Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the motion by the hon. member for Mercier.
Before going on, I would like to thank the member for Calgary Southeast for her vigilance, her attention and especially for having raised the matter. I appreciate the intention, because the member for Mercier indeed participates a lot in our work, she is very much present in the House. I think the remarks in question were inappropriate.
The debate is on a motion which reads as follows:
That this House condemn the government for choosing to reform unemployment insurance in a way that maintains overlap and duplication in the manpower sector and thus prevents the Government of Quebec from adopting a true manpower development policy of its own.
I listened to the arguments by the member for Calgary Southeast on the amendment she is proposing. I shall reserve my comments on it for the moment, but I would like to thank her for her attention. Her remarks indicate that other provinces would like to take charge of manpower training.
However, after touring the country with the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development last year, I felt that some provinces, such as the Atlantic provinces, were less keen, were not necessarily fuelled by the same desire. They wanted the federal government to remain very visible in this area, because they felt that their province was perhaps experiencing economic difficulties in this regard.
I simply want to say that the amendment proposed by the member for Calgary Southeast would not be easy to apply, because there does not appear to be a consensus, unlike in Quebec. This has been shown very clearly. I say this to the member for Calgary Southeast, I will discuss it in my speech, I will recall the historical background of this claim by Quebec and the reason it is so important to us.
To us, manpower training means education. Under Canada's Constitution, education is a provincial matter. This is particularly
important to Quebec, because education is also a cultural concept, very close to our culture. It is a treasure to the people of Quebec.
All those involved in this area agree. I would point out that yesterday the Quebec National Assembly passed a motion to again remind the federal government of its position. When I speak of the Quebec National Assembly, I am not talking just about the members of the Parti Quebecois, but also the members of the Quebec Liberal Party.
Yesterday's motion was passed with a vote of 96 in favour, none against and no abstentions. It was therefore passed unanimously.
What does this resolution say? It says:
"That Quebec must have sole responsibility for policies pertaining to manpower adjustment and occupational training within its borders and patriate accordingly the funding allocated by the federal government to these programs in Quebec; "Within the current constitutional framework and in order to improve services to customers, Quebec must take over the control and management of various services pertaining to employment and manpower development and all programs that may be funded through the Unemployment Insurance Fund within Quebec's borders, and must therefore receive the funding appropriate to such responsibilities;
"The Government of Quebec and representatives of business, labour and the co-operative sector agree to oppose any initiative by the federal government that would constitute an invasion of Quebec's prerogatives".
Therefore, it asks the government and the Minister of Employment to immediately undertake formal discussions with the federal government in order to ensure the respect of the consensus and the promotion of the interests of the Quebec people.
I stress that this motion was adopted unanimously.
A while ago, as I was shaking my head at something he said, the minister introduced a historical dimension to the debate. I had mentioned 1941 a bit earlier when answering a colleague's question. I must make a correction, I was wrong by one year. The constitutional amendment which enabled the federal government to set up and run the unemployment insurance program was passed on July 10, 1940. It was the British Parliament-as you know we had to ask its permission-which amended section 91 of the British North America Act, making it possible for the federal government to set up the unemployment insurance program.
It would be useful at this point to summarize Quebec's claims. Stakeholders in the labour market have recognized unanimously the need to patriate to Quebec all responsibilities and federal funding in the area of manpower training. The Liberal Party and the Parti quebecois are in agreement on this.
It is also worth recalling that, in 1991, the former minister in charge of manpower, income security and manpower training claimed, in a policy statement from the Government of Quebec about manpower development: "For many years, Quebec has claimed control over policy instruments affecting the work market. In other words, the Government of Quebec and its economic partners want laws, budgets, institutions, programs and services concerning manpower or the operation of the work market to be under one authority. Partners on the Quebec work market are almost unanimous in recognizing that manpower policies must be prepared by authorities as close as possible to the various work markets".
This request for devolution of manpower training goes back a long way. In 1989, the job forum was a critical step in the advancement of this cause. This is when the job market partners, that is unions, employers and government, agreed to asl that Ottawa hand over full responsibility for manpower training.
With such a consensus, the Government of Quebec officially requested, in December 1990, that any federal moneys for manpower programs be handed over to Quebec, including money from the unemployment insurance fund used for that purpose. In December 1990, the Liberal Party was in office, not the Parti Quebecois, and Robert Bourassa was premier. The Liberal Party of Quebec claimed exclusive jurisdiction not only over manpower training, but also over other aspects of manpower development, such as placement, employment assistance, job creation support, etc.
To back up this demand, the Quebec government created the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, or SQDM, which was to serve as a link between all labour market stakeholders and manage all manpower development programs in Quebec.
The Quebec Liberal Party went even further, asking for an administrative agreement allowing Quebec to manage the unemployment insurance program within the province. It was asking for a return to the pre-1840 situation. Quebec wanted to be given jurisdiction in this area.
Otherwise, the federal government would have to maintain a rather cumbersome administrative structure in Quebec. To make UI benefits and related services accessible to the Quebec people, a whole network would have to be maintained with all the inconveniences of this kind of duplication.
In concrete terms, this agreement would have resulted in the UI program running the SQDM.
This happened under the liberal government led by Robert Bourassa, a true blue federalist. Now, you will ask, what sort of problems is this situation creating in Quebec? At the same time, one must recognize that there is a problem with vocational training in Canada. In 1993, Canada was ranked 22nd out of 22 developed countries for on-the-job training.
According to available statistics, the federal network runs 27 training programs-the minister said earlier 38-and the Quebec network 5. The federal government-which has started cutting down-operates close to 100 Canada Employment Centres in Quebec, while Quebec set up the SQDM to replace the former Commission de formation professionnelle.
The original mandate of the Société québécoise de la main-d'oeuvre was to work towards the creation of true single windows in every Quebec region. Today, it acts more as a mere manager of federal funds, without much of a say.
I would like to point out that in 1993-1994, transfer payments accounted for 56 per cent of the SQDM budget, or $150.7 million out of a total of $269.5 million, a true description, if ever there was one, of Ottawa's control over manpower. The lack of co-ordination between the two networks results in the unemployed being ill served by the various manpower training programs.
An internal memo of the federal government did reveal that in the spring of 1993-this is a federal memo, remember-nearly 25,000 unemployed people referred to a training program could not register for lack of sufficient available places.
The policy statement of minister Bourbeau described how two different manpower training networks could cause problems. It said: "We understand how hard it can be for an uninitiated person or business to find its way among the multiple service centres like the Canada Employment Centres, the offices of the Commission de formation professionelle de la main-d'oeuvre, Travail Québec centres, school boards, colleges, universities and the Department of Manpower, Income Security and Skills Development."
Minister Bourbeau, a liberal federalist, estimated at $275 million the cost of these overlaps and duplications in manpower training programs. The minister who said that was not a PQ member, not a BQ member, not a sovereignist, but a federalist.
Both governments agree that manpower training programs must change. The Minister of Human Resources Development said, in his discussion paper on improving social security in Canada: "Unfortunately, existing programs don't do this well enough. Too many people end up in programs that have little to do with their needs, aptitudes or opportunities. Many get training for jobs that don't exist locally. Many are shunted from one program to another. There are too many mismatched programs, with inconsistent rules and too much red tape. Programs offered by different levels of government are often not coordinated."
According to him, the system had to change. The federal government is not alone in adding to the mess of manpower training programs. We must recognize that, at the time, there were too many manpower training programs. The present minister has merged a number of programs, but she is having problems because the federal is ever present and nothing leads us to believe that it will willingly leave the field, since it is actually introducing new measures. Yes, it says that it is offering them to the provinces, but it intends to keep imposing guidelines. It intends to keep control.
The minister said a while ago, in his presentation, that we cannot do away with controls because certain provinces-not Quebec but others- had used the program's money to build public buildings. He feels this is enough to justify a permanent control by the federal government.
Basically, what he wants to do, what he would like to see is the provinces, Quebec included, manage the programs listed in his bill. He would like the provinces to do what he wants them to do. He is treating the provinces has mere pawns. For us in Quebec, this flies totally in the face of the established consensus.
I will quote someone else. The president of the Business Council on National Issues, Mr. Thomas d'Aquino, added his voice to the voices of those who recommend that the federal government hand over manpower training to the provinces as fast as possible. On October 28, 1994, Mr. d'Aquino said: "There is no doubt in my mind that decentralization in this area would be beneficial for the Canadian economy. The sooner the politicians come to an agreement on this question, the better".
Last year, members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development travelled throughout Canada. When the minister suggests that he is implementing recommendations that the committee heard, let me say that I disagree with that. I travelled to all the provinces of this country and to all the large cities of Canada while travelling with the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development-the parliamentary secretary knows that, he had to suffer the consequences. On some occasions, I had to admire his courage in facing those who opposed his reform. But when he tells us later that this is what Canadians want and wish, after what I have seen and heard, when I know that 75 to 80 per cent of briefs were against what the minister is now proposing, that is, cuts of some $2 billion in unemployment insurance, I know that is not what Canadians wished for.
People who came to testify before this committee said that what is missing today is work, job opportunities. They wished that the government would follow the policy outlined in its red book. The Liberal slogan during the last election campaign was even "Jobs, jobs, jobs". But we see that, in fact, there are not more jobs today. But worse still, the proposed changes will create two kinds of unemployed.
As critic for training and youth, I see that a young person will now have to work 910 hours over 52 weeks in order to qualify for unemployment insurance. That represents 17.5 hours of work per week in one year, every single week, in order to qualify. Otherwise, he will not be eligible. He must reach this minimum number of hours. So, it is now twice as hard for newcomers on the labour market to qualify for unemployment insurance.
And what do they do to unemployment insurance? They create a fund and make it available to the provinces, and tell them: "You can help yourselves to some of it, but only under certain conditions because we want to keep control over it, or else we are going to take it away".
But this fund the minister mentioned is made up of money contributed by employers and employees. Why is the federal government messing with this fund when, as everybody knows, it has not contributed a single penny to unemployment insurance since 1991? It is not this government who did that, but the Conservative government. But now it is a profit nowadays with unemployment insurance and is using part of this profit to provide manpower training in a field which comes under provincial jurisdiction.
This is what we are against and what we are condemning. There is a small opening here. We saw that the Quebec National Assembly, while establishing some parameters, is continuing to emphasize the Quebec consensus on the need to repatriate all the money spent by the federal government in manpower training, even UI funds, because the federal government would use that money to continue to multiply programs and to maintain duplication.
To conclude, I ask the government and the Minister of Human Resources Development to be on the lookout, to listen more carefully to what Quebecers want. He will see that Quebecers, not only the sovereignists, the members of the Bloc Quebecois or the Parti quebecois, but all Quebecers want the Quebec government to be in charge, to be responsible for its policy concerning manpower, training and all related services. I will conclude on that and I thank you for your attention.