Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in this House. I first want to express my sincere thanks to the people of my constituency of Laurentides for their support and for the confidence they placed in me last October 25. The people of Laurentides, surely the most beautiful riding in Canada, can count on me to represent them well in this House. I will do my job in a vigorous and dynamic manner. My actions and decisions will always be based on the principles of respect, equity and dignity.
Last October 25 the population made a choice reflecting its profound dissatisfaction with the existing political and administrative system. The people clearly showed us that they were fed up with an unproductive system that is too costly and too complex and that does not meet the needs of a population looking for major changes. They also demand more power through their members of Parliament to influence and guide their government.
Let us never forget that we are the people's representatives. We must always act as their spokespersons and look after their welfare. If we want to regain their trust, I honestly think that we should adhere to that philosophy.
We, as members of the Bloc Quebecois, intend to address the problems clearly identified during the last election campaign. Our efforts will focus on creating long-term jobs, reducing the debt, putting government finances on a healthier footing, maintaining social benefits and, of course, promoting Quebec sovereignty. Despite what some members of this House are saying, the people in my riding knowingly elected me as a sovereigntist member of Parliament. We did not wait till the morning of October 26 to tell Quebecers: "Okay, from now on we want a sovereign Quebec". That was our message throughout the election campaign and the people still elected us.
Our mandate is clear. Even if the Prime Minister claims that he does not want anything to do with the constitutional debate, we will always remind him that our basic mandate is to help Quebec achieve sovereignty. We were elected on a sovereignty platform, without making election promises, without a Prime Minister's office to table projects.
If the government intends, as it says in the throne speech, to work vigorously to make federalism meet the needs of Canadians, we on this side will do the same to promote our political option that will also certainly meet the needs of Quebecers.
These needs are numerous and vary for each individual. However, what people need can generally be summed up as decent living conditions. The government must do its utmost to meet these basic individual needs.
Regarding employment, we all know that the government has just launched its famous infrastructure program. This program that the Liberals see as the saviour of our economy is clearly insufficient. It does not bring about any of the major changes needed by our flagging economy. The government is creating short-term jobs.
The worker who paves a road or paints a building will find himself without a job again after his contract is completed. The government will never manage to create long-term jobs in this manner. The infrastructure program is only a band-aid solution. We put ointment on the cut without worrying about the scar. The program will create 65,000 temporary jobs, while over 1.5 million Canadians are unemployed.
The government must strive to find and create sound, original programs to more effectively fight the chronic unemployment that has plagued us far too long already. We must act now. In my riding, which is part of the Laurentides administrative region, the unemployment rate was 15.1 per cent in December 1993. Add to that 28,000 income support recipients and this brings the total of unemployed people to 60,000, out of a workforce of 213,000. This means that 28 per cent of our people are out of work. That is an alarming figure and a great concern to me. We cannot hope to make our society a better place to live in when so many people are unproductive.
Work is an important value and is essential to the good health of people and societies. It is imperative the government address this priority. We on this side are prepared to support any sensible action that would hold the promise of lasting employment.
The road to employment must include manpower training, an area that currently reflects how poorly the federal system is working. The workers also need to be able to respond quickly to market requirements. I would be remiss not to mention the youth employment issue that we have to examine thoroughly. Drop-outs and street children are a growing social phenomenon that demand serious attention. We must lead, guide, motivate our young people to plan a career that will be rewarding to them. It is not with the Youth Service Corps, which revives so to speak the former Katimavik program, that we are going to boost youth employment while young Canadians are so hard hit by the present economic situation.
Supporting the efforts of businesses to gain access to new markets is another good way to increase employment levels. The government must play a major role at the international level by developing with the stakeholders ways to spot market opportunities that can be seized to create longer-term employment.
Another interesting alternative is work restructuring. If our economy is sluggish, managing work differently could make up for it.
The throne speech suggested very few new approaches in that area. It is marked by a glaring lack of vision and innovative ideas. Yet, this is an all new government.
As opposition critic for public works and government services, I have given some thought to the complexity of the system and how the country should be run.
At first glance, it is obvious that the system is getting out of control and does not promote effectiveness, as the Auditor General's reports keep reminding us year after year.
My remarks will of course tie in with my party's priorities in terms of fiscal consolidation. Our position is clear. We want a House committee to be set up to review budget expenditures, item by item, and cut unnecessary expenditures, including some defence expenditures.
The purpose of the review will be to maximise the return on investment of every dollar taken out of the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. We must put an end to squandering, trim the fat, reduce the number of departments and streamline their operation.
The message we received last October 25 was unequivocal: the taxpayers have had it with paying all the time but not getting their money's worth. As our leader said in his reply, the people of Quebec are certainly not reaping the so-called federal manna.
The big Canadian bureaucracy, an insatiable tax collector, is unable to control its costs, to eliminate needless spending, to cut fat. The ship is huge and it is sinking faster every day. The crew cannot plug the thousands of holes which are dragging them down. For now, Quebecers are on the ship but they have asked us to start inflating a lifeboat so they can return to dry land. That is a very realistic request.
Right here in this House, we are able to note wasteful spending, superfluity and a certain indifference to all that. Imagine a similar situation in all departments and crown corporations. Monstrous is the word that comes to my mind.
Just in front of the Centre Block of Parliament, Public Works and Government Services is now doing masonry work in mid-winter. A well-built shelter is being heated and masonry work is going on. Is that logical and sensible? Would it not cost less to do that work in summer? Who decides? Every day, we see workers on the roof of the Supreme Court. I know that this work is done by the private sector, but is it logical and does it make budgetary sense to plan roofing work for mid-winter? Who makes those decisions?
We in the Bloc Quebecois all advocate a clean-up of the federal government. However, these cutbacks must not be made on the backs of the poorest people in our society, the Quebecers and Canadians who have been left behind and in these last few years have had to cut not luxuries but necessities. This is particularly true for co-operative and social housing programs.
In this International Year of the Family, how can we accept that some families do not live in clean, well-heated, well-lit homes? How can we ignore this deplorable situation? How can the speech from the throne be silent on this question? Of course, we are promised a residential renovation program. But how will we renovate homes for the poorest people who are homeless?
The present government seems inclined to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors under whom, from 1984 to 1994, the number of social housing units built in Canada dropped from 25,000 a year to zero: what a Tory massacre.
Today, across Canada, some 1.2 million households urgently need housing. In Quebec, the figures show an intolerable level of poverty. One household in three, or 404,000 tenant households, pay more than 30 per cent of their income for housing. Even worse, one household in six, or 194,000 households, pay more than 50 per cent of their income for housing.
In New Brunswick, according to the Telegraph Journal for October 1993, 28,000 people needed adequate housing. However, the government remains silent on this subject. Every month, hundreds of thousands of households ask the same question: How to pay the rent? How do you pay the rent when all your income is from welfare, unemployment insurance, an old-age pension or from insecure, underpaid or part-time employment?
Households cut in other areas, on food, clothing, transportation and the few recreational activities that are still affordable. Single people and the ever-growing number of one-parent families in our society are the most affected by this deplorable situation. I add to this list the homeless, the young people who are out on the street and the native people living in cities.
Do we pay the rent or eat? Does anyone in this House have to ask himself or herself that question at the beginning of each month? So why do fellow citizens have to ask themselves that question? Must we conclude that the Liberals do not care, since the throne speech is silent on this issue? Will the Liberals reinstate federal assistance to social housing or not? This situation is a real shame. The government should be quick to act and invest in a global social housing program in order to meet the urgent needs of the poor. In Great Britain and in the Netherlands social housing units represent 70 per cent of all rented dwellings. In Sweden, it is 55 per cent.
In 1991, only 10 per cent of dwellings were social housing units. The right to a dwelling is a basic one for everyone, regardless of their income, their sex, their race, and their physical or mental health.
The private sector, which is strictly motivated by profits, is unable to fully respect this right and to allow everybody to have access to dwellings. The state must play a major role in the housing sector.
Over the last few years, we have repeatedly seen members of Parliament cut ribbons to mark the opening of social, low-income, co-op or other social housing units. These members had a big smile on their face; however, they refrained from telling the public that their scissors were also cutting housing programs for the poor. Indeed, as of January 1994 these programs are a thing of the past.
I ask the members opposite to go to their ridings to see what is going on and to realize that some people are living in very inadequate dwellings. I also ask them to talk to the Minister of Finance to tell him to restore and improve the social housing programs which were abruptly ended by the Conservatives.
To get an idea of the urgency of this issue, tonight go to bed without eating and turn off the heating. You will put yourself in the situation experienced by thousands of households at the end of each month. If it is very cold, your skin will gradually turn
from red to blue, colours we are very familiar with in this House. At that point, get up and turn the heating back on, otherwise the cold will get to you and you could face amputation, with only two members in your house. Now, this is something we have seen before.
You will then understand your mistake; you will realize that your coolness toward the poor has left you totally incapable of doing anything except implore. Honourable members opposite, I realize that the red book has become your bible, but other books exist. For your information, I can tell you that the Messiah is no longer with us and, in any case, was not from the riding of Saint-Maurice.
Let me tell you that we Bloc Quebecois members are going to keep a close eye on you; we are constantly going to pester you regarding social housing and other social programs. We are here not only to promote Quebec's sovereignty, but also to protect the interests of the poor.
The disengagement of the federal government is an inhuman act. The government uses the public debt to justify unjustifiable cuts. It keeps telling us, like the Prime Minister did, that we have to live within our means. There is not enough money. Yet, the government grants numerous tax exemptions which cost billions of dollars every year and which profit the rich. Canadians obviously want changes in this area. We mentioned it clearly before October 25 and people supported our message on tax reform.
In the long run, additional funding for social housing will translate into very significant savings in sectors such as health and social services and will have a major impact on the economy, for example as regards job creation.
I am disappointed by the throne speech as regards social housing and in fact many other issues. We were hoping for new initiatives from the new Liberal team which was announced during the election campaign. Unfortunately, originality, creativity and new ideas do not seem to come easy to that new team. Quite the contrary. Its program is flat and bland. We are part of the federal system. Quebecers will soon decide about their future. In the meantime, we are here to promote sovereignty and to protect the interests of Quebecers and those of the poor within our community.
I do hope that each hon. member in this House will have a thought for the poor in his or her riding and in our society.