Mr. Speaker, it is so interesting today, on November 7, to be discussing the throne speech delivered on February 27, 1996. While we suspected that what the government was announcing was mostly window dressing, we are now certain of that.
Let me briefly remind you that the throne speech delivered by the governor general, on behalf of the government, had three major themes: a strong economy, the security of Canadians, and a modern and united country. One might say that it was wishful thinking on the part of the Prime Minister.
We were just told again how strong the economy is. A major problem in this country, and not only in Quebec, is that a very large number-in fact an increasing number-of citizens do not think the recession is over, do not think Canada is the best country in the world, because life for them has become harder and their hopes have been diminishing.
What about the security of Canadians and Quebecers? This government managed to reduce its deficit, but who paid, who is paying and who will continue to pay? It is those who could least afford to do so, and it will continue to be these people. We can never say it enough: had it not made substantial cuts to unemployment insurance and social transfers, the performance of this government would not be the same, because this is where it took most of the money used to reduce the deficit.
Let me also remind you that we had two successive UI reforms, and that the government was elected by promising "jobs, jobs, jobs". But what did the government actually do? Its main initiative was to cut unemployment insurance and social transfers.
As for jobs, over 870,000 jobs would be needed to now have the equivalent of the number of people employed in 1990. A drop in the participation rate is a major reason for the lower unemployment rate. This is nothing to be proud of, since it not only means there are fewer people working, but there are also fewer people looking for work. These people did not all go back to school.
The result of these successive cuts to unemployment insurance is, and this bears pointing out, that in 2001 unemployment insurance benefits will drop by $1.2 billion in Quebec alone. These are official figures from Employment and Immigration, which has now become Human Resources Development, and the way it looked to me yesterday will become the Social Union Department. This means that those who are unemployed, in regions where unemployment is high, are helping to reduce the deficit. The regions and the people least able are contributing the greatest share.
What about the Canada social transfer? I would remind viewers that for years now we have been saying that we have seen fewer concrete investments, fewer research and development investments and less routine spending by the federal government in Quebec. Since the Conservatives dared to give the CF-18 contract to Canadair, the only other investment we have seen, accompanied by much fanfare, was an $87 million loan, which our colleagues beside us are still going on about.
They say we are irritated because we have more than our share of people on unemployment and welfare and what we want are concrete investments. But they cannot even say that any more because the more cuts we see to unemployment insurance and welfare, the less so-called interregional subsidization there is. This is true for Quebec and also for the Maritimes, and I have never been afraid to say so. The Maritimes voted largely Liberal. The first reaction was deep cuts, followed by more cuts.
If there are members here who think that people must not be helped out of dependence, I am certainly not one of them. But if dependency is going to be reduced, communities must have something concrete.
The Canada health and social transfer is replacing what for years had been a kind of redistribution among poor and rich provinces in order to provide minimum living standards in all regions. It does not give them all the same resources with regard to education, health or welfare. Since their inception, these subsidies have been steadily declining. However, since the 1995 announcement, they have dropped substantially: seven billion dollars over two years. Of this seven billion cut, Quebec is absorbing more than a quarter because it has more than its share of people on welfare.
The worst part about this so-called social union is that from now on whenever there is an increase in the number on the welfare roll, which is bound to happen, there will be no increase in financial assistance. The average citizen believes that the recession is not over and that another one is lurking on the horizon. It might not happen next year, but it will one day.
In spite of all the rosy forecasts that the Canadian economy is on the upswing, our growth rate is only 1 per cent. A one per cent growth rate is not very far from zero growth. We are bound to enter another recessionary period, maybe in two years, and more people will be on welfare again. Who will pay for the increased numbers on the welfare roll? Quebec will, because it will receive no special assistance, and the other poor provinces.
When we hear the federal government talk about social union and preserving the social safety net, and in the same breath, congratulating itself on the success of its deficit reduction program, we cannot help but feel extremely angry. In fact, in the current context, the cuts in the unemployment insurance and the Canada health and social transfer make life harder for the unemployed, who depend on government assistance. This is even more shocking and frustrating as these cuts caused directly by the Canada health and social transfer and indirectly by the cuts to unemployment insurance must be made by the provinces.
The cuts that are caused directly by the Canada health and social transfer, and indirectly by cuts to unemployment insurance, must be implemented by the Quebec government. Whether it is in the
area of education, health or welfare, putting an end to these subsidies will have serious effects.
The third part of the throne speech speaks about a modern and united country, but since social conditions have seriously deteriorated and nothing has been done for the recognition of the people of Quebec, of the nation of Quebec, I feel the speech from the throne is, at best, an exercise in fantasy.
I know that what I am saying might seem outrageous, but if some members here think that the situation we have had to put up with in Quebec is not extremely outrageous, they should think again. Since January, since the Liberal caucus, instead of a government which would make a place, a real place for Quebec and not merely enshrine a phoney distinct society in the Constitution when it cannot even be enshrined at present, a distinct society which we do not want and which is irrelevant to us, what did we get? We had to put up with a series of hidden, open, direct and indirect threats.
The only purpose of plan B, which we could say is called plan B after the billy club or the baseball bat, is to frighten us, to try to convince Quebecers they should not seek to become sovereign. The intent is not to make them feel better, to make a place for them, to give them some dignity in this country, but rather to frighten them. We know that, throughout history, this tactic has never worked.
Recently, probably because there is in election coming, they came up with plan A-"A" as in "attract"-a plan with little or no substance really. What is it all about? About entrenching the concept of distinct society in the Constitution and, to use the new terminology, creating a Canadian social union.
The Minister of Human Resources Development spoke in generous terms in his speech yesterday, but did not include Quebec in any way. Like the initiative taken by Ontario at the Jasper conference, this shows that Canadians, Quebecers excluded, want to renew Canada. I think it is great that Canadians discuss between themselves how their country could be run better and how social policies are managed. But one thing is clear: there is nothing in there for Quebec. Not only is there nothing for Quebec, but the two movements that have been developing for years: a movement for Canada's renewal by the provinces and a movement, which is getting stronger and stronger, of Quebecers that recognize themselves and want to be recognized as a people and a nation. These two movements are going in opposite directions.
But every basis for recognition is there. It is all there, except for one thing: recognizing Quebec as a people and a nation, so that the Canadian provinces looking to reorganize their country to their liking-and this is both desirable and necessary-can do so without Quebec getting in the way, while Quebec gets reorganized on its own terms, with full powers, without Canada getting in the way, and that both countries can share the same economic space as well as other aspects, if they so agree.
Therein lies the real future, beyond the speeches made here. The truth, even when hard to take, must help us understand each other. It must prevail and allow us to create conditions whereby all of us will work at what is essential and urgent, at what our young people want, whether in Canada or in Quebec.
We will soon no doubt hear another speech from the throne. How soon? I do not know. Certainly before the next election. One thing is certain though: we will keep a close eye, as you know, on what the government does about the needs of Quebecers. We will continue to say, not only for the good of Quebec but also, and we are convinced of that, for the good of Canada, that there is only one way to finally build a future that will allow us, in Canada and in Quebec, to respect and to help each other, and that is through Quebec's sovereignty.