Mr. Speaker, I think this time it is really my turn and I am much obliged to you for allowing me to speak on the fourth group of motions on Bill C-76.
Bill C-76, as it relates to the Canada social transfer, poses a major problem to Quebec. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned again at second reading in particular, the problem is enormous. We said so during the finance committee clause by clause study of this bill. We, in Quebec, have a major problem with this bill on social transfers, because the federal government is cutting shamelessly in transfers to the provinces in the areas of social assistance, post-secondary education and health.
It is a disgrace to reduce these transfers on the backs of health care users, the underprivileged who have to rely on welfare or students, who are already among the most vulnerable groups in our society these days; just look at the number of students covered with degrees who are searching for jobs.
Quebec also has a major problem with this bill as it seems to reflect the intention to ultimately impose standards or general guidelines throughout Canada, including Quebec, in the areas of social assistance, health and post-secondary education.
During the debate at second reading, we were a little surprised when the Minister of Finance announced, out of the blue, the amendments which he was going to table to satisfy Quebec and make sure that it does not have the impression of being again the victim of strong arm tactics, like in 1981, because that is what it is.
But this is yet another attempt to isolate Quebec. Indeed, Quebec will never fit into the mould imposed by Canada-wide standards,
particularly in the education sector, which is the cornerstone of Quebecers' identity. Education is the cornerstone of the Quebec culture; it is the instrument which ensures its continuity. Consequently, Quebec will never accept to toe the line, to follow general guiding principles and even promote them, as asked by the other nine provinces and the federal government, in a sector as vital as education.
Let me go back to the Minister of Finance. He said that he was tabling amendments designed to make Bill C-76 acceptable to Quebec, as regards the implementation of Canada-wide standards. This is the last version of the bill, as tabled by the minister. It reads: "The Minister of Human Resources Development shall invite representatives of all the provinces to consult and work together to develop, through mutual consent,"-the expression "mutual consent" is never defined-"a set of shared principles and objectives for the other social programs"-these other social programs are post-secondary education and social assistance-"referred to in paragraph (1)(d) that could underlie the Canada Health and Social Transfer".
The first question that comes to mind, as I said while reading the clause, is what do we mean by mutual consent? Does it mean an amendment tabled by the Minister of Finance? If we look back at the recent past, the last 10 to 12 years of relations between Quebec, Canadian provinces and the federal government, we see that things were normally done by mutual consent, and that mutual consent could be, for example, the agreement of the federal government and seven provinces constituting 50 per cent of the population. That is what mutual consent could be, and it could be used to establish national education standards and to force Quebec to make the decision to either get in line and follow the guiding principles or national standards or to have the federal government cut off all funding. This is what it could come down to.
If that is what mutual consent means, to establish a national consensus, this bill settles nothing. On the contrary, the version revised by the Minister of Finance is even worse than the initial version, which said: "maintaining national standards, where appropriate". Now, appropriateness is not even in the picture. They will take the agreements signed by the provinces and the federal government and will impose them across Canada, without even giving Quebec a chance to say its two bits.
I must say that this is quite a sensitive issue for Quebecers, as Quebec has been strong-armed many times before, in particular in 1981, by the Prime Minister of the time who was a main player if not the band leader in the patriation of the constitution against Quebec's will, the person responsible for Quebec's isolation.
The national standards contained in Bill C-76, in the part on the Canada social transfer and research, are another example of the Prime Minister of the day strong-arming Quebec. In the history of relations between Quebec and Canada, the Prime Minister has always specialized in strong-arm tactics against Quebec. It is not surprising to see a bill like this one introduced by a Minister of Finance whose boss is the present Prime Minister and a former lieutenant of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
And it comes as no surprise to see another instance of strong arm tactics as the government tries to shove national standards down Quebec's throat, in a sector as crucial as education, when we know that the present Prime Minister led the second attempt to strong arm Quebec which led to the demise of Meech Lake in 1990. He was there with his cellular phone in the hallways on Parliament Hill, conferring with the leader of the opposition in Manitoba, Mrs. Carstairs. He was giving her his instructions on the Meech Lake Accord.
He instructed her to isolate Quebec, to make Quebecers feel they were left out. This comes as no surprise.
We are not surprised but we are amazed that this government is so blatant in its approach. It makes no bones about it. They seem to think there is nothing wrong with calling this flexible federalism: giving the provinces full jurisdiction over areas which belong under their jurisdiction in any case. We are not surprised to see this third instance of strong arming in ten years, but we are surprised to see the government drop any pretence at diplomacy and do this openly, putting everything on the table and saying that if Quebec does not like it, its funding will be cut. That means up to $7 billion could be cut annually, the equivalent of federal transfer payments for the three items I mentioned before.
Whether the government likes it or not, during clause by clause consideration of the bill in the Standing Committee on Finance, there were various representations. I would say that 90 per cent of those from the provinces, with the exception of Quebec, asked for national standards. However, all representations from Quebec, without exception, objected to setting national standards, especially in the ultra sensitive education sector.
Whether people like it or not, whether it was rejected or not in 1990, there is a distinct society in Quebec, and a distinct nation. And this people will never allow English Canada to decide what should constitute the objectives of a pillar of Quebec's cultural future. Never will Quebec permit this sort of policy to be imposed on the province on the pretext of establishing a coast to coast standard in Canada.
Never will we allow Bill C-76 to make Quebec toe the line, as the present Prime Minister has tried to do since 1980, by promising us all sorts of reforms following a "no" vote on Quebec sovereignty, but by doing the opposite. That is, he has worked to Quebec's
disadvantage over the 15 years that followed. We will never agree to Bill C-76 in its present form.
We will never allow the Canada social transfer, which the federal government has already cut by $2.5 billion, to be applied uniformly and despite Quebec's refusal to such sensitive sectors as education. We will never permit the present Prime Minister to continue his dirty deeds against Quebec, which began following the referendum in 1980, continued in 1981 with the patriation of the Canadian constitution, despite the wishes of the National Assembly, and carried on in 1990 in his work against the Meech Lake accord, which did not recognize Quebecers as a distinct people, but simply allowed us the strict minimum, a minor distinction as regards the distinct society.
We will fight the provisions of Bill C-76 with our last ounce of energy, as the purpose of this bill is to isolate Quebec as the Prime Minister has done since his arrival in politics.