First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would like to set the record straight in relation to what the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier in responding to one of my colleagues and have her know that we in Quebec are so much a distinct society that our legislative assembly is called the National Assembly.
This decision was made by federalists who agreed unanimously to change the name of our legislative assembly to National Assembly. Mr. Johnson Sr. was the premier at the time and he had the unanimous consent of the House to do so, which means that Jean Lesage agreed. The separatist PQ party did not even exist back then. This is a matter of tradition that I hope the Deputy Prime Minister will recognize.
There is also the issue of June 24. All over the world, people celebrate midsummer day on June 24. It comes from an old aboriginal custom that we all share; it was being celebrated in countries as far away as Peru, in Machu Picchu, thousands of years ago. So, there is nothing new about celebrating the summer solstice on June 24.
Now, this day is celebrated in many countries around the world in a similar manner; people sing folk songs, dance traditional dances and have fireworks or light bonfires on the beach or in an open field, where there is no beach.
That said, June 24 is also the feast of St. John the Baptist. It is in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, which is almost 2,000 years old, and St. John the Baptist is the saint to whom we pay tribute on that day. However, there is a difference in Quebec's case. Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is Quebecers' national holiday, regardless of their origin.
So, in Quebec, we celebrate the 24th of June. It goes without saying that we do not object to French Canadians outside Quebec celebrating the 24th of June in their own way and in accordance with their culture. We certainly do not object to that. We do not even object to having English Canadians come to Montreal, paying the full fare this time, and celebrate June 24 with us, if they so wish. We have no objection to that.
They can do like I did last year when, for the first time in my 58 years, I came to see for myself what Canada Day means to Canadians. I must say I learned a good lesson in that I truly felt it was English Canada's holiday. I did not feel at home; I did not think it was my holiday. I also found it amusing that, when speakers spoke French and made jokes, nobody laughed. People had to wait for the English version to laugh. I realized that I was
one of the few who could understand jokes in both languages and that people had to wait for the English version to laugh.
What I find even more surprising in the deputy Prime Minister's speech is that, all of a sudden, she starts raving about Canada's francophones and wants to protect them. Let me remind her of some recent events.
It is true that she was just recently appointed Minister of Canadian Heritage and that she may not have had the time yet to become familiar with all the issues and to go through all the documents that could enlighten her about the situation of francophones outside Quebec, among other things. The commissioner of official languages released his report in February 1996, which is rather recently, and he once again came to the conclusion that Canada's official languages policy does not work. The commissioner reminded us that sections 41 and 42, in Part VII of the Official Languages Act, were a dismal failure.
Yet, the heritage minister attended with great pomp the world congress held by Acadians on the Acadian peninsula. She stated loud and clear that the masterpiece of her department and government was an act that was passed when Mr. Bouchard, Quebec's premier, was secretary of State. Yet, the commissioner talks about a dismal failure.
He says that, according to his study, nothing indicates the existence, even after August 1994, of a systematic effort to ensure compliance with section 41 in the restructuring process of the government's institutions and programs, including through a transfer of responsibilities to the provinces or to volunteer organizations.
The commissioner points out that, in fact, this restructuring was sometimes done in a way that reduced, instead of increasing, support to the development of minority official language communities, or recognition of the status and use of French and English.
The commissioner says that the heritage minister's appeal to his colleagues to do their homework as regards sections 41 and 42 of Part VII of the act was made in vain.
So it seems the policy is a failure, at the very moment the Deputy Prime Minister is about to make a 50 per cent cut in subsidies for francophones in Saskatchewan, in the agreement between the francophone community of Saskatchewan and Canada, and also at the very moment the assimilation rate ranges from 10 to 70 per cent. I think that instead of getting emotional and defending francophones or the francophonie or anything that is the slightest bit French, the Minister of Canadian Heritage should sit down at her desk, sign some decent documents and make sure her colleagues promote sections 41 and 42 of the policy I mentioned earlier, a policy that goes back to when the new premier of Quebec was secretary of state under the Mulroney government. Laws may be passed in this Parliament, but people do not care whether they are enforced or not.
To get down to the throne speech, the centrepiece of this government's second session, earlier the hon. member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis was terribly depressed to see that we in the Bloc Quebecois did not understand.
In this document, which is about fifteen pages long-twice as long as the first one, which does not mean it will be more effective-the speech is divided into three parts. Part I is about ensuring opportunity and refers to a strong society, a strong economy. In the next four pages, the government tells us how it intends to make the Canadian economy strong. It says, for instance, that it will double the number of federal summer student jobs. So while the government is laying off 45,000 public servants, all of a sudden it can double the number of student summer jobs. Why? To make sure these students get a cheque with a maple leaf and remember that in the next referendum.
Science and technology. The government promises to take care of that, but it will have to be a quick study, because the Canadian government is way behind. For instance, it has done nothing to protect Canadian culture during the two years it has been in power. I wonder how it will be able to catch up in science and technology, especially where the information highway is concerned.
As for trade, I would love to see how specific the government will be about dealing with the threats aimed by the Americans at all those who trade with Cuba, because this will affect thousands of jobs in Canada.
Finally, several measures have been announced to strengthen our economic framework, including the 1 per cent. The Prime Minister thinks he can, well, not force but at least encourage businesses to spend 1 per cent of their payroll on jobs for young Canadians. That remains to be seen.
As for the second part of the throne speech, which is called ensuring opportunity: security for Canadians, this is a prime example of not practising what you preach. There is all this wonderful stuff down on paper, but you wonder what the government is actually doing to protect the environment. For two years, all the talk about the environment has centred on the Irving Whale , which is still at the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of the Magdalen Islands, and it is still a threat to the ecology and environment of Quebec and Canada.
So what does a government that managed to do nothing for the past two years think it can do in the next two years, when there is an election down the road? It makes you wonder.
As far as personal security is concerned, that is quite an incentive the Canadian government is prepared to provide, when
you realize it is cutting transfer payments and the government says it wants old age pensions based on family income. As for unemployment insurance reform, which everyone objects to, the minister told us yesterday that he would table the same legislation again, with the former minister's promises to amend some very minor clauses that will in no way change the principle of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
Finally, Part III is the most interesting one and also the longest, notwithstanding the hon. member opposite, who said earlier that my colleague was right to remind him it was the present Canadian government that was elected because it said: "Vote for me, and I will never mention the Constitution". It has been doing just that for two years. A bit more than a third of its second throne speech is about just that and, since the cabinet shuffle, the ministers have been heading off in all directions and we are not even able to figure out any more where the government stands on the future of Canada.
However, one thing is that it has acknowledged the 50.4 per cent win, which means it would be prepared to acknowledge a yes victory of 50.1, as we have always said it must. Perhaps the figure could be 50.5, maybe even more. But, and perhaps this is the most interesting aspect of this speech, we might be led to conclude that the Prime Minister could reverse his antidemocratic stand and perhaps accept any outcome in excess of fifty plus one.
It is hard for us to swallow, in the post-referendum context, that the government is informing us that it will be restricting its spending power to some extent with the consent of the majority of the provinces, while diverting-I do not wish to make accusations of fraud, which might be a little too strong-but I do not know what label one can use for taking five billion dollars from someone else's pocket, money that does not belong to you and to which you have not contributed a red cent, appropriating that money and saying: "These five billion dollars belong to me".
That is more or less what they are doing with the unemployment insurance fund. They never put a penny into it, having arranged things so that workers and employers were the ones to contribute to it, and now they are saying: "Thanks so much for having contributed so generously. You have been such good little workers and good little employers that now I am going to take off with the surplus as if it were my own. I am going to reduce my deficit, and it will not show too much". In the meantime, it thinks we are not aware of it and that the people do not know about it.
We are tired of expenditures. In the speech from the throne the government says it is still going to spend on programs; it is going to double things, but for that it will need the approval of the majority of the provinces. Those that do not want to take part can choose the famous course of opting out, so long as they meet the standards. We can see what it means in the case of the transfer payments at the moment, in having to meet health standards with cuts in transfers. The provinces are having to cut back in post-secondary education and in welfare in an effort to meet, with less money, requirements in the area of health first, because they are subject to standards set by someone paying less and less of the bill.
There is another interesting point here, where it reads-I cannot tell you the page number, because it was probably printed quite quickly and they forgot to number the pages, but it is on the second last page of the French version, top paragraph-and I quote:
But as long as the prospect of another Quebec referendum exists, the Government will exercise its responsibility to ensure that the debate is conducted with all the facts on the table, that the rules of the process are fair, that the consequences are clear, and that Canadians, no matter where they live, will have their say in the future of their country.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition tried to find out what the government meant. One minister says it means a cross-Canada referendum, another says it means no such thing. I really wonder what else the government should do to make sure all the cards are on the table, the rules are fair, and the consequences clear.
What did the federal government do during the last two referendums, in 1980 and 1995? It spent many millions; we do not know exactly how much it spent on these two referendums, and we have never been able to find out. As far as clearly outlining the consequences, the federal government told fibs to the people of Quebec, and used scare tactics; first, there was the Brink's episode; then, the elderly were going to lose their pension; troops would leave for God knows where; health care would be jeopardized. The federal government used every trick in the book.
In 1980, all departments joined in a vast propaganda campaign. We were deluged under tons of propaganda extolling Canada, its beauty, greatness, grandeur, wealth, etc.
In 1995, the government went so far as to appoint a minister in charge of the referendum. Many toured Quebec. In 1980, there was the Centre Paul-Sauvé. It could not be used again in 1995 as it had been demolished in the meantime. So instead, they went to Verdun. One must wonder if there is not some hidden symbolism in the fact that Verdun was chosen as the site for a memorable gathering. But that was not enough. A great outpouring of love was organized; from sea to sea, Canadians came to show their love, taking advantage of extremely low fares which were never accounted for by the no committee as election expenses.
Regarding the next referendum, when the government talks about putting all the cards on the table and making sure that the
consequences are known and the rules are fair, one has every right to wonder whether the House will vote a $50 billion budget for the no committee to ensure a victory this time, and give each Quebecer a little something so that, when the time comes to vote, they will remember where the cheque is coming from.
When we witness such things, it is extremely hard to know where the government is going and where it wants to take us. It makes promises and, the very next day, gives us a distinct society which is distinct from nothing at all and is not negotiable, and grants us a veto that gives us very little rights. They speak of a modern and united country. We certainly have a long way to go before we can calls ourselves modern, because our country is bankrupt. It is so easy to declare bankruptcy here that you can do it one day, turn around and start your own business the next day, and nobody will do a thing about it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
People say we have a great country. Of course it is vast. As far as the total area is concerned, it is the largest country in the world since the dismantling of the U.S.S.R. Canada is probably a few square miles larger than the new Russia. But it is a country which does not react to demonstrations. It is a country which does not hear its population; it does not see how much people do not agree with the current policies of the government, it cannot listen to its workers when they say that the new employment insurance is really poverty insurance and they do not want it. It was said from coast to coast that we do not want that program , yet the government still promises to bring back the bill, maybe with a new number and a new title.
I know my time is almost up, but if you look at the first throne speech and at the red book, you can see they amount to several pages of unkept promises. If the past is any indication of the future, this throne speech offers little hope to Canadians, unfortunately.