moved that Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, on April 14, I had the honour and privilege of introducing Bill C-507, which proposes to rectify one of the biggest injustices of the current federalism: the fact that over the years the federal government has given itself an illegitimate power, the so-called “federal spending power”.
We are talking about a “so-called” power because it is nothing more than a federal government creation that has no basis in the Canadian Constitution.
The vast majority of jurists feel the same way. Nothing in the Constitution resembles this so-called federal spending power.
The great constitutionalist, Andrée Lajoie, is categorical about this and says:
...the expression “spending power” as used in Canadian constitutional discourse refers to the ideological affirmation of a non-existent federal power to spend in the provinces' areas of jurisdiction by imposing conditions equivalent to a normative intervention.
I find that to be an accurate and appropriate definition of this so-called power usurped by the federal government over the course of the past century. The definition contains all of the key elements. First, it states that there is no justification for this power under the Constitution of Canada, either the original 1867 version or the current version that was adopted, need I remind you, in spite of the unanimous opposition of the elected members of the National Assembly of Quebec, and that no Quebec government, federalist or sovereignist, has endorsed to date.
Then there is the fact that the expenditures in question pertain to areas of jurisdiction belonging exclusively to Quebec and the provinces and which, therefore, are not under federal jurisdiction.
Finally, there is the manner in which Ottawa has used these expenditures to assume unlawful oversight in Quebec's affairs, impose its standards and conditions, and lay the foundation for the paternalistic ideology we call “Ottawa knows best”.
The federal spending power is just a tool for justifying the federal government's centralist meddling, its hope for a unitary state and its dreams of reducing the provinces to simple administrative entities that Ottawa could relegate to the rank of subcontractors. Quebeckers will never accept that.
However, after this Parliament recognized Quebec as a nation, we would have expected it to concurrently recognize that a nation has collective rights, just as individuals have rights, and that they include the right to define one's own national identity.
The areas of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces are instruments that provide an affirmation of identity and values and, to that end, unlawful federal interference, by means of the so-called federal spending power, must be seen and judged for what it is—an attempt to impose on Quebeckers values that are not our own.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that the provinces, except for Quebec, have practically never manifested their opposition to this so-called power because the federal government, the government of Canadians, has generally attempted to promote the values of the Canadian nation.
The federal government's illegitimate expenditures in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction fall into at least three categories. The first is conditional transfers—money that the federal government transfers to Quebec and the provinces—such as the Canadian health and social transfer. The second is direct services to the population. The third includes individual benefits and business subsidies in fields not under federal jurisdiction. The Canada Council for the Arts, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and research grants are examples of this.
Every Quebec government since Duplessis, whether Union Nationale, PQ or Liberal, has criticized this kind of normative interference.
And rightly so. Currently, the federal government spends over $60 million in areas not under its jurisdiction. This year, nearly one-quarter of the Quebec government's budget came from the federal government.
The federal government spends money on university research, education, health, social housing and parks. Now it is trying to impose a single securities commission.
Every time it does this, it is imposing its priorities, values and principles on Quebec. Those are Canada's priorities, values and principles, not Quebec's. For Quebec to exist as a nation, it must, at the very least, be in control of the levers and powers set out in the Constitution. That is why I will not accept the member for Beauce's lame reasons for voting against the Bloc Québécois's October 21 motion, which was essentially the same as Bill C-507.
The member for Beauce basically said that he did not support the Bloc Québécois motion because its intent was to destroy Canada. I have two things to say about that. First, it is yet another intellectual shortcut to equate the desire to build one's own country with the destruction of another. The difference between the two is fundamental. Sovereignists do not despise Canada, nor do we wish to destroy it or make it ungovernable. All we want is for Quebeckers and Canadians each to have their own country.
If I follow his logic right through to the end, to say that abolishing the federal government’s spending power would mean the destruction of Canada is to suppose that this alleged power is basic to Canada. Since this so-called power is illegitimate, illegal and unconstitutional, the only possible conclusion is that he thinks the foundations of modern Canada are illegitimate, illegal and unconstitutional. If that is the conclusion he wanted to reach, I can only say I agree. The supposed federal spending power is nothing less than the constitutional equivalent of the sponsorship program: nothing less than an indirect way for Ottawa to engage in nation building through dollops of millions of dollars in propaganda.
I hasten to add, though, in case there still any doubts in this regard, that our identity and allegiance are not for sale. Quebeckers will never sell their soul to the highest bidder. That is why the Bloc Québécois has been saying for years that such interference in Quebec’s affairs must stop. I want to emphasize that it should stop, rather than falling back on any notions of limiting the so-called federal spending power, as the Conservative government proposed before getting elected in 2006. Illegalities do not become more justifiable and legitimate, as if by magic, just because someone puts a limit on them. In any case, how can one limit a power that does not exist in the first place?
It is very amusing, therefore, to watch the federalist parties thrash about trying to find some justification for this illegitimate power—simply because they are federalists—when this power is the exact negation of the principles on which the Canadian federation is supposedly based. It is intriguing to see those parties all entangled in this paradox because they have only themselves to blame. They created it.
Their blatant inability to condemn the supposed federal spending power only reinforces the impression, which seems to get stronger every day, that the Canadian federation cannot be reformed and the only option still on the table for these federalists is the status quo. But that is unacceptable to Quebec.
The legislative changes in this Bloc bill are not radical in the least. Quite the opposite, they are intended simply to repair an error and an illusion that federal governments have been trying for decades to turn into a central principle. The supposed federal spending power is nothing more or less than the zenith of constitutional trickery. But Quebeckers are not fooled.
So how can this mistake be fixed? First of all, by doing an inventory of all federal spending in jurisdictions that belong to Quebec and the provinces. Next, by withdrawing, without any form of negotiation, from those jurisdictions and transferring the funds involved to Quebec and the provinces, unless of course, the federal government is given express written consent to continue that spending. Thus, opting out, as it is commonly known, would disappear, to be replaced by its counterpart, which I will call opting in.
In other words, the desired goal is to reverse the onus: instead of having to enter into long, painful negotiations every time, the federal government's exclusion from jurisdictions that are not its responsibility would become the norm.
In order to ensure that a province or Quebec is not shackled by a decision to opt in, these agreements would have to be renegotiated every five years.
Lastly, fair compensation must be given for all programs that would be returned to Quebec and the provinces, ideally by freeing up some of the federal tax room that the federal government unfairly has at this time and that means that the fiscal imbalance has definitely not been resolved, despite this government's claims.
If it were resolved, we would not be here discussing this bill, because the very existence of federal intrusions in our jurisdictions is the most indisputable proof of the fiscal imbalance.
In order to solve it, tax points would definitely have to be transferred so that Quebec would not have to beg the federal government for the financial resources needed to assume its responsibilities, which are more significant than federal responsibilities.
In fact, that is precisely what was recommended by the Séguin commission on fiscal imbalance, whose final report was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly.
Two of the commission’s main recommendations called specifically for the Canada health and social transfer to be replaced by a transfer of tax points, preferably from the GST but possibly from personal income tax, and for an end to the abusive, unconstitutional use of the supposed federal spending power in areas of Quebec and provincial jurisdiction.
Generally speaking, that is exactly what is proposed in the bill before us now.
Despite the fact these recommendations were approved by the National Assembly, despite the fact the Quebec nation was officially recognized right here in this Parliament, and despite the fact this bill provides a perfect opportunity for the federalist parties to demonstrate their good faith, I harbour few illusions about the fate that will befall Bill C-507.
Despite the goodwill they like to display and the rationales they always find to give themselves a clear conscience, the federalist parties will always want the power to dictate to Quebec what path it should follow, ad that will be, always and forever, the Ottawa knows best approach.
By spending in areas of Quebec and provincial jurisdiction, the federal government imposes its priorities and its vision of a unitary country. But that is wrong. Canada is not a unitary country. It is a divided country, irredeemable divided, between two nations, the Quebec nation and the Canadian nation, not to forget the many first nations of course.
By spending in areas of Quebec and provincial jurisdiction, the federal government tries to iron out the differences, even though they are huge and very significant, between Quebec’s political choices and Canada’s political choices.
Quebec has decided, in particular, to adopt the most progressive social policies in North America. The federal government tries, however, in every way to meddle in Quebec’s social affairs, generally by adopting a poor copy of what is done in Quebec and then imposing its own conditions and standards if Quebec wants the funding.
People who defend this attitude generally say the federal government’s supposed spending power is like a present that Quebec and the provinces are free to accept or reject.
But the supposed presents from the federal government are paid for with money from Quebec taxpayers. What a gift.
Quebeckers are told they are being given a present, but they are the ones paying for it. The worst thing is that the people who defend this do not even realize how absurd their rationale is. If they do realize it, they invoke all kinds of equally absurd principles to justify the unjustifiable.
Our proposal—like Quebec’s position for the last 60 years—at least has the merit of being clear.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Quebec is a young nation that has dreams and aspirations, just as people do. But because of Ottawa’s paternalistic, condescending attitude toward it, I am more convinced than ever that we will only be able to realize these dreams when we are completely and totally free, when we are a sovereign country.