Appropriation Act No.3, 2000-2001

An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2001

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament.

Statutory Instruments ActPrivate Members' Business

June 11th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

moved, seconded by the member for Scarborough Southwest, that Bill C-202, an act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act (disallowance procedure for statutory instruments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker,I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central and in fact all Canadians to debate my private member's bill, Bill C-202, an act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act, disallowance procedure for statutory instruments, also called negative resolution procedure.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest, a veteran Liberal member and vice-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, for seconding the bill.

As members will recall, a similar bill was tabled by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North in 1996 but it died on the order paper. The proposed amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act largely mirror the current disallowance procedure which is set out in the standing orders of the House of Commons.

For the information of the folks who are listening and watching the debate on the TV, statutory instruments or regulations, also called delegated legislation, give form and substance to legislation. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details or sometimes in the fine print. Let me say that here in this business the devil is in the regulations.

Twenty per cent of the law in the country is made up of legislation. The remaining 80% of the law is made up of delegated legislation, commonly called regulations and frequently called red tape. Legislation or bills are passionately debated in the House and voted in parliament, whereas there is virtually no debate, public input or even media scrutiny on regulations. This is an affront to democracy.

The only and limited scrutiny of delegated legislation or regulations in parliament is done by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, a joint committee of the House and the Senate. The members of the committee, legal counsels and staff, work very hard scouring through thousands of papers on dry, technical and legal subjects doing a painstaking, fastidious and thankless job. This is a committee that is generally misunderstood and ignored but it is an essential watchdog in protecting democracy, controlling bureaucracy and holding the government accountable. There is room for more public input and interest by the media.

The joint committee is non-partisan or less partisan and more objective than other committees of parliament. Its scrutiny of the regulations is limited to the validity and legality on the basis of a set of uniform and defined criteria and not on the basis of policy matters, general merits or necessity of a statutory instrument.

The committee works meticulously but due to many elements involved it works at a slow pace. That is the nature of the committee. It has a huge backlog of work in progress. Staff and resources allotted to the joint committee for the important work it does are nowhere near adequate.

I happen to be a three term co-chair of the joint committee representing all members in the House. Members across all party lines and legal counsels of the committee support Bill C-20 and it is on similar lines written earlier by the standing joint committee to the justice minister for appropriate action.

The joint committee works to improve and correct defects in regulations but its ultimate weapon is to disallow defective regulations, only used when strictly necessary. The status quo disallowance procedure is seriously defective.

Bill C-202 would establish a statutory disallowance procedure that would be applicable to all statutory instruments subject to review and scrutiny by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. This enactment would ensure that parliament will have the opportunity and the ability to disallow any statutory instruments made pursuant to authority delegated by parliament or made by or under the authority of the cabinet.

Through the bill, the Statutory Instruments Act is amended by adding a new section comprising the 10 subsections after section 19, which is the procedure for the disallowance of subordinate and delegated legislation.

Disallowance is a means at the disposal of parliament to control the making of delegated legislation. Parliamentarians are given an opportunity to reject a subordinate law made by a delegate of parliament.

Any general disallowance procedure ought to have a statutory basis. The lack of a general disallowance procedure as a means of asserting parliamentary control of delegated legislation prompted a great many recommendations that such a procedure be put in place.

Following the recommendation of the McGrath committee and as part of its overall regulatory reform strategy, the placement of the current disallowance procedure in the standing orders in 1986 was intended to be on an experimental and temporary basis.

The time has now come to give a more permanent status to that procedure, which was temporary and on an experimental basis, through its inclusion in a statute, preferably the Statutory Instruments Act.

In its 1992 report, the subcommittee on regulations and competitiveness of the finance committee recommended that the defect in the current procedure be addressed by proceeding with the adoption of a statutory procedure covering all statutory instruments. A mere resolution of the House of Commons is all that is required to amend the standing orders of the House.

Disallowance would be most appropriately dealt with in the Statutory Instruments Act but it can also be dealt with in a number of other statutes, such as the Parliament of Canada Act, the Interpretation Act or even in distinct statutes. Various disallowance procedures have been in existence in other Commonwealth jurisdictions for many years.

I would mention two glaring defects of the current procedure. First, that the procedure only applies in the House of Commons and not in the Senate.

Second, the disallowance is limited to those statutory instruments that are made by the governor in council or ministers of the crown. A fairly large body of subordinate law is not subject to disallowance, thus to parliamentary scrutiny. A large number of delegated laws escape parliament's scrutiny and there is no good reason, either in theory or practice, why a regulation or statutory instrument made by the governor in council or a minister can be disallowed by parliament while a regulation made by an agency or board cannot.

Under parliamentary orders the governor in council also delegates authority to make regulations to a number of quasi-government agencies or boards, such as the National Transportation Agency, CRTC, CIHR, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Energy Board, but parliament, through its standing joint committee, lacks the authority to propose the disallowance of any of those regulations of the excluded class. As a result, parliament is deprived of the opportunity to disallow important regulations made by these agencies or bodies.

It is clearly both logical and desirable that all statutory instruments subject to review by parliament under the Statutory Instruments Act be subject to disallowance. The current procedure simply cannot be invoked in relation to a large class of statutory instruments reviewed by the joint committee.

These two bodies of subordinate law are entirely a consequence of the choice made in 1986 by means of amending the standing orders of the House. This reform was meant to be temporary and if it had been successful it would have been extended to all statutory instruments reviewed by the committee.

After more than 15 years the time has come, although it has been long overdue, to place this procedure on a statutory footing with a view to increasing the effectiveness of parliamentary control of delegated legislation.

Another weakness of the existing procedure is that a House of Commons order asking the department to revoke a statutory instrument contains no form of sanction that would compel compliance, except in the case of contempt for the House of Commons.

Where the joint committee considers that a regulation should be annulled it can make a report to the House of Commons containing a resolution to the effect that regulation x should be revoked. Once that report is tabled in the House the applicable procedure would depend on a decision by the responsible minister. Should the appropriate authority neglect or refuse to comply with the disallowance order it would be open to the House to treat the failure to comply with the order as involving a contempt of the House.

While the House could deal with the matter as one of contempt there are no other legal sanctions, or even consequences, that arise from a failure to comply with a disallowance order. As a matter of law an order of the House of Commons that a particular regulation be revoked is not binding on the author of the regulation and cannot be enforced by a court of justice.

The standing orders also provide that where the committee recommends to revoke an instrument, and the report being tabled, no request is made by a minister for a debate. The resolution contained in the report is deemed to be concurred in by the House at the expiration of 15 sitting days. In this case as well the resolution is then treated as an order of the House that the regulation be revoked.

Under the status quo procedure, the revocation of an instrument disallowed by the House of Commons would ultimately depend on a decision of the governor in council or the appropriate minister to obey the order of the House of Commons or not.

Placing the disallowance procedure on a statutory footing, as this bill recommends, would remove the need for a regulation making authority to take subsequent action to give effect to an order of the House, thus eliminating the potential for conflict between the legislature and the executive.

Proposed subsection 19.1(9) is a new provision. By putting the disallowance procedure on a statutory footing, the procedure is also made more efficient as there is no longer a need for the House of Commons to address an order of the cabinet ordering the revocation of a statutory instrument. The legislation itself would now deem a disallowed instrument to be revoked. By eliminating the need for further action by the governor in council or the minister who adopted the disallowed instrument compliance with a disallowance decision would be improved by eliminating any possibility of a regulation making authority not complying with a disallowance order of the House.

It seems a little complicated and technical but those veteran members of the standing joint committee should understand. I am sure that other members have a fairly good idea. I tried to make it simple for them.

By providing that the revocation of an instrument does not take effect before the expiration of a 30 day deadline, the bill would ensure that the regulation making authority that made the disallowed regulation has an opportunity to take measures to mitigate any negative impact that the revocation might have, including the enactment of alternative regulations.

Proposed subsection 19.1(10) is also new. It would provide for the situation in which a minister has filed a motion to reject a proposed disallowance and the motion is not adopted. In that case, the proposed subsection 19.1(9) would deem the regulation or other instruments to be revoked at the expiration of 30 days from the day on which the motion to reject the disallowance was considered but failed to obtain the approval of the House.

Putting the present procedure on a statutory footing would not only ensure that parliament has effective control of the delegated legislation it authorizes, it would also allow for a simplification of the current procedure. Some 80% of the laws that Canadians face are through regulations and statutory instruments and most of them fall within the federal jurisdiction and affect every Canadian in many ways.

Bill C-202 is of very significant public concern. There is significant support from small, medium and large businesses, various organizations and stakeholders, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and chambers of commerce throughout the country.

As members of the House representing Canadians our most important responsibility is to protect democracy. It is incumbent upon all of us in the House irrespective of political parties to make the disallowance procedure more transparent and effective. This is a non-partisan issue. All of us must ensure than an appropriate and effective procedure is in place that has a statutory footing and that is enforceable.

The current practice of disallowance is not statutory, rather it is a halfway house. Because it is embodied in the standing orders it is limited to instruments the governor in council or a minister has the authority to revoke. It does not apply to all statutory instruments and most notably, does not apply to regulations made by agencies and bodies I mentioned. Nor does the disallowance take effect automatically after the reporting in the House. The governor in council or a minister must act in a sense ordered by the House.

By providing a clear legislative basis for the current disallowance procedure Bill C-202 would: first, allow parliament's authority to extend to all instruments subject to review under the Statutory Instruments Act instead of only those made by the governor in council or a minister.

Second, it would remove the necessity for additional action on the part of the regulation making authority in order to give effect to an order of the House that a regulation be revoked. Bill C-202 not only gives the act two recommendations made by numerous parliamentary committees who have studied the matter, but would both strengthen the current disallowance procedure and make that procedure more effective. Providing a statutory basis for disallowance would allow this defect to be corrected and would ensure parliament's full control of delegated legislation.

This regulatory reform is the beginning. I am certainly aware that further regulatory reforms are needed and there is room for improvements and amendments and strengthening of the bill can take place when it goes to committee.

I want to thank all the members from all parties who will be speaking to the bill, particularly the hon. members for Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough--Rouge River, Témiscamingue; Regina--Qu'Appelle; Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and Dauphin--Swan River, as well as many Senators who are supporting the bill, my co-chair Senator Hervieux-Payette and many other Senators who have been working hard on this committee. They understand what this disallowance procedure means and why it is important to restore transparency and protect democracy in the House of Commons.

I am optimistic that all members of the House will support this important, long overdue initiative by looking through the non-partisan lens. As the bill is votable I trust members will vote in favour of Bill C-202. All of us in the House, as one body, as Canadians with one voice, can reassure and strengthen democracy in parliament.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

May 9th, 2002 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is extremely important for me to speak to Bill C-55 today.

To begin with, like my colleague from Mercier, I am opposed to Bill C-55 though I will support the amendment to amendment moved by the member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie, which says:

—the bill reflects several principles that violate human rights and freedoms, which have been denounced by the Privacy Commissioner and are unrelated to transport and government operations, rendering it impracticable for the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations to properly consider it.

I would like to raise several points. Although I do not have time to deal with all of them, I will list a few.

Who has the power under this bill? What is the meaning of “designation, delimitation of a controlled access zone”? There is also the question of rights and freedoms. Where is the consultation process at, as well as access to passengers lists? I will deal with all these issues.

Mr. Speaker, every time you are in the chair I say to you that I come from the most beautiful area of Canada, Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean. Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, which is affiliated to NORAD, is located there. My house is 15 kilometers from the military base. It is a short distance.

One day, will the minister having all the powers to designate a controlled access military zone be able to include my house in that perimeter without my being informed? Will it be the same for everyone who live around Canadian Forces Base Bagotville? Laterrière and Jonquière are located very close to it.

I will be able to do things within the zone, but I will not be aware of doing so inside a controlled access military zone. I will not have the right to pursue legal remedies. It would be up to the minister or to the President of the Treasury Board to decide if I have the right to do so.

This is unconscionable. We are in 2002. We do not live in a totalitarian state. As the Liberals often like to say, we are in Canada and we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They recently celebrated the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With this bill, they are disregarding all the fine principles of the Access to Information Act; it is as though they had taken the charter, folded it up and shoved it into a drawer. The minister is saying, “It is I, the Minister of National Defence, who will determine what you will have access to from now on.”

First, the House considered Bill C-42. There was a general outcry about that bill, especially on the part of the Bloc Quebecois and the opposition parties. Everybody said that the bill made no sense whatsoever. We thought this government had listened, that it had understood the objections to Bill C-42.

When the government introduced Bill C-55, we were sure this legislation would show that it had really understood. But now we see that Bill C-55 is even worse than the previous one, because it goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It provides for the creation of controlled access military zones without any notice being given to the people living within the perimeter of the zone.

Tomorrow, I will take the plane to go back to my riding. Under this new legislation, if the governor in council, the RCMP or CSIS wanted to see the passenger list, the airlines would be compelled to give it to them, together with 34 other elements, and any further element the minister may require, at his own discretion.

This means that I will no longer have the right to move around on my own private business. This is very much contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I have listened to the leader of the Progressive Conservative party's discussion of war measures. We have experience of war measures; Quebecers are the ones who were arrested. I have friends who were. Without any summons, without any right to an attorney, they were arrested. They are still marked by their experiences. They were arrested under the War Measures Act.

A colleague from the government side has said, “Certainly, there are still some question marks, There will have to be discussions. They will have to be examined in committee”. Hon. members will surely remember what happened with Bill C-20 on referendum clarity. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice of the day claimed to be very open-minded when the bill was introduced. The minister's words at that time were, “Yes, we will be open. We will study it in committee. We will listen to witnesses and improvements will be made”. We know what happened .There were no changes made. The bill was passed as introduced. They rammed it through.

The way the government is acting is unacceptable. I always say that there no democracy in Canada anymore. Today, on May 9, 2002, with Bill C-55, I think that this government is giving itself disproportionate powers following the events of September 11.

We had laws to deal with what happened on September 11. In Canada, we had laws to fight terrorism. We only had to improve existing laws, use and enforce them. Why introduce this bill?

We know what this minister has done in the past. We are told not to talk about it, but all Quebecers and Canadians talk about it. He is the one who will be responsible for this legislation. This is serious. And he will be the only one. Parliament will not even be consulted.

Mr. Speaker, like me, you are an elected member. We represent our respective constituents, as do all members in this House, and we will not have the right to discuss what the minister will decide.

This is serious. If this is not a dictatorship, it is very close. This is why we, in the Bloc Quebecois, members from Quebec, those who defend the interests of their constituents, are saying to this government that it must withdraw this bill and go back to the drawing board.

It is not that we are opposed to protection against terrorism, as the Liberal member said. Of course, there are other approaches available today with the Internet, but we will never accept this bill as it stands. Let the government do its homework; then, we will get back to the bill.

Briefings or NegotiationsPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2002 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Quebecois colleague has indeed been very brief. He has summarized a thought many of us share, in some very fine phrases couched in impeccable French, and I must congratulate him.

I will soon have sat in this House for five years, but I have still learned something from Motion M-360. The hon. member for Provencher, the mover of the motion, has said that in the debate in the justice committee on Bill C-7, the committee chair indicated that a rule or convention excluded elected representatives of the provinces and territories. Not being an expert like you, Mr. Speaker, on rules, procedures, conventions and traditions, I have learned something new.

I am going to ask our parliamentary leader and our rules and procedures adviser to explain to me in greater detail what this is all about. They refused to allow the provincial ministers of justice, the attorneys general, to speak, based on rules and conventions, claiming that committees cannot accept them as witnesses, if I have understood the hon. member for Provencher correctly.

This led me to wonder. I though the committee was sovereign. I know that royal commissions hear provincial and territorial elected officials and wondered why the same did not hold true for committees. I wondered if there were any examples. There have been a number of examples where provincial and territorial elected representatives have appeared before a committee examining a bill.

SInce there is not much time left, I am going to speak about the famous Bill C-20—now a law—I might even call it the infamous bill on referendum clarity. If I remember correctly, Joseph Facal, Quebec's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, came before the committee, as did Benoît Pelletier, the Liberal MNA for Chapleau, not far from here.

If, for a bill such as Bill C-20, there was acceptance of provincial ministers and elected representatives, and this issue did not come up, I do not understand why a committee would decide to exclude them because of rules of procedure.

I need more clarification. If it was because of rules, conventions or traditions, the government, which refused to hear from the people of Quebec, among others, during consideration of Bill C-7, citing parliamentary procedure, ignored that procedure during consideration of Bill C-20; this is a double standard. If rules need to be changed, it should change them, but I do not think that that is the case. We have a number of examples of elected provincial government officials appearing before the committee.

I am not sure what the specific purpose of the motion is but, if I understand correctly, the idea is to not exclude elected officials from the provinces and territories when bills which have an impact on the provinces are being considered. We would not disagree. I am learning things. We need some answers.

I listened to my former colleague who crossed the floor, the turncoat who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport. He explained how federal-provincial relations are supposed to work. This government is in no position to tell us how to operate. I think that the previous government had much more credibility when it came to respect for the provinces. The short-lived government that the leader of my party had the opportunity to lead could point to examples of real co-operation.

Members will recall that when the right hon. leader of the Progressive Conservative Party was about to make appointments, he telephoned the then Premier of Quebec, Mr. Lévesque, and told him, “I have some names, but I would like your opinion”.

My leader reminded me that Mr. Lévesque was quite surprised that the Prime Minister had called to consult him about appointments.

This is a fine example of the skilful handling of relations. However, our friends on the other side are arrogant, because they base their decisions on certain rules in order to exclude some people and go their own way, do as they please.

I find it unfortunate that, for Bill C-7, they refused to meet with elected provincial representatives on the basis of some criteria and regulations, some tradition and conventions, whereas, in the case of Bill C-20, which divided the country much more than it united it, the presence of ministers and members of legislatures was accepted.

They resort to double standards whenever it suits them. This is another case of bad handling of relations here in the House by this government. It is another example of this government using the rules for the benefit of its own leader and excluding the provincial elected representatives, who are our partners only when this government finds it convenient.

Finally, we must be careful. We must not forget that there are two distinct philosophies about the vision for our country. On the one hand, some say that Canada is Ottawa. It is a central governmen, which in its great generosity grants some powers and responsibilities to what we call provinces. This is Canada according to some people.

Perhaps it would help to look back further in history. Canada is made up of regions and provinces which decided to act together and to give shared services to Ottawa. It was a bottom up approach, not a top down one. A country such as Canada cannot remain united if decisions are always made at the top. Decisions that shape this country must be made in the regions and in the provinces.

This is why we hope for a fairly quick change of government in order to change the way things are done and if possible, an even quicker change in Prime Ministers and Ministers of Intergovernmental Affairs. This could not come soon enough. In any case, squabbling has already started within the ranks of the Liberal Party.

Having said that, these are two different visions of the country, two different approaches. I hope that the vision of the country that recognizes that it was the regions and the provinces that created this country and that decided to come together for all kinds of reasons, more or less good, will gain more widespread acceptance.

I also sincerely hope that there will be a level playing field when it comes to the witnesses that will be called to appear before committees. We need to acknowledge that on numerous occasions, when it suits the government, provincial and territorial members and ministers have appeared before committees. I hope that decisions will not be made based on rules once, only to flout them the rest of the time.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

May 3rd, 2002 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to see that I managed to get the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport out of his lethargy.

I would remind him that, when I spoke earlier, I made a connection between the charter of rights and freedoms, the 20th anniversary of which the members across the way were celebrating a few days ago, and the fact that Bill C-55 threatens this same charter of rights and freedoms. You will also remember, Mr. Speaker, that I mentioned in my previous remarks that, in connection with the charter of rights and freedoms, some have a tendency to forget to mention the shameful events surrounding the unilateral patriation of the constitution, a view that was obviously shared by the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord when he stated, on December 15, 1999, “He [the Prime Minister] was also, along with Mr. Trudeau, behind the unilateral patriation of the constitution in 1982, despite the near unanimity of the national assembly against it”.

I will go even further. Regarding the unfair and revolting Bill C-20, the so-called clarity bill, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, at a time when he had more spine, stated, on February 22, 2000:

The Liberals absolutely do not want to consult the public to find out what it thinks of this measure...Arrogance, contempt and indifference toward the House of Commons and toward all Canadians are now part of a behaviour that is beginning to spread throughout this government.

On March 20, he said:

—the wondrous Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs—

I hope that he has since patched things up with him.

—found a means for getting a bill passed for the sole purpose of disgusting everybody in Quebec and showing the rest of the country “Here we are teaching Quebecers a lesson, here we are putting them in their place”.

It did not take him long to change his tune, because only a few months later, he became a Liberal member. It appears as though he liked being taught a lesson, and now he seems to want to teach Quebecers a lesson himself.

I could go on and read pages and pages more like this, but I do not want to unduly embarrass my colleague from Chicoutimi--Le Fjord. I would like to provide my colleague the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport with an opportunity to return to his coma, and all my other colleagues a few moments to focus on Bill C-55, currently before the House.

In my earlier remarks, I talked about the very serious concerns raised by Bill C-55 in terms of respect for the human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and, more recently, by the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms.

For example, when the Minister of Defence is given the authority to designate, on his own, security zones, the size of which is not defined, around military establishments or equipment, when we think of the powers that are given to cabinet members and even to bureaucrats—people who are not accountable under the principle of ministerial responsibility, which the Patriotes fought for in 1837-1838 and won since we have this responsible government today—that constitutes a very serious violation of democratic freedoms.

As I was saying earlier, the same applies to personal information regarding air travelers to which CSIS and the RCMP will have access. This bill raises very serious concerns.

I urge all members of the House, including Liberal members who share our views but who cannot speak up because of the very hermetic, monolithic and strict party line imposed by the Liberal Party, to make their views known and to encourage the government to go back to the drawing board, as it did with Bill C-42, and come up with a bill that is much more acceptable than this one in terms of respect for rights and freedoms.

Excise Act, 2001Government Orders

April 29th, 2002 / 4 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to take the floor to debate Bill C-47.

This is a rather special bill in that the debate involves not only an issue affecting the Excise Tax Act, but also an issue of ethics. The exchange of views we have just had strikes me as very clear in this respect. I will therefore need to speak to both of these aspects.

On Friday, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot pointed out, and rightly so, that it is strange, to say the least, that we are being presented with Bill C-47, which covers everything but beer and the excise tax on microbreweries.

This is a general bill, and one that is well explained in the presentation, where it is stated that it re-enacts existing provisions in the Excise Act and the Excise Tax Act relating to the excise levies on these products, together with technical improvements, and incorporates a range of new provisions.

This is, therefore, a re-enactment of existing legislation. In the present legislation, everything is addressed: wine, spirits, beer, tobacco. There are provisions on licensing, rights of accession, offences, collection, record. In this bill, everything is there except for beer and excise tax on microbreweries. This is passing strange.

Why? There are two reasons, as has been pointed out by the members of the Bloc Quebecois since the start of this debate, I believe, and by a number of opposition members as well. First, because the government has torpedoed the work of the committee, and second because it preferred to lend an ear to the major breweries rather than the needs of the microbreweries.

When they listen to the major breweries, which must unfortunately be identified as Labatt, Molson and the like, the corporate image of these companies is greatly tarnished in the process. Personally, I find this regrettable, because these are well-established institutions. They have put themselves in the position of being in conflict of interest and this, I feel, will not go over well with the general public.

Let us review the facts regarding breweries, and microbreweries in particular. Across the board in Canada, as is the case in the United States, there is a 28 cent tax per litre of beer. However, in the U.S., the mecca of capitalism, as the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot reminded us again on Friday, there is a distinction made for microbreweries. The tax is not 28 cents a litre, but nine cents a litre. In the U.S., a microbrewery is defined as a brewery that produces a maximum of one million hectolitres. In Canada, a microbrewery is defined as a brewery producing a maximum of 300,000 hectolitres.

This means that what would be considered a large brewery here is considered a microbrewery in the United States. They are three times the size of our microbreweries, yet they are considered microbreweries and benefit from a preferential tax rate of nine cents per litre of beer, rather than 28 cents per litre.

The result of this situation is clear. Since their taxes are lower, they are able to compete with, and really hurt their Canadian competitors. We have witnessed the result: 38 microbreweries have disappeared. They have not disappeared by some miracle; they disappeared because the circumstances of competition led them to disappear.

Why? There are no doubt a number of factors, but there is one that is easily identified. The 28 cents per litre paid by Canadian microbreweries and the nine cents per litre paid by U.S. microbreweries is definitely one of the main reasons.

If the Government of Canada has at heart the interests and the future of its microbreweries, it should react swiftly by accepting to review Bill C-47, to immediately include the beer industry, particularly the excise tax on beer produced by microbreweries.

Europe has done the same thing. This would not be some Canadian invention. We would be falling in line with what is done everywhere else. There are rules—I say this as the Bloc Quebecois critic on international trade—accepted by the World Trade Organization. When it comes to microbreweries, they are considered in terms of regional diversification, and the member for Jonquière reminded us earlier, in terms of diversification of products.

There are also cultural aspects to the production of these microbreweries, which are often still using traditional methods.

The Government of Canada dismissed out of hand the concerns of the microbreweries and decided simply to listen to the interests of the big breweries, in particular Labatt and Molson, which dominate the Brewers Association of Canada.

I conclude that there is some sort of collusion between what it was decided to include in Bill C-47 and the interests which are not hidden, but admitted. We have the letter. I have seen it. Clearly, the Brewers Association of Canada is asking that anything having to do with the beer industry and the excise tax for microbreweries be excluded from Bill C-47.

So this entire situation is of great concern, all the more so since—and this brings me to the second point—while the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot tried to correct matters so that Bill C-47 would include the provisions of the earlier legislation amended to reflect the current state of affairs, the committee's work was sabotaged by the fact that the amendments to include the beer provisions were rejected.

Earlier, someone said, “Yes, but it was not in the bill”. A bill is just as important for what it includes as for what it leaves out. It seems to me that we are entirely justified in including beer in a discussion of excise taxes on wine, spirits and tobacco. The public would normally group these products together.

In my view, this argument is completely wrong. It is exactly the same as for bills before the sub-committee or the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Each time amendments to crown corporations concerning international trade or foreign affairs are put forward, I always put forward an amendment, but this amendment or this concern is never included in government bills.

I will give an example involving the Export Development Corporation. When it was decided to rename it Export Development Canada, there was a key omission. There was no provision requiring a crown corporation, such as the Export Development Corporation, now Export Development Canada, to respect Canada's international commitments. I put forward an amendment in committee. That amendment was accepted. It was not in the bill.

On the contrary, every time we talk about crown corporations, the government systematically excludes this. We have international commitments. Canada tries to be generous, but only if it is of no practical consequence. Every time it is not in the legislation. Every time I put forward amendments, they were ruled in order by the chair and every time they were defeated by the Liberals. However, I managed to do one thing at least--and I say it every time I have an opportunity to do so--to prove that this government speaks from both sides of it mouth.

This is another case in point. Do not give us this misleading argument that we are not dealing with beer. The current act deals with beer. They should have explained to us why we should not be talking about beer. Everybody agrees, including the Brewers Association of Canada, that the situation of the microbreweries is urgent. Why then is the only sector identified as being threatened by competition the one for which no decision is being made? It is being postponed, put off for a month of Sundays. In the meantime, microbreweries are disappearing one after the other. They have lost another 1% to 2% of the market.

Moreover, the committee chair, the member for London West, used a new procedure introduced during this Parliament with Motion No. 2, which in my view is particularly undemocratic. I remind the House that the government put forward Motion No. 2 after the debate on Bill C-20, which attempted and is still attempting to prevent Quebecers from democratically choosing their collective future. It will not work but this is what the Liberal government attempted to do. There is also the Young Offenders Act which the Bloc Quebecois, and especially my friend the member for Berthier—Montcalm, tried to stand up for the Quebec consensus on this bill.

We moved amendments to correct the bill. To deal with the problem, the Liberals changed the rules of the game. The chair of a committee or sub-committee may now simply decide that an amendment is out of order. This is what happened in the case of the amendment moved by my friend, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot.

Democracy is ailing in the Canadian parliament. No wonder Canadians and Quebecers are losing confidence in their parliamentary institutions. Decisions are not taken here but in the Prime Minister's office. This is where it was decided that beer would not be part of Bill C-47. It is the duty of the opposition and it should also be the duty of the members across the way to say, “Bill C-47 should have dealt with the beer industry, especially microbreweries”.

Therefore I cannot accept the argument, which is being constantly repeated, namely that since Bill C-47 did not deal with the beer industry, the amendment had to be out of order. This is totally ludicrous.

Unfortunately, this is what occurred. I will not mention the fact that the spouse of the chair of the committee is a lobbyist for the Brewers Association of Canada. This is probably just a coincidence. The facts, however, are real. This is the truth. I believe that if she were a minister, the committee chair would probably be a very good candidate for a position as ambassador in a Scandinavian country.

It seems to me that if the government were committed to the future of the 2,000 employees of microbreweries who earn their livelihood in this sector, mainly in Quebec--I remind hon. members that proportionally Quebec has more microbreweries than the rest of Canada--and elsewhere in Canada, it would immediately bring forward amendments to Bill C-47 dealing with the beer industry and the excise tax as it relates to microbreweries, which everyone considers necessary.

I remind hon. members that even the Brewers Association of Canada has said so. Allow me to read the letter sent on April 12, 2002 to the chair of the committee and spouse of a lobbyist for the brewers association:

Our position remains unchanged: we fully support a reduction in the excise tax for small brewers. It is a priority of the BAC and we want to point out that small brewers in Canada urgently need such reduction.We will support any measure aimed at attaining this objective, but in light of our prior agreement with the government, we cannot support amendments which would include beer in Bill C-47.

On the one hand, the association says that it is prepared to support any measure to settle a situation that it itself deems urgent, but, on the other hand, it did everything it could to prevent the Bloc Quebecois from moving amendments that would have corrected the situation. This is a rather serious case of manipulation of the public interests.

If the government cared about the future of these 2,000 employees, it would correct the situation. I believe the opposition would unanimously agree to include this clause in Bill C-47.

Unfortunately, this government, perhaps because it has been in office for a number of years, no longer cares about Canadian and Quebec workers. We can see it in the Murdochville and GM cases. I could list all the issues on which the federal government shown indifference. This government only cares about one thing: remaining in office, ensuring that the Liberal Party of Canada has enough money to win the next general election. This is its only concern.

There has been an incredible deterioration. I have witnessed it myself, because I followed politics for a number of years before I entered it, in November 2000. The government is no longer protecting the interests of the federal government, of Canadian federalism. It is protecting the partisan interests of the Liberal Party of Canada. If this means that microbreweries must disappear, then they will disappear for this government, for the party in office, but not for us.

We are going to fight to ensure that what has happened to GM and Murdochville does not happen to the 46 microbreweries left in Canada, 19 of which are located in Quebec. The government will have to wake up and review Bill C-47 to include the beer industry and the excise tax for microbreweries, or this will be yet another example of the federal government's failed economic policies.

Just for fun the other day, even though there was actually nothing very funny about it, I decided to make a list of all the federal government's failed economic policies since Confederation.

The national policy artificially created an east-west market. It deprived Quebec of its natural axis, which is north-south. Fortunately, free trade set things straight and we do more business with the Americans than we do with the rest of Canada.

The Borden line made Quebec and eastern Canada pay more for gasoline than we would have paid if prices had been in line with international prices. And why was that? To develop the oil industry in western Canada. It was a completely respectable choice. How strange that Quebec always has to pay for these policies.

Now, for the St. Lawrence seaway. Certainly it had to be constructed but what compensation was there for Quebec, Montreal in particular, southwest Montreal, east Montreal, when the seaway was built and industry moved to southern Ontario? This is perhaps just another coincidence and probably not premeditated in any way.

There was no question of not putting in the St. Lawrence seaway. There should, however, have been investment in restructuring, in worker retraining, in order to avoid the catastrophe that ensued, in the late 1970s and early 1980s in particular. Fortunately, people were able to pick up the pieces. Things are better in Montreal now, without any help from the federal government.

The federal government's R & D policy systematically penalizes Quebec. It took a 30 year struggle to get back occupational training—and we do not yet have it all back—in order to have a consistent employment policy. That took 30 years. We lost 30 years in federal-provincial squabbles. In the end, the federal government had to bow to the pressure and acknowledge it was wrong. Nevertheless, we wasted 30 years. Quebec wasted 30 years on this battle.

As for GM, federal government policies have systematically favoured development of the auto industry in southern Ontario. However, when it comes to industries with a solid foothold in Quebec, aeronautics or pharmaceuticals for instance, we see that federal government policies favour a shotgun approach, spreading them all over, in all regions of Canada.

I will give one example from my own experience. When Quebec obtained the space agency for Saint-Hubert, immediately afterward the federal government awarded the F-18 maintenance contract to Winnipeg, just to be sure that the goodies were spread around. This, however, can weaken the situation of the aircraft industry in Quebec. The same thing goes for the pharmaceutical industry.

With a record like that, it seems to me that we now have an opportunity presented to us, a symbolic one of course. Yet with this government, I believe we need to start with something symbolic before moving on to something more serious.

Honestly, the government ought to rethink its intention to push Bill C-47 through regardless. It should redo its homework. We are prepared to be involved, as the member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot has said right from the start. The law needs changing, needs modernizing, but there must be equity with all sectors.

I am not promoting wine, spirits and tobacco over beer. I think they should all be treated equally. That is what the Bloc Quebecois is asking for. If Bill C-47 does not meet our expectations, then we will have to fight against it and do everything we can to defeat it.

I will also fight for the microbreweries in the region of Lanaudière, especially one in Joliette, La Broue Pub, l'Alchimiste. It was set up by young entrepreneurs a few years ago and I want this young business to have the opportunity to compete on the North American market and, who knows, maybe even on the world market. But for that to happen, we need to take fairer measures, decrease the excise tax on microbreweries and amend Bill C-47. Otherwise, we will defeat it.

The federal government now has the chance to show that it cares about microbreweries, regional development, especially in Quebec, and more globally the 2,000 people working in this industry across Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2001 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to say that I will be using my 20 minutes to give a demonstration based on the motion we introduced this morning.

I would first like to reread the motion because, since the beginning of this debate, we keep hearing things that have nothing to do with the purpose of the motion. I thank my colleague from Kings-Hants, who clarified the motion by the Bloc Quebecois, to prevent the debate from going the way it seemed to be going this morning. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should call a federal-provincial first ministers' conference for the purpose of reapportioning the tax base among the federal and provincial governments through the transfer of tax points.

We are not saying that everything has to be turned upside down and that the value of equalization has to be challenged. We are not saying that the federal government's actions in its own areas of jurisdiction should be questioned either. The only thing we are saying, after four years of observation, is that it is essential that a balance be struck somewhere.

We have now reached a point where, and this has been the case for the last three years, there is too much money in Ottawa, given this government's constitutional responsibilities, and not enough in the provinces, including Quebec, given their responsibilities, particularly for health, education and income support. There is too much money. We are not talking about peanuts. We are not talking about a few billions, but rather several billion dollars.

Since 1995 the Bloc Quebecois has gotten into the habit of making its own forecasts regarding revenues and expenses, therefore surpluses, especially the surpluses that have been building up since 1997. We make forecasts because we do not trust this government. Ever since he has been holding the finance portfolio, the minister has been making forecasts that are way off, sometimes by an incredible 130% to 400%. How can we trust a government that does not even give us a true picture of public finances, which would allow us to make the right choices?

We came up with a rough forecast of surpluses over the next four years—one must be very cautious regarding the last year because four years is a long way away, even the third year is iffy. If we use the same economic growth parameters as the major banking institutions such as the SGF, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the Mouvement Desjardins, the CIBC, the Bank of Montréal and the National Bank, and take into account not only the growth parameters but also the analysis of the growth, we see that over the next four years the Minister of Finance will have, thanks to the taxpayers of Quebec and Canada, a budget surplus of between $70 billion and $90 billion, plenty of room to manoeuvre.

We have hardly ever been wrong, maybe only by 5%. For his part, the finance minister has been way off; since 1994, his forecasts have been off by $60 billion. These are no small miscalculations. Over the next four years the government will accumulate surpluses of between $70 billion and $90 billion. Why such huge surpluses?

First, people pay too much taxes; second, the federal governments responsibilities are such that it cannot spend the money entrusted to it by Quebec's and Canada's taxpayers; third, if the surpluses are so huge it is because they have been accumulated on the back of the provinces by drastically cutting, gutting transfers since 1994. The provinces' needs keep on increasing whereas here in Ottawa money has been pouring in, especially over the past four years.

Since 1993 federal revenues have increased by 53%. Revenues from taxes and income tax have increased by 53% since 1993, while federal spending dropped 3%.

Let us have a look at the situation in Quebec. Program spending in Quebec has increased by 16% during the same period, that is since 1993. This means that the government of Quebec spends 13% more for programs under its jurisdiction.

In health care alone, the increase was twice as high: the government of Quebec's spending in health care has increased by 32%. Spending is increasing year after year, especially because of the natural aging of the population. Needs increase by 5% per year.

The federal government's spending has decreased by 3% since 1993. This is due to the fact that there were cuts to transfers to provinces. The federal government has reduced the level of its contribution to cost sharing programs, which had been set during the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the areas of health and education.

So much so that, for every dollar invested by the government of Quebec, the federal government contributes only 14 cents. However, these cost sharing programs were established on a 50:50 basis, the federal government contributing 50% of the costs and the provinces the other 50%.

In the area of education, it is even worse. The Liberals should stop misleading people by saying that there the federal government is not backing out. For every dollar invested by the government of Quebec in education, the federal government spends 8 cents. In the past it has even been 50 cents for 50 cents.

Over the next four years, there will be huge surpluses, so unbelievably huge as to be nearly surrealistic: between $70 billion and $90 billion in surplus for the next four years, and that is the conservative scenario. I would again point out that the Bloc Quebecois has never been wrong. The Minister of Finance has, and far wrong at that.

What is the Minister of Finance doing with these surpluses? First of all, the federal government is using these surpluses, under section 91 of the constitution and subsequent interpretation thereof, i.e. the power to spend, to intervene, or not to intervene, in areas under its jurisdiction.

Let us take the example of employment insurance. Instead of taking action, it makes cuts, while on the other hand, as the surplus accumulated over the past four years, its intrusions in areas of provincial jurisdiction, in particularly areas of Quebec government jurisdiction, increased proportionally.

Let us take for example the 1997 budget, where the first significant federal surplus appeared: $4.1 billion. The federal government invested in new initiatives, in areas of provincial jurisdiction, sums in excess of $2.3 billion. Out of a total of $4 billion, $2.3 billion were invested in areas coming under provincial jurisdiction. These include: the family, the child tax credit, research, education and health, particularly via the Canadian health information system.

Over half of the first year's surpluses were invested in exclusively provincial jurisdictions. However, in that same year, the Canada social transfer had not been restored to fund health and education through the existing networks that were well managed by Quebec and the other provinces.

In 1998, it was the same: a $10.8 billion surplus and $4 billion in new initiatives in areas in which the federal government has no business. In other words, it cuts on one side. It accumulates surpluses year after year, at the expense of the provinces, the unemployed and the poor.

The government then reinvests these surpluses through the back door, in provincial jurisdictions that it has obviously neglected if we look at the general transfers to fund health and education, among others. This is the tactic used by the federal government.

It was the same thing with the budget for the year 2000. The government will have between $15 billion and $19 billion in surpluses. The minister's forecasts called for less than half of that. The minister has lost all credibility in that respect. In any case, no one still believes him.

In the year 2000, close to $8 billion was spent on new initiatives and renewed initiatives from 1997, in particular, in jurisdictions that come exclusively under Quebec and the other provinces.

Is it normal that, on the one hand, the federal government goes after the provinces and has them bearing the brunt of all the cuts made since 1994 in health care and education when the needs of the provinces in both these areas are increasing? I want to remind the House that federal transfers for education have never been lower in the last 30 years. The government is cutting and not meeting the needs of the public.

On the other hand, it keeps infringing upon areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction recognized in the Constitution of Canada and in many court rulings.

It is not normal to have the federal government juggling with a surplus while the provinces and Quebec are overburdened by heavy responsibilities.

We need to rebalance the tax base. This is such a matter of urgency that the government of Quebec and the premier of Quebec, Mr. Landry, have decided to set up, the Séguin commission, chaired by a Liberal who is a former Quebec minister of finance, to examine how great the imbalance is and how to correct it.

We are constantly in crisis. We cannot have a situation where the needs of the people are constantly growing while the federal government has huge surpluses and avoids debating the issue, because we know that the Minister of Finance, as astute as he is and with the lack of transparency he has shown, is predicting surpluses that have no basis in reality.

All the money that is not included in the budget and that magically appears at the end of the fiscal year, as we have seen since 1997, goes directly to debt reduction pursuant to the decision made in that regard. There is no debate. The government also avoids debating with the provincial governments, including the Quebec government, the fact that the needs are with the people but the surpluses are here, in this House.

This is not normal. For decades, successive governments and successive premiers in Quebec have fought every time an imbalance became apparent. It happened under Maurice Duplessis, as well as under Lesage, Bertrand and Johnson.

Mr. Bourassa said that the worst threat facing the government of Quebec was fiscal imbalance and a situation where the federal government continually, through its spending power, interfered in areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the other provinces, thereby preventing a consistent approach to public affairs management in areas which, under the Canadian constitution, are recognized as being the responsibility of the provinces, including Quebec.

Undoubtedly, the federal government has a problem. However, the provincial governments have more serious problems, because they have to meet the needs of the population.

We must limit the federal spending power. What is happening now was foreseeable. Since 1997, when the possibility of huge surpluses appeared for the first time, we have been saying that this would happen. Those who do not believe me can refer to Hansard ; our speeches were mostly on this issue.

The federal government will accumulate surpluses on the back of everybody: the unemployed, the sick people and the provinces. As soon as it has done so, as soon as the first surpluses appear, it will revert to its old bad habits, intrude into provincial jurisdictions and multiply federal initiatives in these areas just to stick the Canadian flag everywhere and to say that it is a good government, working in the best interests of the population.

How hypocritical to have cut programs of such basic necessity as education, health and income support, to have made the government of Quebec and Canadian provinces bear the brunt of it and then to have come in as a saviour by taking several initiatives in these areas through the back door.

This is why we have brought forward this motion, asking the government to reapportion the tax base by calling a federal-provincial conference.

In the last 50 years, there have been two important conferences. One of them took place in 1964, in Quebec City. Mr. Pearson was the Prime Minister of Canada, and Mr. Lesage was the premier of Quebec. Mr. Pearson was an intelligent man.

He was able to understand that the requirements of the provinces and of Quebec had to be met, if we were to have a better balance in this country. He did realize that, for the war effort, the federal government had borrowed the personnal income tax base of the provinces, but that after the war it was necessary to reapportion the tax base because of the constitutional responsibilities of the provinces. They had to regain the tax base they needed to finance these responsibilities. He realized that.

In 1977, during the second important conference, once again, the federal government realized what the situation was and transferred tax points.

Why is this federal government so dense? Why is it so obtuse that it cannot see the obvious? Things cannot go on like this for years. We cannot have the money in one place and the needs elsewhere. A reapportionment is in order.

The easy way is to use tax points, since this tax base can be easily reapportioned, by taking into account the needs of the provinces without denying the role of the federal government. Some members talked about equalization earlier. Certainly, when tax points are given to provinces such as the maritime provinces, there will be a problem at some point. These provinces have by definition some difficulty in getting from their taxpayers the taxes that would allow them to maintain services of the same quality as those provided elsewhere in Canada.

But there is equalization. We are not asking the federal government to transfer everything. We are asking that a new balance be struck. Might it not be open-minded at some point, instead of constantly saying no? We are used to no.

When it comes to Quebec, the federal government has always behaved as if it were a unitary state. It said no to Quebecers' democratic rights with Bill C-20. Everyone remembers that there was a reference to the supreme court. With Bill C-20, the government said no to Quebecers' democratic rights.

It said no to parental leave, for instance. It said we would have a program coast to coast. It is not nearly as good as the Quebec government's program, but that does not matter because it is the parents in Quebec who will pay at the end of the day. It said no to Quebec's program.

It is also saying no to young offenders, as we saw recently. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, carrying indecency to a new high, beyond anything he had done up till now, went as far as to tell us that the consensus that we presented here, that my hon. colleague for Berthier—Montcalm presented, was a fabricated consensus because we had infiltrated all the organizations that supported us in our approach. We would then follow that we have infiltrated the Quebec Liberal Party. Such nonsense is quite incredible.

It is saying no again, because the transfer of tax points is another idea from Quebec. Sometimes we wonder if this government is not in the process of changing Canada into some unitary state, where differences are not tolerated. Forget about Quebec's specificity. We have almost become an internal colony. Before we were a colony ruled by metropolitan Britain. Now we have become a colony within Canada. We are told “No, Ottawa knows best. Ottawa knows everything. Ottawa knows what is good for Quebec”.

I hope we will find more open-mindedness on the part of the Liberals toward our proposal for a federal-provincial first ministers' conference for the purpose of redefining the tax base, of reapportioning that tax base. The current situation is unbearable.

Quebec is not alone. The government can say no to Quebec, in its colonial spirit, and seek to have a wall-to-wall policy across Canada, even while recognizing that sometimes Quebec's policy is better than the federal policy. We demonstrated it with respect to the Young Offenders Act. It can treat us that way if it wants, but a consensus is in the making across Canada.

It is not only Quebec. Members were speaking earlier of a national policy. We have a national government in Quebec City which is forming a consensus with the provinces to readjust the tax base.

In the case of the poorest provinces, it is very simple. There are equalization payments. We are not calling for them to be scrapped. We simply want, when we speak of the federal government's withdrawal and of redefining the tax base, the federal government to withdraw first from everything that concerns Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction—that would be the minimum—and to transfer the equivalent taxing power to the provinces. That could be discussed at a first ministers' conference.

I hear the Minister for International Trade bleating. If he stood up instead of being a wishy-washy member from Quebec, he would join the consensus. For once, if he stood up like a real Quebecer, he would defend Quebec's point of view.

I hope my colleagues in the House of Commons will vote in support of this motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2001 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in this debate and to support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.

I believe this motion should get the support of every member in the House. I would like to read it again in order to put the debate in the right perspective. It reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should call a federal-provincial first ministers' conference for the purpose of reapportioning the tax base among the federal and provincial governments through the transfer of tax points.

I think the situation is excessively simple and it is also excessively dramatic. As it was pointed out already, and I think this should be stressed again, needs are currently under provincial responsibility, like health, post-secondary education and social services as a whole. All these responsibilities are at the provincial level, whereas money is at the federal level, in Ottawa. It is a situation that has to be corrected.

The strongest evidence that the money is in Ottawa is the fact that between 1993 and 2001 federal revenues have increased by 53% while federal spending decreased by 3%. Meanwhile, in Quebec program spending increased by 16%. I think these numbers illustrate quite well the situation where needs are growing in Quebec with a 16% increase in spending, while revenues are increasing and spending is decreasing at the federal level.

This allows the federal government to accumulate surpluses that are becoming indecent. From 1996 until now, there have been $60 billion in unforeseen, hidden surpluses. Over the years, the Minister of Finance has erred by 130% to 400%. Can the government pretend that such errors are inadvertent? I do not think so. This is a federal government strategy to undemocratically divert part of the taxes paid by Quebecers and Canadians in order to use them for other purposes than those that were announced.

The government has $60 billion in hidden surpluses since 1996. These are systematic, deliberate errors. The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has done some calculations and has correctly identified the surpluses over the last years, something the Minister of Finance was unable to do.

The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, whom I congratulate for his excellent work, had forecasted $60 billion in hidden surpluses. He now tells us that in the next four years $90 billion in surpluses will go into the federal government's coffers. What for? To pay off the debt.

This is the most undemocratic action since the passage of the so-called “clarity” bill, Bill C-20 tabled by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who wants to lock in the Quebec people and their right to collectively choose their future. In my opinion, after passage of Bill C-20, the most undemocratic thing the federal government has done is certainly diverting its surplus towards paying off the debt.

Why? Because the Liberal government got elected on the promise that 50% of the surplus would be used to cut taxes and reduce the debt and the other 50% would be devoted to all programs, particularly those under provincial jurisdiction.

Then we saw some low, despicable electioneering. The Liberals went through the campaign saying that this is how they would split the surplus, opposing their approach to the approach of other parties like the Canadian Alliance. The Alliance was proposing further tax cuts. The Liberals wanted to appear progressive, but in fact they chose to repay the debt without any public debate and they deceived the public.

I think this discredits the Liberal government and, unfortunately, the whole of politics. I think we must condemn such an undemocratic act and the conference we are proposing would be the opportunity for a real public debate where we could determine exactly what the surplus should be applied to.

Naturally, the Bloc Quebecois is not against paying down the debt. However, when we pay down a good part of the debt with hidden surpluses, without any public debate, in a way that is detrimental to the quality of public services, especially provincial ones, there is a big problem.

In this regard, I remind hon. members that the Minister of Finance greatly paid down the debt with concealed surpluses, in a way that was detrimental to health. This has been said before but it warrants repeating. A few years ago, the federal government funded 50% of all health spending in Quebec; it paid 50 cents on the dollar. Today, its share is only 14 cents on the dollar. At the same time, the federal government still wants to impose national standards on us.

As for post-secondary education, the level of transfer payments is at a 30-year low. Yet the liberals are telling us that investment in education is the Canadian way. What a lie. Over the past few years, federal transfer payments for post-secondary education have gone from 12.5% to 8.3%. That is reality. It is not just words, but reality.

A third element consists in the wholesale paying down of the debt with the concealed surplus, while refusing to restore transfer payments to the provinces to their 1993 level, a time when federal public finances were in a sorry state. This means that today federal transfer payments for program funding in Quebec have gone from their 1990 level of 20% down to 13%. This is a real problem.

We in the Bloc Quebecois have a solution for resolving this problem of fiscal imbalance. As has been said, this is a problem that goes back in history. During World War II, the provinces did indeed give up this source of revenue in order to contribute to the war effort. This is a situation we now need to remedy.

It is clear to the Bloc Quebecois that the best solution is Quebec sovereignty. With Quebec sovereignty, we would repatriate all of our taxes, make collective decisions and avoid the anti-democratic situation in which we find ourselves at the present time within the Canadian federal system, this systematic lack of democracy. The best example of this is the way the employment insurance fund surplus has been diverted and the way the surplus that came from all taxpayers has also been diverted.

Quebec sovereignty is therefore the choice that should be made here, but until that time it seems to us that for the good of Quebec and for all the provinces as well, all members of this House should agree with this motion. The government must sit down with the provinces in order to reapportion the tax bases and transfer tax points, which would become the property of the provinces, so that they may assume their responsibilities in the areas of health, education and all the social services.

That has already been mentioned. Historically speaking, all Quebec premiers, regardless of their position on the national issue, called for the re-establishment of a fiscal balance, be it Duplessis, Lesage, Johnson, senior, Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Robert Bourassa, René Lévesque, Pierre-Marc Johnson, Daniel Johnson Jr., Jacques Parizeau or Lucien Bouchard.

All these premiers wanted to rectify a situation that may be explained historically witch dates from the second world war. The federal government has systematically fought the desire of Quebec and the provinces to return to the situation that existed prior to the second world war.

To this, I must add an element in the debate, which I think will be picked up by the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. This fiscal imbalance exists in the context of a social union, something that is extremely dangerous for the future of Quebec, because the other provinces have legitimized the federal government's intervention in Quebec's jurisdictions.

Quebec refused to sign the social union—which we agree with entirely—but in the context of fiscal imbalance, the provinces see their jurisdictions threatened.

The most amusing illustration of that perhaps was the millennium scholarships, in which the federal government did everything possible to ensure a little maple leaf appeared on the cheques.

It seems to me that the motion proposed by the member for Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière speaks for itself. Nevertheless, I would like to move the following amendment to the main motion. I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the word “conference” the following: “, as soon as possible,”.

I think the situation is pressing. It is dramatic.

The federal government must call this conference. All the provincial premiers are calling for it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2001 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should act with the provinces and territories to establish enforceable national drinking water standards that would be enshrined in a Safe Water Act.

Madam Speaker, before I begin my remarks I want to inform the House that I will have the privilege of sharing my time in this 20 minute spot with the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Essentially what the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is advocating is that we pull out one plank of the election platform we presented to Canadians in the election campaign of this past November, and that was to enshrine into law national drinking water standards. What we would be doing is sending a signal that wherever one resides in this country, the quality of drinking water to be consumed would be the same whether one is in St. John's, Newfoundland, St-Jean, Quebec, Fort St. John, British Columbia or even here in the House of Commons.

I would like to read the motion into the record:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should act with the provinces and territories to establish enforceable national drinking water standards that would be enshrined in a Safe Water Act.

Water is a finite resource. There is no substitute for it. Yet until recently, this precious necessity did not share the same level of public importance as other limited resources.

Tragic events in Walkerton, Ontario and more recently in North Battleford, Saskatchewan have highlighted the consequences of taking this critical resource for granted.

The public confidence of Canadians has been shaken. We have learned the hard lesson that water is the simplest tool for distributing infection and can create massive deadly epidemics. Yet today, a year after the Walkerton tragedy unfolded, there are no new federal laws enforcing minimum water quality standards in Canada.

In 1990 the former minister of the environment, the hon. Lucien Bouchard, launched Canada's green plan, an ambitious framework to help make Canada an environmentally friendly country. In the ensuing framework for discussion on the environment document that was produced from that green plan, the Progressive Conservative government identified three gaps in Canadian environmental protection that needed to be addressed. Canada was weak in its ability to protect species at risk or wildlife and there was a need to upgrade our existing pesticide legislation, which is still over 30 years old, and to provide a safe drinking water supply for all Canadians. I point out that all three of these issues have yet to be addressed despite eight years of Liberal government.

In contrast, when we look at the record of activities of the Progressive Conservative government, which introduced the green plan I just spoke of, it was the Progressive Conservative government that had the courage to negotiate an acid rain protocol with the Americans. That same government led the international world in 1987 in what was called the Montreal protocol, which led the international community in the banning of ozone depleting gases.

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of that government was the introduction of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, our principal piece of legislation for the control and use of toxins within our environment. At the time it was categorized as a very pioneering bill.

However, we still have some gaps that need to be filled. Today, some 10 years after that framework was released, the Liberal government has yet to pass a significant piece of new environmental legislation. It has merely renewed existing bills.

Prior to being elected in 1993, the Liberals flagged a very real concern to Canadians: that the protection of drinking water was paramount. I will now read from a document which I would be pleased to share a copy of with the House. It was produced on June 23, 1993, by the then House leader David Dingwall on behalf the then opposition leader, now the Prime Minister of Canada, and the then whip, now the public works minister, a member of parliament from the province of Quebec. In it they flagged quite clearly that it was paramount to ensure drinking water safety.

They even went on to produce a chart that they called Tory environmental mismanagement. They said there was no legislation with respect to drinking water safety. That was their position.

Madam Speaker, I am sure you have actually read some of these red books and other documents which we may actually want to refer to. As we go through the historical references, perhaps one of the notes that is most shocking is on Bill C-76, a bill that was introduced by the government to protect drinking water in Canada and then re-introduced. The press release produced by your government, which I am sure you are familiar with, stated:

This Act will provide enforceable national health standards for all materials that come into contact with drinking water...This Act goes a long way to maintaining and improving the health of Canadians.

The Government of Canada is now saying it would not want to make a foray into what it considers to be perhaps provincial jurisdiction. The Progressive Conservative Party has always been very respectful of the jurisdictional boundaries that actually exist in this magical country we call Canada, but it is very revisionist to actually take that perspective in light of what was said only a few years back.

We know that the hallmark of the Liberal Party of Canada is revision. That is characterized by the issue of free trade. It fought us tooth and nail on it in 1988 and 1993 and now embraces the concept. We welcome the Liberals on board on that particular aspect of public policy.

With no new legislation on the books, the Progressive Conservative Party believes that the time to act is long overdue. All Canadians deserve access to a clean and safe water supply. We made this commitment in our last election platform.

Our nation is fortunate enough to claim one-fifth of the world's freshwater resources. Thirsty nations throughout the world are trying, unsuccessfully, I might add, to buy our precious resource. Instead we preach conservation and preservation and admirably invest millions annually into CIDA projects that improve water treatment, sewage, irrigation and pollution control systems. Yet here at home Canadians find it shocking that we cannot guarantee to our own citizens the security of our water supply.

The federal-provincial subcommittee on drinking water, a branch of the federal-provincial advisory committee on environmental and occupational health, currently defines national guidelines for acceptable drinking water quality. However, these Canadian guidelines are just that, guidelines. They are not legally binding and they provide inadequate national protection for our drinking water.

What the Progressive Conservative Party is attempting to demonstrate is that Canadians have concerns about the quality of their drinking water. Recent events in Walkerton and North Battleford have added to those concerns. My Conservative colleagues and I are here, therefore, to propose concrete solutions. All Canadians need to be assured of the quality of the water they drink anywhere in Canada.

All my life I have had great respect for the diversity of our country. All during my political life I have had, and continue to have, respect for the jurisdictions of the provinces and of the federal government. I was present when Bill C-20 was passed. I voted against it. I would like it to be known that I will respect other provincial areas of responsibility, such as education.

There are certain issues that actually transcend jurisdictional boundaries. In the perspective we advocate, we understand that there is a shared jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces in the delivery of drinking water and the setting of guidelines or, what we are now advocating, standards for safe drinking water. We believe that these standards must be enshrined in law in order to guarantee quality drinking water throughout the country. In addition, these standards should be revised on an ongoing basis.

Unfortunately, studies reveal that Canadian guidelines are far behind the U.S. in their level and breadth of protection. There are substances prohibited by the Americans that do not even appear in Canadian guidelines. In some instances, permissible levels of some identified dangerous substances are set much lower in the U.S.

One such example is cryptosporidium, the substance that is suspected of killing three residents in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The U.S. has both cryptosporidium and E. coli mandatory standards. Canadian guidelines address only total and fecal coliforms, which includes E. coli. The U.S. EPA requires filtration treatment for cryptosporidium while Canada has no mandatory treatment for eliminating this parasite from our water supply systems.

Jurisdictional matters do indeed complicate the control of our drinking water supplies, but this is not a barrier we should fear. We have to pull together regardless of partisan lines so we can protect our drinking water.

That is why the Progressive Conservative Party has selected very benign language in its motion. It is not partisan. It is not provocative. It clearly states that we have to be respectful of provincial and territorial jurisdictions. It clearly infers that this is something all members of the House should embrace and support. However, even though there are different jurisdictions, this should not deter the federal government from its leadership role in maintaining public health and safety in order to protect drinking water.

It is important to note that the Progressive Conservative Party does not encourage overlap and duplication but rather seeks to harmonize its efforts with the provinces and territories while creating a minimum national standard for all Canadians. If there is a provincial law in place, the federal law need not apply.

I seek the support of all members of the House for our party's motion.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of CommonsGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2001 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, on the second point, this business about having a pre-approval by a committee, that is in fact what members are advocating tonight to get rid of, because now we have a committee that in a way screens them to make them votable. It is kind of the same thing, not quite, but it is analogous to that, I would argue. My feeling is that most people do not want that.

The other thing, though, is in regard to once a bill has been read a second time and sent to committee. We did make an amendment a few years back whereby committees now have to report the bill within a certain amount of time. Otherwise the bill is deemed reported anyway without amendment. We have that in our present rules. That did not exist even in 1993.

It was an amendment produced I think in large measure as a result of an innovation of the then Reform Party House leader, the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford. I believe that was one of his innovations. Perhaps others were involved with it too, but he was associated with the cause of bills deeming to have been reported, which made it such that bills that kind of disappeared into a black hole called a committee do not do that any more. They go to committee but they now have to come back out, and the period is reasonably short.

There is one problem that remains, though, and I guess we will all have to be very frank about this, and that is that private members' bills are more times than not all about justice. For instance, on the weekly list that I was looking at Monday when I had a meeting with my staff, four out of the following six days were about justice issues. Of course if they all were votable and all sent to the same committee, I think the hon. member who just raised the question obviously has seen what would happen then. That is going to absolutely overload the system. Hopefully when the subcommittee makes it recommendation it will address that because it would make it impossible to function if that happened.

In terms of a legislative committee, it is still in the rules. It was largely unused because it had a tremendous deficiency. The last time we used it was on Bill C-20 of the previous parliament.

The difficulty with legislative committees is the following. Suppose we set up a legislative committee on agriculture to review a particular bill, like the bill we passed today on farm credit. The agriculture critic and the agriculture parliamentary secretary and so on would want to sit on it. All the people on the agriculture committee would also end up sitting on this special committee but there would be a different clerk. The end result was the agriculture committee would be the legislative committee with a different clerk. That was always the result of that.

After a few years of this, people began to look at it. They said why not keep their usual clerk and the usual everybody because they were the people who knew something about agriculture? Why was somebody else doing this and not the people who actually had the expertise in the area? That is how they fell into disuse.

If we had the multiplicity of private members' items in a given area, we would obviously have to rethink that in a way perhaps like or somewhat like the suggestion made by the member who just asked me the question.

SupplyGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2001 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will make this short and sweet. We have a fundamental disagreement with the member with respect to Bill C-20. We did not think that Bill C-20 violated the rights of Quebec to self-determination. If we thought that we would not have voted for it.

Instead what we thought it did was set out the process by which the Quebec people could in fact separate from Canada in a way that was fair both to the people of Quebec and to the rest of the people of Canada with whom they had this relationship with for so long.

For us it is a false accusation. We alone for many years, as a political party and long before the Bloc Quebecois came along, were defending the right of Quebec to self-determination. That does not mean it happens in a vacuum. It does not mean it happens without rules. It has to happen in a certain way, and that was our understanding of what Bill C-20 set out.

SupplyGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2001 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to my NDP colleague's comments, particularly to his reservations regarding democracy. I think he has raised very relevant questions in that respect.

I will ask a question that might seem off topic, but two years ago, in August, I attended the New Democratic Party Convention. There I witnessed the adoption of a resolution about democracy, recognizing the Quebec people and their right to self-determination.

In contrast, I have also seen many of his NDP colleagues, except for two, support Bill C-20, a government bill which in fact did not recognize the right of the Quebec people to self-determination.

I would like my colleague to explain this contradiction.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActThe Royal Assent

March 30th, 2001 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Deputy Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-20, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2001—Chapter No. 1.

Bill C-21, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2002—Chapter No. 2.

Bélanger-Campeau CommissionPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2001 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak to the motion brought forward by my brilliant colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve.

The member has defended, with all the passion he is known for and all his ability, recognized by all I am sure, the need to acknowledge that Bill C-20 would have prevented Robert Bourassa from holding the referendum he wanted to hold right after the passage in Quebec of the act calling for a referendum in the fall of 1992.

This point has to be made. It is very enlightening. The members feel reassured when they hear the government's propaganda, when they hear the government saying again and again that there are no more problems in Quebec, that Quebecers do not want a referendum.

A few months before the 1995 referendum, however, Quebecers did not want a referendum. Yet they still went to vote, 94% of them, and we all know what the results almost were. Canada had to resort to those things that my colleague talked about to ensure that the referendum would not pass.

I would like to point out that all this is not a whim. I will not go as far back as 1760, but in passing I would like to remind members that, when Lord Durham arrived here in 1838, he made this now famous statement “I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state”. It would appear nothing has changed since then.

What Durham had understood and what we are still struggling with, is that French Canadians had to be put in a minority situation before the colonies could have responsible government. Once they were in a minority situation, responsible government could be granted. That is in fact what happened. Durham wanted to go further; he wanted assimilation. He said it was for “the good of the French Canadians who would for ever be carriers of water”.

Yes, Quebecers were reduced to a minority. For a long time, Quebecers expressed their nationalism in various ways, including wanting Canada to sever its ties with England, while the good English Canadians were very attached, and many still are, to mother England.

In the sixties, following the independence of the former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the liberation of Cuba and South America, a more radical nationalist movement emerged.

Daniel Johnson whose father, an Irishman by birth and, a contributor to Sinn Fein, did not speak French, ran for his party saying “My platform is equality or independence”. This was in 1965. His own father did not speak French; he was Irish. Because of this, perhaps he had a better understanding of the fact that the situation of French Canadians deserved, if they could not achieve equality, that there be a national movement for independence. This was Daniel Johnson in 1965. I urge members to read his book again. It is excellent.

The movement that became the Parti Quebecois grew progressively: in 1966, 8% of the votes went to the indépendantistes; in 1970, it was 23%; in 1997, 30% and in 1976, 41%. For the 1980 referendum, Mr. Lévesque, who had really wanted this country, a country associated with Canada, had to leave, not without having entered into negotiations with Mr. Mulroney, who had just been elected. Why? To regain the powers Quebec had lost with the unilateral patriation of the constitution by Trudeau.

René Lévesque had to leave. Pierre-Marc Johnson was premier for a short time. Who took up the torch to try at least to regain the powers lost because of Trudeau? It was a good federalist, Robert Bourassa. It was Robert Bourassa who led this negotiation. It was Robert Bourassa who was premier when the Meech Lake accord failed in June 1990.

What has happened since? We had the Charlottetown accord, which was far from being clear. The Charlottetown accord did not solve anything. In 1995 there was a referendum and the outcome could not have been closer. One might think that everything is solved. Come on.

There is something incomprehensible in the blindness shown by the House of Commons and by the political class in Canada. There is something absolutely incredible. As I said, this is incomprehensible.

When we go abroad, what seems the most incomprehensible is the fact that, on Canada's side, nothing serious was done afterwards. Nothing serious was done in this House. There was a minor motion that, somewhere, contained the word people, and another motion that gave an extra veto to British Columbia, which would make it even harder for Quebec to use its veto.

What my young and brilliant colleague wants to bring back in this House is at least a first hour of debate on that substantive issue, because Quebec will never leave on the ocean. We will always remain neighbours with Ontario and the maritimes.

Bill C-20 did not settle anything. Do not be lulled by it. It does not settle anything because the desire for sovereignty, where attempts were made elsewhere to crush it, has grown stronger. It seems to me that this parliament should recognize—and this is what my colleague's motion is asking for—that this desire must be allowed to be expressed unimpeded. But Bill C-20 is an impediment.

However, impediments never stopped this desire from being expressed. My point is that parliament ought to realize that this desire, this will be expressed.

The sovereignist movement in Quebec has been exemplary, exemplary in terms of democracy. We should be regularly thanked for that. We owe much of it to René Lévesque who, at the time of the FLQ crisis, it must be remembered, said that as long as the battle could be won democratically, violence was unacceptable.

René Lévesque remained steadfast. Finally, the movement disappeared. In fact, when all the police forces investigating the FLQ pulled out, we realized that it no longer existed. But that is another story.

What my colleague is pointing out, and I want to point out also, is that Bill C-20 is designed to prevent the people from expressing its desire to be both sovereign and associated with Canada. I cannot see how an illegitimate law will prevent that from happening.

Bélanger-Campeau CommissionPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2001 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to say a few words about the Clarity Act.

The question of the clear majority was mentioned by the hon. parliamentary secretary. That provision of the law, it deserves to be said here, is very unclear. It is important to point that out because the law is often presented as a model of clarity. However that part of the law does not specify what a clear majority would be. It only says that we would hold hearings after a referendum has occurred and after 50% has been achieved in deciding whether a majority has been clear.

When I was a private citizen about this time last year, I came as an expert witness before the committee looking at Bill C-20. I made this observation and suggested that provision of the law be changed. I regret that my advice was not taken.

I suggest, however, that what the government has done is given more credibility to the 50% plus one model while taking away from that sense of validity. The government has, therefore, in passing this law, perhaps achieved the opposite of its objective.

I will also read the motion we are debating today, because I want to make a point with regard to it:

The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the conclusion of the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, which proposed, in 1991, that the National Assembly of Quebec adopt legislation on holding a referendum and the offer of a new partnership, and that no federal legislation or regulations should be incompatible with achieving this conclusion.

That is not quite historically accurate. The last part of the motion which follows the last comma does not accurately reflect what was said by the Bélanger-Campeau commission in its report.

The Bélanger-Campeau commission made four pages of recommendations. The four pages were primarily in the form of a proposed law to be put before the National Assembly of Quebec. Part of the proposed law, which was adopted by the national assembly, called for the establishment of a parliamentary commission of the national assembly for the review of an offer.

I can find nothing in the recommendations that suggests no federal law or regulation ought to be adopted contrary to those recommendations or contrary to the offer to be made. We ought to be clear that we are not debating an historically accurate motion today.

The hon. parliamentary secretary had a good point when he said that the real function of the motion was to suggest that the clarity act was illegitimate. It is an awkward way of approaching it. If I were to regard it as illegitimate, I would attack some of the contents of the act, such as the part to which I just made reference. I find other parts of the act to be quite valuable, particularly the requirement that a clear question be asked.

The subtext of the motion makes reference to or hints at a proposal put forward by Jean-François Lisée in his book Sortie de Secours . He proposed to put forward one part of the supreme court's decision in its reference, Renvoi relatif à la sécession du Québec, and I will read the section:

A clear majority vote in Quebec on a clear question in favour of secession would confer democratic legitimacy on the secession initiative which all of the other participants in Confederation would have to recognize.

This has been read by Mr. Lisée as meaning that not only could a proposal on secession put forward and voted upon by the people of Quebec be taken to the Government of Canada as grounds for mandatory good faith negotiations, but so too could a proposal for some form of new partnership.

It is an interesting reading of the court's reference and not one the court intended. The court is always happy to make readings of the constitution that bear no resemblance to the meaning put there by the original writers of the constitution, so perhaps fair is fair.

It seems Mr. Lisée's intention is to have a referendum question on a new partnership put before the people of Quebec, one that would seem reasonable to the people of Quebec but would be worded in such a way that it would not appear reasonable to people in the rest of the country. It would create some form of negotiations that would be impossible to resolve, much like the negotiations that took place during the Meech-Charlottetown period in our history. This would cause the kind of crisis that the Parti Quebecois government is having so much trouble generating on its own, no matter how many comments about red rags are made by the premier of Quebec.

We must be aware that the subtext is in the motion. If it were a votable motion, we would have good grounds to vote against it and to reject its proposals. I also want to make reference to the fact that there is something legitimate in what is being said.

I will turn to another group that is proposing changes to the Canadian constitution. I am referring to the group led by Stephen Harper, Ken Boessenkool, Tom Flanagan and others known as the Alberta 6. In its open letter to Ralph Klein about two months ago, it proposed that Alberta:

Use Section 88 of the Supreme Court's decision on the Quebec Secession Reference to force Senate reform back on the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal government and other provinces must seriously consider our proposal for constitutional reform endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum.

Referring directly to the premier, the group said:

You acted decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is time to drive the issue further.

It is saying that provinces need to have some sort of means to force on to the national agenda issues which are currently only on the provincial agenda but which are legitimate. That is a legitimate point they are making.

That point would be equally legitimate in the case of the concerns of Quebecers. Their concerns are unable to make it on to the national agenda, largely because they get tangled up in the whole question of separation versus remaining in Canada, and the partisan divide that exists in Quebec, as it does everywhere, because of our highly partisan political structure.

Referendums do break through that. We saw that demonstrated brilliantly when we in fact had a crisis in the country. It looked as if the crisis would drive the country apart. A referendum was held nationwide in October 1992, largely because of the Bélanger-Campeau commission recommendations.

Canadians realized that it was a great deal more complex than they had thought it was. The issue was not simply a matter of those rotten separatists, those rotten people in Ottawa or in the rest of the country who would not listen to us and give legitimacy to our positions.

We realized that the constitutional proposals offered were in a vast unworkable package deal. A majority of Quebecers voted against those proposals, as did a majority of people in a number of the other provinces. The issue itself faded away and the unity crisis that could have broken up the country also passed.

It is my own reading of that time. I was an active participant on the no side in that referendum. We were in greater danger as a country in 1992 than we were three years later in 1995 when the provincial referendum in Quebec was held.

While I am a supporter of direct democracy, I am probably the strongest supporter of direct democracy in the House, with the possible exception of my hon. colleague from Vancouver Island North. Nevertheless, I have some reservations about this sort of back door method of introducing the concept of direct democracy, and of putting regional concerns through a referendum on to the national stage.

I would suggest reasons for this kind of reservation by way of reference to one of the great constitutional thinkers in the British parliamentary tradition. I am referring to Albert Venn Dicey who wrote the brilliant work Law of the Constitution in the 1880s. It was then updated until his death in 1915.

He talked about the role of referendum and plebiscite in the British parliamentary system and whether it was compatible with the system. He suggested that the plebiscite, as practised in France, was incompatible with it. This is the kind of referendum we are talking about here. What he meant by plebiscite was: initiated by government usually on some vague proposal as opposed to specific legislation such as an order to negotiate.

By contrast, he suggested the Swiss model of citizen initiated referendum on a specific legislative means. That would be the most productive way of achieving the kind of goals that might unite us all, including my hon. colleague who suggested the motion.

Bélanger-Campeau CommissionPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2001 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Burin—St. George's Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Bill Matthews LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, I have listened attentively to the hon. member and I want to say that I am quite pleased to be participating in the debate on Motion No. 220 which has been tabled by the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the conclusion of the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, which proposed, in 1991, that the National Assembly of Quebec adopt legislation on holding a referendum and the offer of a new partnership, and that no federal legislation or regulations should be incompatible with achieving this conclusion.

The motion at least has the merit of providing us with the opportunity to rectify certain facts and to set the record straight in this debate on Quebec secession. The motion is clearly designed to challenge the legitimacy of Bill C-20, which was passed last year by Canada's parliament.

It is therefore necessary to respond to the motion by turning again to the main arguments that were advanced in support of the clarity act. I would first like to address the portion of the hon. member's motion that reads as follows: “that no federal legislation or regulations should be incompatible with achieving this conclusion”.

I find the hon. member's wording of the motion extremely one-sided. It seems to imply for all practical purposes, and in a manner that is simplistic to say the least, that the current Government of Canada is trying to prevent the government of Quebec from holding an umpteenth referendum on Quebec secession, an option that it is attempting above all to camouflage through vague hints of an alleged will for association.

How many times will it have to be reiterated that the current Government of Canada is in no way seeking to prevent the national assembly from consulting Quebecers on any matter whatsoever?

It should be noted that a recent poll has confirmed that only a minuscule proportion, less than 10%, of Quebecers want such a referendum to be held during the current mandate, while 49% say they never want one to be held, and 76% of respondents, regardless of option preferred, want Quebec to remain in Canada.

I would urge the hon. member to use his inside contacts with the current government of Quebec and to remind Mr. Landry of these facts, since to date he still does not seem to get the message.

Regardless of these considerations, I can only remind the hon. member, who certainly cannot not have forgotten, that Bill C-20, passed last year by Canada's parliament, in no way sought to prevent Quebecers from deciding on their political future. As respected a personality as Mr. Claude Castonguay emphasized this point eloquently before the legislative committee studying Bill C-20 when he said about the bill:

I did not see anything in this bill that limits the jurisdiction of the Quebec National Assembly nor the right of Quebecers to decide their future.

Indeed, Bill C-20 in no way prevents the national assembly from wording the referendum question as it sees fit. A future referendum would have to be held in full compliance with provincial laws. The clarity act merely specifies that the federal government will not enter into negotiations unless a clear majority of Quebecers vote in favour of secession in response to a question as passed by the national assembly and do determine, through a resolution, whether the question is clear. It is very important that the question be clear.

I ask hon. members to remember that Bill C-20 was our response to the opinion of the supreme court in the Quebec secession reference which was issued in the summer of 1998. Like that opinion of the court, it emphasizes the need to ask a clear question—I emphasize again, a clear question—and to obtain an equally clear majority.

I understand that some members opposite do not particularly like the words clear question and clear majority. They find something radically wrong with a clear question and a clear majority.

Paragraph 87 of the opinion specified states:

The democratic principle—would demand that considerable weight be given to a clear expression by the people of Quebec of their will to secede from Canada, even though a referendum, in itself and without more, has no direct legal effect, and could not in itself bring about unilateral secession.

Further on in paragraphs 92 and 151 it states:

The continued existence and operation of the Canadian constitutional order could not be indifferent to a clear expression of a clear majority of Quebecers that they no longer wish to remain in Canada.

The opinion referred to a clear question on numerous occasions and the supreme court used the expression clear majority 13 times. Why put so much emphasis on clarity? The answer is obvious: the consequences of secession are so grave that it must be clear that the province's population does in fact want to cease to be a part of Canada. Let me say as well that of course secession has very grave consequences for other provinces and other people of Canada as well.

A question that refers to the possibility of a political or economic association is not clear, because if the response is favourable, how can it be known whether it applies to independence, to a new partnership or to a form of independence providing for some type of association?

A clear answer to a clear question: who can be opposed to this principle other than those who, not once but twice, have presented Quebecers with vague, misleading options, with the sole objective, as Mr. Parizeau boasted himself, of getting the lobsters into the pot? Mr. Parizeau boasted publicly that all they wanted to do was get the lobsters into the pot. We all know what happens to lobsters when we get them into the pot. They get cooked.

I can well imagine the objections the Bloc raises in this connection, just as I am hearing now from an hon. member opposite. The Bloc maintains that the questions asked during the 1980 and 1995 referenda were clear. On the contrary, they were nothing of the kind, because they referred to such vague, nebulous concepts as association and partnership which, as I just pointed out, tend to cloud and skew the issue.

To demonstrate the confusion generated by the question asked on the last referendum, I want to refer to the statement made by Professor Maurice Pinard before the parliamentary committee studying Bill C-20.

In Professor Pinard's own words:

In 1995, only about 50% of respondents realized that sovereignty did not necessarily mean partnership. The others believed that sovereignty would not be declared if partnership could not be achieved.

How can it be contested, in light of such figures, that the referendum question put to Quebecers in 1995 was ambiguous when its true significance escaped half the voters?