Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the throne speech. What surprised me most in the throne speech the governor general made yesterday is the way in which the truth was doctored. In the speech from the throne, the government is doctoring the truth when it says that is has honoured its commitments. This is the first comment that came to our minds and it is crystal-clear.
When you examine the speech from the throne, you realize that some of the commitments mentioned in there are somewhat similar to the commitments the federal government made in its inaugural speech, on January 18, 1994. Let us review some of these commitments, one by one. The first commitment made by the government, and it was even mentioned in its platform, was to control the increase of the national debt and to control, through sound management practices, the deficit, year after year.
But, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, to control the annual deficit, the Minister of Finance is not using sound management practices, but rather measures to get out of his responsibilities in terms of public finance. The first of these measures, as we keep telling everyone, is to reduce the deficit by shovelling part of it into the provinces' backyards. These cuts already represent $7 billion in Canada, and almost $2 billion in Quebec, which the provincial government will have to make up for in the next two years.
We also know that, far from controlling the deficit by efficiently managing public finances, the Minister of Finance is stealing the surplus in the unemployment insurance fund, surplus that should reach in the next few years an average of $5 billion a year. What the Minister of Finance is not saying and what does not transpire in the speech from the throne is that the federal government stopped putting money into the unemployment insurance fund several years ago. Since the surplus in the unemployment insurance fund is used for this purpose, I guess we can say that the government is using it as a hidden tax to control the deficit.
Otherwise, the deficit control we were promised in the first speech from the throne and again in yesterday's speech would never come about, because nothing has been done to reduce the deficit in a correct and fair way, through good fiscal management. Nothing has been done to reduce the deficit. This is the first commitment that has not been honoured.
The second commitment that has not been honoured, and we see it again in yesterday's speech from the throne, is the abolition of the GST. The Prime Minister had even made this a major campaign issue in the fall of 1993. The government is dragging its feet. It is searching for a solution to this commitment made by the Prime Minister, and Quebecers as well as Canadians are still waiting for this promise to be fulfilled. So that is another commitment that has not been honoured.
Third commitment. The government is speaking as if it had just arrived in this House.
It says that we need a research and development policy, a policy in the bio-food industry. It says we need a research and development policy because Canada is lagging behind. Canada has been lagging behind for ten years and it has been nearly three years since government members had made this a major issue in the 1993 campaign, even before being elected. I remember the Minister of Finance making a speech in Montreal, as early as 1989, on the
importance of research and development. I remember him saying that year that Canada was lagging behind considerably in this area, which undermined its ability to create in the medium term steady and meaningful jobs.
This government and its spokesperson, the Minister of Finance, are making empty promises. The research and development policy never became reality, the money was never spent, the billion dollars that were promised during the election campaign were never invested, and the government is now telling us in this speech from the throne that it is going to do all that.
What is another commitment from the Liberal government worth when it did not honour its previous commitments in the first half of its mandate? As for the fourth commitment, the government promised to help Montreal get back on its feet. As the Leader of the Opposition was saying this afternoon, Montrealers are still waiting for concrete measures that will help them get out of the slump.
Another commitment, and it struck me as soon as I heard the speech from the throne. Not only have the Liberals not honoured their commitments, but they also have shirked their responsibilities. Regarding the environment, the speech says that "The solutions to many environmental problems lie outside our borders". It is shameful to say such a thing. At the present time, we have a major environmental problem called the raising of the Irving Whale . The Deputy Prime Minister, who recently held the environment portfolio, spent over $12 million on a solution which we knew would fail; now, we have to go back to square one and the whole shoreline of the Magdalene Islands might be polluted. When I see such statements, I am ashamed of this government.
This afternoon, I listened to the Prime Minister. I listened to him religiously since he is the chief of state, the Prime Minister. He urged us to follow up on Canada's success story. He said: "A success which we must continue to build". But on which foundations? The foundations can be found in the throne speech; the first one is national unity. The government wants to continue to build this country by refusing to recognize Quebec's specificity, Quebec's identity, and the existence of a people in Quebec.
The throne speech is nothing but a frame-up; it says that the government wants to entrench the distinct society in the Constitution. But what the Prime Minister does not say, and what the governor general did not say yesterday while speaking on his behalf, is that entrenching an empty shell does not change the fact that it is still an empty shell. This is the kind of distinct society the Prime Minister would eventually like to entrench in the Constitution while trying to convince the other provinces that it would not deprive them of anything. This is what the Prime Minister was saying this afternoon. However what the Prime Minister overlooked is that if that concept does not take away from other provinces and does not offload anything in the provinces' backyards, maybe it means nothing to Quebec. That is what we understood and that is what Quebecers understood last October 30.
Now we see that the Prime Minister did not get that message. Quebecers are no longer looking for symbolism, they want real actions, real measures, a true recognition, and the Prime Minister will not be able to fool them. He asks us to continue building Canada's prosperity on another basis. We find the same thing again in the throne speech on the continuation of jurisdictional fights. What a wonderful program. What a fine perspective. In two different places in the throne speech, they announce that, first of all, the federal government will withdraw from certain areas of jurisdiction it now occupies. We should thank the government, but at the same time, it announces that the measures taken in those areas could be transferred to municipal authorities or to the private sector, that it could bypass the provinces and go directly to those instances.
When the federal government speaks about withdrawing from certain fields, certain areas it now occupies illegitimately, because they are areas of provincial jurisdiction, of Quebec jurisdiction, like occupational training, forestry and mining, it is not offering us a gift. And it is certainly not offering a gift when it says: "Not only do I recognize that I was occupying these areas inequitably, but from now on, I will go over the head of the Quebec government and contact directly its own creations, the municipalities, or I will simply give more power to the private sector in areas falling under Quebec's jurisdiction".
This does not make any sense. We should also thank it for asking us to continue to build on the success of Canada when it more or less says in the throne speech: "From now on, I will continue invading jurisdictions that are exclusively provincial and I will do so with the help of a majority of Canadian provinces".
What it means is that if Quebec, a distinct people, does not want the federal government to implement a Canada-wide program in an area which is its exclusive jurisdiction, it will be isolated if a majority of provinces decide otherwise. This is a way of isolating Quebec. This is what the government calls an invitation to build on this country's success.
The government is also inviting us to continue building this country on the basis of a smaller social security net. Let us not kid ourselves. I almost blew my top when I read that in the speech from the throne. The Governor General started the speech by talking about compassion, he said the government showed compassion. The truth is, this government has shown less compassion that the Conservatives during their nine year rule. Liberals did their utmost to shrink the social security net. How else would you interpret the reform of social programs? How else would you interpret the general dissatisfaction throughout Canada about this reform of
social programs? How else would you interpret this systematic attack against the unemployed?
Quebecers, like Canadians, know that between talk and action, between commitments and what is actually being done, the government has left a large gap, and it will remain during the second part of its mandate.
How could it ask us, ask Quebecers, to continue to build a country on the basis of a systematic squandering of public funds? How can it ask us to continue working within a system which has recently allowed spending $2 billion to buy armoured vehicles in peacetime? We should be grateful that we are at peace. How can we continue building a country which is buying 1,600 antitank missiles at a cost of $23.6 million out of a total program of $230 million in peacetime? Is this the way to success, to continue building a country on the basis of continuing fiscal inequities? We can only repeat that popular phrase: "No thanks".
It is incredible that a government whose spokespersons have been talking about compassion, social justice, fiscal justice and equity for two years, would have come to a point where it refuses to examine the whole system of tax exemptions, a system benefiting mostly large corporations which have the means to take advantage of it. The government readily accepts that Revenue Canada does not even know how much half of the more than 250 such exemptions are costing the federal government. We know the value of about half of these exemptions.
According to the Department of Finance, these exemptions to large businesses cost taxpayers in Quebec and Canada more than $17 billion a year. But for the other part, the other hundred or so exemptions, the finance minister and all the government representatives have systematically refused for the last two years and a half that the House examine their content, their scope, their objectives and their costs. Why? In order to continue to build this country on the flouting of democratic rules. We also say no thanks, Mr. Speaker.
A country where, from the very first pages of the throne speech, the government says that it respects the October 30 verdict and then says: "But if that happens again, we will not respect it, we will not allow Quebecers to choose their future for themselves, we will hold a referendum or a Canada-wide consultation to do that", is a country that does not make any sense. It is a country I have more and more trouble relating to. It is a country that accepts a democratic verdict one day, when it suits it, and at the same time decides, through its political representatives, that, if Quebecers were to decide tomorrow to choose a country for themselves, perhaps it would not recognize this verdict or perhaps it would hold a Canada-wide consultation so that Canadians from the other provinces can determine Quebecers' fate and future.
In conclusion, I was listening to the Prime Minister who was saying earlier, and I quote: "The world sees Canada very much as a real country". I wondered that he meant by that. We never doubted that Canada is a real country. But what the Prime Minister has failed to understand is that, next time, Quebecers will also choose a real country for themselves, a country where they will feel at home, a country where they will not feel increasingly crowded in, for a increasing majority of them, a country that they will also be proud of, a country where values of compassion, fairness and social justice will be expressed in policies on employment, the fight against poverty, economic growth and tax reform. That will be a real country.