawn out of the public system. It would jeopardize the health of the public health care system in Canada.

What would the member suggest be done when Quebeckers travel to the rest of Canada? How would their health care costs be covered? They would not be covered under the publicly provided system in the other provinces.

What about people who travel to Quebec and get ill in Quebec and are forced to pay for additional health care services?

All of a sudden the inefficiency of that kind of configuration makes it totally unviable. I wonder if the member would care to respond specifically to those concerns, not only for Quebeckers but for all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebec has one of the best health care systems in the world, even though it has shortcomings and gaps, like a number of other systems.

I believe it would be possible to enter into agreements, as is the case in all areas. At present, we have agreements with other countries. If we are able to sign agreements with countries that are thousands of kilometres away from here, I do not see why we could not sign an agreement with Quebec, which is not even 10 kilometres away from Ontario. I do not see where the problem is. I think the hon. member is seeing problems where there are none.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stop the Liberal member from asking the same question all the time, a question to which he always receives an adequate answer, I believe.

It is obvious that health care is Quebec's responsibility and Quebec can exercise its sovereignty in this area as it does in other areas under its jurisdiction. Is the fact that the federal government monopolizes this spending power not proof that it is trying more and more to reduce Quebec's sovereignty as a nation?

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

October 21st, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Liberals were in power, they constantly did it. The Conservative government, at least the Conservative Prime Minister, is trying to make us believe that it wants to act differently. But his MPs told us this morning that they did not want to act differently, while the member for Beauce did the opposite. If the member for Beauce were Prime Minister, perhaps he would be prepared to limit the spending power. Who knows. We will see.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank my colleague for leaving me time to speak about this motion, and I want to congratulate her on her speech.

This extremely important motion has been introduced several times by the Bloc Québécois. Now, the member for Beauce, to our great surprise, has decided to defend this position; he is supporting it and is defending it. We hope that he will be able to explain to his colleagues in the Conservative Party, the governing party, Quebec's position on this issue. The Quebec National Assembly and the Bloc Québécois have been calling for this for a long time.

Over the years, Ottawa has been throwing money into areas outside of its jurisdiction. As my colleague explained, in 1867, at the time of Confederation, the provinces were given their own jurisdictions. That agreement has not been modified since. But what money has the federal government been spending in jurisdictions exclusive to the provinces? It has been spending the money that it has collected over the years from our taxes. It collected money that it is using to spend in provincial areas of jurisdiction.

In 2001, Quebec Premier Bernard Landry established the Séguin commission in order to try to understand what was happening and why the federal government was spending so much or interfering so much in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. It was determined that there was a fiscal imbalance. There was so much money in Ottawa and the provinces needed so much money that, quite often, they were tempted to accept interference from the federal government in their areas of jurisdiction.

The federal government spends money on three kinds of transfer payments. The first is conditional transfers, in which Ottawa gives money to Quebec and the provinces on condition that they respect federal priorities in their own areas of jurisdiction, which is disgraceful. Mr. Speaker, this is just as though I, as a member, tell you where to live, tell you what kind of house to have and that I will give you $500 as long as you paint your walls a certain colour. I will give you $500, but in return, you have to accept my decision, my ideas.

The federal government also spends money providing direct services to the population in areas that are in no way, in absolutely no way, part of federal jurisdiction.

Earlier, I listened to a Liberal member ask my colleague a question about health. Health is a provincial jurisdiction. Why would we agree to let the federal government put money into or transfer money into a provincial jurisdiction?

The third type of spending is related to corporate subsidies and cheques for people, once again, in fields that are outside federal jurisdiction.

It is obvious that when the federal has too much money and is trying to grab power beyond its limits, it spends. It has the federal spending power and it assumes more powers. This works against the provinces. We now know that this federal spending power has no constitutional basis.

There has always been a consensus on this in Quebec. Every government has consistently taken the position that the so-called federal power to spend in all areas simply does not exist. Federal intrusions into Quebec's jurisdictions are unconstitutional and were condemned by Jean Lesage, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Robert Bourassa, René Lévesque, Lucien Bouchard and Benoît Pelletier, as my colleague said earlier. Benoît Pelletier was the intergovernmental affairs minister in the famous federalist government of Mr. Charest in Quebec.

In October 2007, the Bloc Québécois put forward a motion in the House of Commons asking that the bill the government was going to introduce on the federal spending power at least allow Quebec to opt out without condition. What does that mean? It means that since the federal government should not be spending in our jurisdictions but has money and insists on introducing Canada-wide programs, Quebec wants to opt out of these programs. Quebec wants to decide what sort of program to put in place for Quebeckers. What Quebec wants is not to have to go with the federal program. But even though it wants to opt out, it wants to receive the money for the program.

Take Quebec's child care system, for example. Quebec decided to set up this system, which is the envy of Canadian women and families. The federal government wants to introduce a Canada-wide child care system, but Quebec already has its own system. We are not saying that the government should not set up a Canada-wide system, but the system we have in Quebec is right for us. What we want is to be able to opt out of the federal system and have the money. If the government creates a Canada-wide child care system, it will give the money to all the provinces that use that system. At that point it should also give Quebec some money. Since we have our own child care system, we want to be able to have the money so that we can improve that system. But the federal government does not want to do that. It is intruding into Quebec's jurisdictions.

Every time the Bloc Québécois moved this motion it did it with Quebec's interests in mind, with the support of the Quebec National Assembly. This is what Quebec wants. The Conservatives are trying to argue against the Bloc Québécois and prove that we are wrong. Since they are masters at misleading the public, in December 2005, they promised to eliminate the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces. In budget 2007, the government also indicated that it wanted to limit the so-called federal spending power. In budget 2008, it confirmed its plan to honour its commitment, but so far it still has not done anything. One Conservative member said the government must stop spending in areas of Quebec jurisdiction. That member, who is from Quebec, understands. Why is it that the other Conservative members do not understand? Will that member have enough power, clout and character to tell his government and his colleagues that they need to limit the federal spending power and let Quebec opt out of programs with full compensation?

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Beauce is advocating for private health care. This would mean eliminating the federal government's health and social transfers, which constitute a $40 billion transfer to provincial budgets, and removing the government's ability to enforce the Canada Health Act. That is a broad brush of the health impacts.

When we start talking about matters to do with separation, the problem is always how it could be done without having people fall through the cracks.

As an example, and I would like the member to comment, what do we do about first nations persons who live in Quebec, whose health care cost is entirely dealt with by the Government of Canada and not by the provinces? How would we provide health care to first nations?

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I appreciate it all the more as I am well aware of his altruistic nature. This gives me the opportunity to point out that this is not the first time we have heard a Conservative member endorse private health care. This government's ideology favours the private sector. Social issues are not its forte.

Quebec has always been able to provide services and care for all of its citizens, and particularly first nations. Federalist Canadian governments have failed in that regard. We were able to negotiate the Paix des Braves. The people of Quebec are a nation. Quebec is therefore able to negotiate with other nations, including the Canadian nation and aboriginal nations. We are able to reach agreements for the benefit of all.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her speech. I would like to go back to a point she raised. She stated that the Conservative member for Beauce seems to agree with what we are saying about the spending power. However, in December 2006, the future prime minister said that he would respect jurisdictions. A little later, he said that he would ensure that the spending power is eliminated.

We may be acting precipitously by congratulating the member for Beauce. The Conservatives say things to mollify us and then they do the complete opposite. The member for Beauce comes from the Montreal Economic Institute, which does not tend to do things without a reason.

Opposition Motion—Federal spending power
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good comment. If my memory serves me well, the member for Beauce flirted somewhat with Quebec sovereignty. I think he worked in the office of a Quebec minister or MNA.

Without necessarily congratulating him, I think that he has finally understood that respect for a nation is important. Respect for a nation starts with respect for its economic independence. That is what the Bloc is pushing for and what the Quebec nation wants. It wants respect and to be allowed to decide what to do with its money and what authority it will exercise with that money.