I apologize. I should have said the Minister of Human Resources Development instead of referring to a member by name.
The minister said yesterday in his speech: "It is decentralization of a very different kind. There has been a lot of talk about decentralization, but so far it has been a somewhat restricted debate as it talks only about decentralization in terms of transferring from the federal government to the provincial governments. Should we not also be talking about how to empower communities and individuals to make more choices? Is that not what we should be looking at in terms of decentralization? Partnership: government with the private sector, government with school boards, government with the provinces. That is the kind of philosophy we have to continually talk about because that is what works".
That is what Mr. Axworthy claims, or should I say the Minister of Human Resources Development.
In fact, this statement by the minister runs completely counter to the existing consensus in Quebec on manpower management. For example, I would like to quote from a 1991 letter written to the Minister of Employment and Immigration of the time by the Quebec Minister of Income Security which states: "Quebec does indeed recognize the crying need to define its own manpower policies, to establish its priorities with respect to manpower development in close conjunction with its partners in the labour market, and then to design and administer programs tailored to the needs it has set as priorities".
Further on in the letter he goes on to say "Even if the greatest constitutional harmony reigned in the country, which is not exactly the case, Quebec would make the same demands with respect to manpower, since it is so urgently necessary for Quebec's economic development that manpower programs be made efficient and tailored to Quebec's specific labour market priorities". The person saying this in 1991 was a federalist Liberal Quebec minister.
Today the federal government is tabling Bill C-96, and what is Quebec's reception to it? The Quebec Minister of Employment describes it as the final rejection of the unanimous consensus in Quebec that the federal government must withdraw completely from active manpower measures and hand back to Quebec the relevant budgets.
So far, one could qualify this as a squabble between politicians, with each one wanting to hang on to his powers; the people will be the final judges of this. But there is something peculiar to this issue of manpower: the Quebec government position is also the position of all those in Quebec involved in this field.
For instance, to quote someone who has never been identified as a sovereignist or as a backer of the present Quebec government, Ghislain Dufour, the spokesperson for the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, was still saying as recently as yesterday "It is essential
that the manpower issue be handed over to Quebec, so that there may at last be a proper policy".
He went on to say: "This is one of the cards the federal government ought to lay on the table to indicate that it has indeed heard Quebec's message calling for change".
Despite Mr. Dufour's position in support of federalism, his heartfelt cry in his apparently unflagging hope that federalism might change went completely unheeded by the federal government, which, as if it were a matter of daily routine, is presenting Bill C-96 for second reading. The aim of the bill is simply to give the federal government the equivalent of a federal minister of education.
I quote clause 6 of the bill as proof. It provides as follows.
The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the development of the human resources of Canada not by law assigned to any other Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada, and are to be exercised with the objective of enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security.
The clause contains no reference to provincial jurisdictions or to the fact that Quebec already has a network set up to take action in the manpower sector or to the whole problem that has existed in this sector for the past five years. The government's position should be an obvious sign to Quebecers of the sort of change hinted at during the week before the referendum, without any basis or forethought, which today has been lost in the federal government's return to its old habits.
What is Quebec's claim based on? It is based on the fact that an integrated policy on economic, social and political action, means that the government assuming responsibility, for instance for education, for the Quebec labour code which covers 90 per cent of workers in Quebec, for occupational health and safety, for labour standards, for regulating professional qualifications, professional conduct and mass layoffs-all having a direct impact on jobs-should control the other aspects, as well, such as training, the way we prepare our workforce for the challenges of the globalization of the marketplace and of new technology.
It is rather like taking away half its tool box and thus preventing it from doing its job in a area that is critical for the future.
I would like to give you more examples. I mentioned Mr. Dufour, from the Conseil du patronat, but a similar plea was voiced, last week, by Gérald Ponton, the president of the Quebec manufacturers' association, who cannot be accused either of being a sovereignist or a proponent of Quebec's independence. Mr. Ponton made the same kind of remark as Mr. Dufour. He even said that, during the referendum campaign, people everywhere in the field were saying: "If they give us control over manpower or such and such an area, that might make it worth our while to listen to what is being said". This man speaks on behalf of manufacturers, people who must adapt to changes on a daily basis. They never said that the federal government was the best level of government to deal with this. They are saying the same thing as the people from the job forum and the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre. They are telling us that it is imperative for Quebec to have control over manpower management in the province.
I suggest that bringing Bill C-96 forward at second reading stage, as the federal government did, is somewhat of an affront not only to the Government of Quebec, but also to the people of Quebec as a whole, because, while they want changes, they want the assurance that Quebec will be able to control these major aspects of its development. We notice the same kind of attitude at the Canadian Institute of Adult Education, another group seriously involved with training, which asked the federal government to withdraw Bill C-96.
How did this kind of approach come about in Quebec? Because Canada-and this fact was recognized by the OECD-is considered as some sort of testing ground, given its dismal track record in manpower training. It is characterized by the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of jobs available in Canada but at the same time more than one million people are out of work. The system is responsible for this mismatch between the number of jobs available and unemployed workers, because it should be possible to have only structural unemployment, caused for example by individuals quitting one job for another or by temporary situations arising from layoffs or other changes in the industry.
But that is not the situation at present. We have a large workforce that has never been trained properly. And this cannot be blamed on Quebec achieving sovereignty, since it has not taken place yet. The present situation is the result, the doing of the current system. It was produced by this system. One of the most striking realities is how differently UI recipients are treated compared with welfare recipients or, even worse, with those who fall between the cracks.
Canada has no integrated policy on how people looking for jobs should be treated. Our very sectoral approaches have led to results such as the last UI reform. The federal government has found two ways of dealing with its budget responsibilities and very tight fiscal constraints. To reduce its UI costs, it increased the number of weeks required to qualify for UI benefits and reduced the number of weeks of benefits.
It then ended up with a UI fund surplus of $5 billion this year. At a time when our unemployment rate exceeds 11 per cent, is a UI fund surplus the best option? Is generating a surplus to be used by a
bureaucracy that has already proven its ineffectiveness the best way to create jobs?
At the same time, the provincial governments, which are also struggling with budget constraints, are responsible for welfare and systematically trying to keep social assistance costs as low as possible. Employment programs are therefore created so that people can go on unemployment insurance. But these jobs are not permanent. They are just a temporary measure.
We are caught in a vicious circle. If we had a single level of government responsible for the whole manpower issue, including welfare recipients in the labour force who are able to work, UI recipients and those falling between the cracks, its sole objective would be to make the best possible use of human resources and not to reduce welfare and UI costs by offloading its deficits and responsibilities onto the other level of government. Only one government would then be judged in terms of the effectiveness of its manpower policy.
Why is it necessary that Quebec be responsible for that sector? Realities vary widely in the Canadian economic space. For policies in the social, regional development, manpower, health, housing and employment training sectors to be adequate, they must be geared to the environment in which they are apply. They must also be effective.
It is not true that a single policy for the whole country can be effective, given the differences between regional economies. For example, the Maritimes and Quebec's eastern region have an economy which is largely dependent on natural resources and which, therefore, has fostered the development of a large number of seasonal industries. If you apply a national policy to these regions, you only generate disillusion, as is now the case. Moreover, many investments have been made year after year in these regions, but they simply did not produce any result. This can be explained by a number of reasons, including the fact that responsibility for the manpower sector was not delegated to the appropriate level of government.
When you think of it, the accumulated surplus in the UI fund, which will be the primary funding source for the new human resources investment fund, is a new hidden tax. Once it realized that it could no longer borrow on foreign markets to keep trying to control everything-because international lenders were no longer willing to provide funding for that-the federal government found a new trick. It makes Canadians themselves lend money, through UI contributions.
The government is trying to use a new artificial instrument which ultimately is based on a mismanagement of money. If, instead of generating this $5 billion surplus, the government had left that money in the economy, do you not think that it would have helped create a lot more jobs, that it would have given much more concrete results? So today the least trained categories of workers would have the possibility of getting jobs more easily and we would not be trying to give them training for which they are not necessarily prepared.
The other element I would like to draw to the government's attention is that Bill C-96 will lead to open warfare between the Quebec educational system and others who might want to get involved in training. In fact, this may be the hidden agenda of the federal government, to demolish all of the educational tools Quebec has developed, but I believe that such educational bodies as la Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec and la Fédération des cegeps du Québec have, nevertheless, developed original approaches that make Quebec very competitive in the world market.
The deliberate choice by the federal government to sign agreements with organizations outside these systems, with criteria that differ from those of these systems will lead, within a few years, to an incredible mess with equivalencies. Who will have trained whom? How? To what standard? And this outcome will be just one more example of federal government waste and inefficiency, at a time when we no longer have any money to waste.
This may have been done in the seventies in an attempt to put a Canadian model in place, some artificial concept of what Canada could be, but nowadays this is no longer possible, because of financial constraints and pressure from international lenders, as well as the future demands of each taxpayer in Quebec and in Canada.
There is still time for the federal government to decide either to withdraw Bill C-96 or, at the very least, to heed the clear call from all those involved in this field in Quebec for the responsibility for manpower training to be handed over to the Government of Quebec.
This consensus has existed in Quebec for five years, during which all players have asked for manpower to be transferred to the Government of Quebec, while the federal government-Conservative or Liberal-turns a deaf ear. We must try to find the reason for this lack of openness, this failure to listen. What is happening at the federal level that they will not respond to the demands of all those people who earnestly want to reshape federalism?
In any case, there is an aspect to decentralization that is very obvious and which the federal government refuses to recognize. Why? Because any decision to give Quebec responsibility for manpower or to give any other province the same kind of responsibility in this or other sectors would have the effect of taking power away from the federal mandarins.
The people who were appointed during the Trudeau era and who since then have generated a lot of activities and believe that solutions in Canada will come from the top down instead of from the grass roots, all these people cannot bear the thought of a policy that would turn the decision making pyramid upside down, so that not their views but only the views of the citizens of Quebec and Canada would prevail.
This government will be judged by the way it manages to shake up its senior public servants. After four years in power, the government will no longer have an excuse. It can no longer say: "The Conservatives were like that, and this is our first year and that is why nothing is happening, we have not had time to adjust". They are now starting their third year, and if the federal government does not make any changes, the record will be there for Canadian to judge.
There is another reason why C-96 is unacceptable: it perpetuates two levels of intervention in education. Today, no business in any industrial sector can afford this kind of duplication. There is a lot of unnecessary spending here.
The minister of income security in the Liberal government preceding the Parti Quebecois government calculated the cost of this overlap between Quebec and Canada at between $250 and $275 million a year. Can we afford such overlap in the future? Two hundred fifty million dollars, when, with the prebudget consultations underway, we are being told everywhere that the government has to make choices. It has to decide to be efficient where it can. It has to decide to withdraw from areas where it is not.
Here we have concrete examples with obvious results that the government's involvement in labour matters over the past 10, 15 or 20 years has been totally ineffective and has not permitted any sort of matching of available jobs and manpower. It is also an example of decentralization being a solution when you have faith in the government that is on the receiving end, that will have to take it on and that will be judged by the voters.
Bill C-96 is being criticized by the Société québécoise de la main-d'oeuvre, the Quebec department of employment, the Institut canadien des adultes, the Forum sur l'emploi, the Association des manufacturiers du Québec and the Conseil du patronat du Québec. Here are enough reasons for the federal government to withdraw it or amend it so that Quebec could have control over the management of its manpower.