House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Information Technology
Oral Questions

April 20th, 2010 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General today has reported that the government's aging information technology is a significant risk that the government has failed to address. It has ignored this problem and there is now a $2 billion shortfall in three departments alone that could mean EI benefits, income tax rebates and refunds and pension benefits are all at risk.

Why does the government fail to treat this as a priority?

Information Technology
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, as I have already said, this is an important issue. We appreciate the observations by the Auditor General. I have in fact met with her and Treasury Board officials have met with her officials.

We have given instruction to all departments, even though some are already advanced in this work as the Auditor General noted, that we want them to complete their plans on aging information technology. When they do that and bring them forward with the timeline we have given them, we will then look at the overall amount that is needed and the types of technologies needed so we can keep our systems working well.

Broadband Canada Program
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, on April 4, the Minister of Industry announced upcoming consultations on the digital economy. The minister said that technological take-up is directly linked to productivity. However, many Quebec regions still do not have access to high-speed Internet. The Conservatives are so out of touch with the task at hand that they received applications for funding amounting to four times what is in the three-year envelope.

Why did the government not increase Broadband Canada's funding in its latest budget?

Broadband Canada Program
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka
Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, we announced a broadband subsidy fund in excess of $200 million. Announcements will be made as soon possible.

We are reviewing the applications and will have announcements as soon as possible.

National Volunteer Week
Routine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 3:02 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today the House will now proceed to statements by ministers.

I call upon the hon. Minister of State for Seniors.

National Volunteer Week
Routine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State (Seniors)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in honour of National Volunteer Week. Others have mentioned this today. Simply put, volunteers are a big part of what makes Canada such a great place to live. From coast to coast to coast, more than 12 million volunteers are taking the time to contribute to their communities. They may be found coaching hockey, feeding the vulnerable, working at the local region and in thousands more roles that support, help and care for others.

National Volunteer Week is set aside every year to honour these men, women and young people. They contribute time, talent and, just as important, kindness of heart to those around them and make the quality of life better for everyone.

How much total time do all these generous people give every year? Thousands of hours, maybe even millions of hours of precious time? The real number is even more astounding. Canadians give over two billion hours each and every year to empower a wide variety of causes and activities, over two billion hours. The value of this work to the Canadian economy is estimated to be greater than $14 billion annually. Those are some pretty incredible numbers and they add up to the kind of society that is the envy of the world.

Our government fully recognizes the invaluable contributions volunteers make to Canada's success. That is why, in the 2010 throne speech, we committed to a new Prime Minister's award for volunteerism. This new award will honour the great work and personal sacrifices made by some outstanding individuals working as volunteers.

The throne speech also laid out our commitment to work with innovative charities to tackle social challenges. Our government recognizes that volunteers and the organizations they serve are on the front lines every day. That means they are often better placed to deliver results on a wide variety of issues facing our communities.

Of course, our government's commitment to volunteerism did not start with the 2010 throne speech, nor does it end there. In budget 2010, our government committed $10 million in additional funding to the new horizons for seniors program. This program supports projects that focus on volunteering by seniors. It contributes to initiatives that give seniors an opportunity to also mentor the next generation of volunteers and pass on their valuable skills and knowledge. Do members know that seniors volunteer more hours on average than any other age group in Canada?

The 2010 budget, which we hope the House will support, would also eliminate the disbursement quota for Canadian charities. This budget measure would provide important flexibility for Canada's not-for-profit and voluntary sector. It would deliver a change that has been very well received by our valuable charities.

National Volunteer Week gives us seven days to say thanks to Canada's volunteers, to thank them for coaching the hockey team, to thank them for working at the information desk at the hospital, to thank them for running the fundraising campaign, to thank them for planting those trees.

On behalf of the government and all Canadians, let us say “Thank you” to Canada's 12.5 million volunteers.

National Volunteer Week
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to recognize National Volunteer Week in Canada and honour the millions of Canadians who make Canada better by giving back to their communities.

Two weeks ago I visited Holy Trinity Emmanuel Parish in Dartmouth, which holds a clothing depot every Wednesday. It is run by a remarkable women, Doris Makarder who, along with Dot, Marilyn, Connie, Eddie and others, gather used clothing, display it and give it to those in need for free and with a smile. It is a wonderful operation and very time consuming, but Doris and her colleagues do it without complaint, thankful for the opportunity to serve.

She is but one face of volunteerism, one of over 12 million volunteers in Canada. Food banks, seniors centres, child care organizations, cultural groups, kids recreation, support for the disabled, the list is endless of those organization that simply would not exist without volunteers.

As a father to children who play organized hockey, soccer, tennis, paddling and are involved in Guides, I am indebted to the coaches, the managers and the organizers. If we think kids sports are expensive now, we should try doing it without volunteers.

Most members of the House have volunteered, but all members of the House have benefited from volunteers. Those who work on our campaigns, and our opponents campaigns, honour us and the democratic process.

Thanks to GPI Atlantic, we do have an economic measurement of the value of volunteers. In its 2008 Nova Scotia Genuine Progress Index, it tells us that volunteers in Canada contributed the equivalent of $64.9 billion to Canada. Volunteers contributed $1.8 billion worth of volunteer hours in Nova Scotia alone. The budget for the province of Nova Scotia is $8.4 billion.

These are staggering numbers, but there is a warning. That number I mentioned is $370 million less than it was in 1998, as volunteers struggled to find the time and the mechanisms to volunteer.

A sector worth $65 billion is worth investing in. We need to recognize exceptional volunteers. Governments also need to partner with the voluntary sector to encourage volunteerism.

The spirit of volunteerism is alive, but today's demands are great and we must do everything possible to encourage and support volunteers. They are irreplaceable. They are the heroes of our nation.

This week we say thanks to the 12 million Canadians who make communities better, who offer their time to others and keep Canada better than ever. Thanks very much to the volunteers in Canada.

National Volunteer Week
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we mark National Volunteer Week, I would like, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, to extend my congratulations and, especially, to express my deep appreciation to the millions of volunteers in Quebec and in Canada who selflessly give their time whether to care for a relative or a sick person, support a cause they feel strongly about or help to improve the well-being of their community. Their work is essential, nothing less.

However, unlike paid work, the value of volunteer work is not quantifiable and is invaluable. Since it contributes not only to economic development, but also to the common good, we should consider volunteer workers to be partners.

By giving their time in such a way, volunteer workers show a greatness of spirit that we must highlight, not only a week per year, but all year long.

Their commitment is as noble as it is indispensable, whether it is to directly help needy fellow citizens, the elderly, the sick or, as well, politicians like ourselves. Unfortunately, this commitment is too often forgotten and neglected. It remains, so to speak, in the shadows.

We must salute the passion that they show to defend the causes dear to their hearts. As it is often the case these days, despite a very busy schedule, they find a way to make a commitment to their community.

Back home, at least 2 million people give some of their time to help out in Quebec. Let us have more than a simple thought for them. The next time we see a volunteer hard at work, let us take the time to give praise and encouragement.

And we should not be on the lookout only for older volunteers, because contrary to what we might think, nearly half the youth between 15 and 24 do some type of volunteer work.

So, it is more than appropriate that this year's theme for the Quebec Volunteer Week it “Volunteer for Life”. Obviously, today's youth seem on the right path to volunteer for life, and we must be glad and congratulate them.

National Volunteer Week
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to represent my caucus and join all members as we recognize National Volunteer Week and give a huge thanks to volunteers.

These men, women, students and children serve on boards, coach sports, staff the front lines in social services, do disaster relief and international aid. They are active in health care, social justice, the arts, environment, political movements and more. They give their time, energy, creativity and skills.

Under the radar so often, these selfless individuals with their generous compassion just make things better for our communities and our people.

I am struck by the number of times hon. members stand in the House to commend a citizen or a community event that so often really is the recognition of volunteers.

Volunteerism is a central thread in the social fabric of Canadian life. However. we cannot be complacent about this. Reports indicate that there are fewer volunteers in Canada and they end up giving even more of their time.

I would be remiss in our recognition today without noting the government cuts to volunteer organizations, to literacy, to arts and more. These cuts hurt the vulnerable and create dangerous social deficits.

As a country, as a government, we need to act ourselves on this year's theme, “From Compassion to Action”. We cannot take our volunteers for granted nor starve the sector that resources them.

There was an extraordinary voluntary sector initiative earlier this decade with solid recommendations to implement on how to grow the capacity of the volunteer sector, to give it the resources to help volunteers do what they do so well. Our volunteer organizations need a reliable federal funding envelope to drive this progress.

Let us express our gratitude to the legion of volunteers and let us support our volunteers by giving the volunteer sector the tools and resources it needs to ensure that volunteerism continues to play a strong and vital role in Canadian society.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before Question Period, the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie had the floor. She now has six minutes remaining in which to speak.

The hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie has the floor.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not take all six minutes, but I will try to pick up from where I left off earlier.

I want to come back to the question of what a fair representation from Quebec will be once we have dealt with the government's bill.

At the moment, the Bloc is proposing an increase of approximately nine seats for Quebec. This is not necessarily the fairest proportion in terms of the population, but neither is the government's proposal, because it limits Quebec to 75 seats, whereas, in a reorganized House, Quebec would, in principle, have the right to two or perhaps three more seats.

I would like to repeat that, under the Charlottetown accord in August 1992, Quebec had a guarantee of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons in perpetuity. Through the entire campaign leading up to the referendum, the Bloc's position was that people should vote against the Charlottetown accord, even though it provided major guarantees for Quebec's representation in the House. Many people in Quebec were greatly discouraged by those who would eventually become Bloc members of Parliament.

I do not understand why they would come back to 24.35% today when they turned down a guarantee of 25%. I should also make it clear that, ultimately, it is Quebec's right to fight. But the very reason for that party's existence is to do away with all of Quebec's representation in the House.

Let us move to the government's bill that will lead to discussions in committee. At that point, we will be able to try to find a fair representation for Quebec in the House so that its presence can be maintained with everything that sets us apart as a province and with everything that we can contribute to our fellow Canadians. I think that that is the most logical and the most democratic way to proceed. This bill must be debated in committee. I will stop there. I think all the arguments have been made.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by the member for Brossard—La Prairie and I found some weaknesses in her argument concerning our opposition motion. Maybe she is not aware that the National Assembly of Quebec, which is made up of three parties, namely the Liberal Party of Quebec—which, to this day, is a federalist party and which, as a matter of fact, forms the government—the Parti Québécois and the Action démocratique du Québec, passed a unanimous motion, the same one that we are bringing forward today, asking that the political weight of the Quebec nation be respected in the House of Commons.

Can she explain to me why, as a member representing Quebeckers, she seems to be opposed to this motion that was passed unanimously by the supreme democratic body of the Quebec nation?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

First I will say that, with Québec solidaire, there are four parties in the National Assembly.

My answer will be simply this: if our colleagues are always asking the government and federal entities not to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction, I think they should also see that, while the motion by the National Assembly of Quebec is perfectly acceptable—and I was aware that the National Assembly had voted unanimously in favour of maintaining Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons—it is the responsibility of the House of Commons to debate the issue and to have discussions with the other provinces as to how to ensure that Quebec's representation in the House of Commons is fair and politically beneficial to that province.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this afternoon on the Bloc’s opposition day dealing with a subject that is close to my heart. I want to take the time to read the motion before us. I would also like to say that I will be splitting my time with the kind, competent, fabulous member from Trois-Rivières.

The motion before us today asks the government to stop trying to pass any bill that would have the effect of reducing Quebec’s current political weight in the House of Commons, which is 24.35% of all seats. I listened intently today to some of the speeches of my colleagues, members of both the Bloc Québécois and other parties. Some of them explored the more legal aspect, referring to the Constitution. Personally, I am going to try in the minutes remaining to me to understand what the real intent is of the Conservative government, which has tabled bills more than once since being elected with the purpose, in my view, of reducing Quebec’s political weight in the House of Commons.

There is good reason to ask this question and I can think of several possible reasons. Why has the government tried repeatedly since being elected to table bills that weaken Quebec? One possibility is that it is an underhanded way to get a majority in the next election. In the last six federal elections, Quebeckers have elected a vast majority of Bloc members to represent them in the House of Commons. Despite all the high hopes of the Conservatives in the last election, a vast majority of Quebeckers again placed their confidence in Bloc members to represent their interests. Looking at the surveys done by various firms and published in newspapers, I see that the last six or eight confirm this strong tendency of Quebeckers, who say that the Bloc Québécois is a good party to represent and defend their interests.

I make no accusations but would still like to ask the following: would this be an underhanded way to get a majority without Quebec by adding so many seats in Ontario, for example? Is it to please English Canadians who really wonder about the Bloc presence in the House of Commons? Is it to comfort English Canadians who are closer to Reformers, the Conservatives, the right wing? Is it to please them by saying the Conservatives can put Quebec in its place and are going to make sure now that the constitution of Parliament and the House of Commons reduces the political weight of Quebec? Is this not a way of telling Quebec to accept its role and be a province like all the others?

These are legitimate questions and I am asking them. It may be odd to say this, but I am a member who is known for doing a lot of work in my riding. Sometimes we think that what we discuss here is of little or not much interest to our fellow citizens, who are fairly cynical about politics and politicians. But I would say that this bill has struck a chord, that is, it has generated interest among electors. They talk to me and they understand very clearly that it is unfair. It depends of course on what side you are. Federalists find this quite normal, for they see Canada as a single entity and are not interested in specificities, such as those of Quebec, which is a nation.

I should mention that a motion was passed in this House which recognized the Quebec nation. What we have realized since the motion was passed is that it was theoretical, that it will never be acted on. I will give some examples.

If it truly wanted to take account of the Quebec nation and its distinct character, the federal government would agree to treat Quebec fairly by ensuring that all federally regulated companies are subject to Bill 101. The national language in Quebec is French. Why does this government refuse to recognize that fact and allow federally regulated companies to be subject to Bill 101?

The government also promotes multiculturalism. That means that it encourages immigrants to preserve their culture of origin so far as possible. In Quebec, on the other hand, we have a different perspective on the integration of immigrants: they become partners and full citizens of the province.

The government also refuses to let us fully control our communications and telecommunications, which are the engine and soul of a nation, of a people. We need to hold the key, to have full authority over our communications and telecommunications. The Bloc Québécois therefore introduced a bill, since we are quite proactive when it comes to defending the interests of Quebec. This bill was designed to create a radio-television and telecommunications commission, a CRTQ, which would have regulated on the basis of the interests and challenges of Quebec.

And of course, there is that old promise that the government made when it began its mandate—namely to limit the federal spending power. Since its election, the government has not only failed to keep its promise, but it has increased its encroachments into fields of provincial jurisdiction.

As I have said, recognition of the nation is meaningless for the federal government, and for many Liberals perhaps, it is nothing but wind. Nothing concrete is being done to recognize the nation.

As I was saying to the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, the National Assembly of Quebec has passed a unanimous motion. There are four parties in the National Assembly of Quebec. Some are federalist, others are sovereignist. All of these parties agreed to tell the federal government to withdraw this bill, which would weaken or reduce the political weight of Quebec. The Bloc is being accused of pushing for a substantial political weight in the House of Commons and told that it wants to leave this House and form a country. And they are right, for my dearest wish is to prepare the way for the sovereignty of Quebec and repatriate all the powers that we can so that we are able to build our country properly. In the meantime, however, we must ensure that Quebeckers are well represented on the basis of their weight and their distinctiveness, for they form a nation.

The motion unanimously passed by the Quebec National Assembly is very clear. It is the same as the motion we are debating today. It is important for those listening to us to understand that this is the unanimous request of all elected representatives of the Quebec nation's highest democratic institution.

I find it somewhat funny to hear what the Conservatives have to say in favour of this bill. If I understood them correctly, they care so much about democracy that they want justice to be served through proportional representation in the House of Commons. When it suits them, they use democracy as an argument even though Conservatives are poor role models when it comes to respecting democratic institutions. It is rather difficult to talk about respect for democracy when a Prime Minister prorogues Parliament because he does not want to face the opposition. They can hardly be considered as role models when they hide documents relating to the transfer of Afghan prisoners. There are many examples that lead us to say that this government is not a model of respect for democratic institutions. It is ironic to give us this example in order to justify the bill.

As usual, the reasons mentioned in our French-language media come from the Quebec Conservative MPs, who did not seem to be excessively bothered by a decrease in Quebec’s political weight in the Canadian Parliament. This is hardly surprising since they only care about Canada's interests, while we are interested in Quebec's interests.

Since my time has expired, I will conclude by saying that this bill must absolutely be abandoned. I am calling on opposition MPs to vote against this legislation that would decrease the political weight of Quebec, which is one of Canada's founding nations.