Mr. Speaker, despite all of the government's denials and its repetitive tune that it is only a technical bill to establish a department, Bill C-96 in fact broadens the federal government's constitutionally recognized powers.
Bill C-96 broadens the powers assumed by the federal government through its power to spend. For the first time, what the government did in fact do is spelled out on each line of the bill as well as between the lines.
In fact, by establishing this new Department of Human Resources Development, the government eloquently confirms its takeover of the responsibilities and powers that originally lay at the core of provincial accountability under the Canadian Constitution. This core of provincial accountability was undermined only by exceptions that should have been enshrined in the Constitution, be it pensions or unemployment insurance.
Once its foot was in the door, the government threw the door wide open and, through its ever growing spending powers, invaded the place. That is what Bill C-11 is all about.
This bill clearly expresses the centralizing will of a federal government that tries to pass itself off as the chief strategist on human resources development in Canada. It would take over the management, in the broad sense of the word, of the vast area of human resources development.
In a transformed Canada, we can understand the other provinces agreeing to different constitutional arrangements. The problem is that, for Quebec, these arrangements are totally unacceptable; we cannot in any way agree to the wording of Bill C-11 without going against all the constitutional debates that have kept so many generations of Quebecers awake at night.
We respect the fact that the other provinces and the federal government may make different arrangements. Quebec, however, cannot in any way agree to let the federal government assume full control over the area of human resources development, which, in a broad sense, touches on all aspects of social life, including training, youth-as my colleague across the way just pointed out-seniors, children, women, the unemployed and the people with jobs. The fact that it had been made very clear, in an award of the Privy Council for instance, that labour relations comes under the jurisdiction of the provinces did not stop the government from interfering to an extent that considerably exceeded its powers in an area which is the very heart of labour relations, addressing issues such as the hours of work and work week reduction in a study it recently commissioned.
Again, we have no problem with the other provinces looking to make other arrangements, but Quebec, through its deliberating bodies and institutions, unanimously rejected this bill.
Had Kim Campbell, who was the Prime Minister of Canada for a short time, not amalgamated under the same umbrella several social-oriented departments, the federal government would not be in the situation it is today. Probably preparing to launch the kind of reform the Liberal government is carrying out now, former Prime Minister Campbell had acted according to her senior officials' recommendations. I take it that they are the ones who develop policy, because the government has changed but policy has remained the same.
After the former Prime Minister merged several departments, the Liberal government, instead of straightening things out, started where the Conservatives had left off when they were voted out of office, very shortly after the merger took place. It is important to mention this connection.
By merging different departments, none of which had originally been given the powers set out in this act, which was only supposed to make them into one department, the government had the means to carry out its proposed social reform, now abandoned I guess, but whose few aspects that did get implemented certainly hint at the direction the government is taking and will continue to follow.
It is a good idea to read over the main clauses, which caused all the organizations and institutions concerned in Quebec to object. Clause 6 reads as follows:
- The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the development of the human resources of Canada not by law assigned to any other Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada, and are to be exercised with the objective of enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security.
It is understandable that a country may have a problem with the provinces claiming that they have such powers when the central government claims to have the same powers. This is a mess that clearly shows how inefficient Canada is in these areas as compared to other other countries.
This next clause speaks volumes:
For the purpose of facilitating the formulation, coordination and implementation of any program or policy relating to the powers, duties and functions referred to in section 6, the Minister may enter into agreements with a province-
But does it stop there? No. Earlier bills did provide that the minister could enter into agreements with a province. This makes sense.
However, it goes on to say "or a group of provinces". This too makes sense, but again it should be possible for a province that pulls out get compensation for the funds that it would otherwise be denied. As you can see, this is the stuff of constitutional debates. And I read on: "agencies of provinces, financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the Minister considers appropriate".
This clause is far reaching. It indicates the government's firm intention to exercise the power to plan, organize, and control, in other words to manage the human resources development in Canada.
I will read another clause, which complements this one, before moving on to the consequences.
The Commission shall exercise such powers and perform such duties and functions
(a) in relation to unemployment insurance, employment services and the development and utilization of labour market resources, as are required by the Minister or by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament;
Apart from the twisted French, which talks about maximizing human means-as opposed to inhuman means, perhaps-there is much twisting of the Cconstitution.
(b) in relation to other matters, as are required by order of the Governor in Council or by or pursuant to an Act of Parliament.
In short, the unemployment commission can get any power it wants besides those included in its original constituent act, because it is being changed.
With this bill, the federal government will have the means to pursue a centralizing policy, in spite of the soothing remarks made, among others, by the youngest and newest minister, recently sent to the House in a byelection, the member for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville.
Reading the description of the main elements of this bill, one can understand why Quebec institutions, agencies, and bodies are very strongly opposed to this measure. It was to be expected.
On the union front, for instance, a communiqué issued by Henri Massé, the secretary-general of the Quebec federation of labour, reads as follows: "We do not want Ottawa to interfere any longer in this issue or to ignore us in setting parallel structures. Quebec has set up its own preferred partnership structure in that sector, the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre. There is a broad consensus to the effect that Quebec must have sole responsibility over work force adaptation and vocational training policies on its territory, and must consequently patriate the federal budgets allocated to these programs. Even the Conseil du patronat agrees with the unions".
A release from the Canadian Institute of Adult Education reads as follows: "With this bill, the federal government shows a blatant lack of respect for the aspirations of the provinces, particularly those of Quebec in the fields of education and manpower training and development. Indeed, clauses 6 and 20 of the bill-the ones I quoted-leave absolutely no doubt as to the centralizing intentions of the federal government in these sectors".
The Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, which includes all the major partners in Quebec, also strongly condemned this bill.
This is not the first time that the central government attempts to set up a structure in that sector that is similar to the one put in place by Quebec. The federalist Liberal government of Robert Bourassa, through its manpower minister, Mr. Bourbeau, corresponded with Mr. Valcourt who, at the time, wanted to reach various groups and organizations through such a network by awarding lucrative contracts, in an attempt to invade Quebec's jurisdiction.
Mr. Bourbeau who, as I said, is a federalist, strongly opposed such an idea. He said, in 1991: "Quebec does indeed recognize the crying need for it to define its own manpower policies, to establish its priorities with respect to manpower development in close conjunction with its partners in the labour market, and then to set up programs tailored to the needs it has set as priorities and to manage them through an agency that would call for input from those partners".
Mr. Bourbeau continues: "Already, Mrs. McDougall-who was Mr. Valcourt's predecessor-would have liked the Government of Quebec to negotiate an agreement with the federal government, in line with the Canadian labour force development strategy. Personally, I have asked that bilateral negotiations be conducted, in the hope that they would lead to an administrative arrangement under which the federal government would have transferred to Quebec the budgets that it normally allocates to manpower programs, including the moneys taken from the unemployment insurance fund, which come from the contributions of employers and workers". Mr. Bourbeau is referring to correspondence that was exchanged before 1991. What did Mrs. McDougall answer? Barbara McDougall indicated that the federal government was linking Quebec's claims with what? With the constitutional review process.
This exchange of correspondence forms the very substance of Bill C-11. The current federal government, instead of respecting Quebec's will, is proceeding unilaterally like none of the previous governments had dared to.
They indeed followed in the steps of the Conservatives, but they did even worse, like in many areas such as in the reform of social programs.
Further on, what does Mr. Bourbeau say about the groups, organizations or persons with whom the central government wanted to enter into agreements? He says this: "I understand now that the employment and immigration commission has decided not to follow up on the agreements I had made with the previous holder of the employment and immigration portfolio. Indeed, your commission is offering to so-called co-ordination groups grants for all kinds of projects directly or indirectly related to manpower training. Those co-ordination groups are employer associations, community groups, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, educational institutions."
He adds: "These projects are questionable. These initiatives, contrary to the commitments made, contribute to creating new groups or to expanding the mandate of existing groups". And he concludes: "This is doing indirectly what the government had made a commitment not to do directly".
He adds further on: "All objective observers find that Canada and Quebec are falling disturbingly behind compared with our main competitors". That was in 1991; we are now in 1996, and the Liberal federal government, instead of dealing with the problem and solving it, keeps on procrastinating, even after the referendum where, short of 52,000 votes only, Quebec did not achieve sovereignty.
The general outcry in Quebec, far from being surprising, is the result of a historical movement that cannot be stopped. However, how did the human resources development committee react to these pressures from Quebec? Let me give you an example. I asked that major institutions, major representatives of Quebec be heard on this issue. The committee refused. What groups were these? The Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, which includes representatives of the business sector, unions, citizens' committees, municipalities and government. The Canadian Institute of Adult Education was another. The Quebec employment development minister also asked to appear before the committee, and labour organizations, the Association des manufacturiers du Québec, the Fédération des professeurs d'université, the Mouvement Desjardins, among others, have made the same request. The committee refused.
At the second reading stage, I moved an amendment in the House which said this: "That all words following the word 'That' be deleted and replaced with the following: 'this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-96, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, because the principle of the bill includes no provision requiring the minister, as part of that person's powers, to award full and entire financial compensation to any province wishing to exercise, fully and alone, jurisdiction over human resources development"'.
Had the government been willing to send a positive message in the aftermath of the referendum, it was easy to do so. It could have recognized in this bill the right to opt out in this matter which is constitutional in nature as I have demonstrated.
The new throne speech, the one delivered on February 27, does not leave any doubt about the intent of the government. What does the Prime Minister say in the throne speech? "The government will not use its spending power to create new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction without the consent of a majority of the provinces". Any new program will be designed so that non-participating provinces will be compensated, provided they establish equivalent or comparable initiatives in a provincial area of jurisdiction". Is that what the so-called spirit of decentralization of this central government is all about?
Given the way this bill was drafted and designed, it cannot be effectively amended, since it deals with constitutional issues, except through the amendment that we put forward at second reading and that was negatived by a majority in the House.
We are dealing here with an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, but the government flatly refuses to recognize this exclusive jurisdiction. It is turning its spending power into a legal and legislative power in order to interfere without considering the rights of the provinces. Nowhere in the various acts establishing the former departments that were consolidated was the right of the central government to reach agreements with stakeholders other than the provinces recognized. There is something in the vocational training legislation, but the government only undertakes to consult the provinces, nothing more.
That augurs ill. Despite its expressed will to recognize the right of the provinces, the federal government is giving itself a lot of leeway in the bill concerning unemployment insurance reform, except in one very narrow area, that is the vocational training field, which is already under Quebec's jurisdiction.
Time and time again, we have had some very troubling discussions in this House, where the Prime Minister himself, after showing some openness where labour training and adjustment are concerned, changed his mind. He very clearly stated on several occasions that Canada would not eliminate the so-called proactive measures, such as the labour adjustment measures.
It was only during a scrum, after several days of heated exchanges in this House, that, recognizingd the consensus in Quebec, the Minister of Human Resources Development asked to reopen negotiations. But what he had said before did not leave us with much hope.
I would add that, as it is, the bill gives the government the power to do as it pleases in the provinces' jurisdiction with the money collected from workers and businesses and, in some cases, with everybody's money. It will be up to the government to decide if there is an agreement, as we all deeply wish, but also to decide for how long and in what specific area the agreement will apply.
In view of all other areas covered by the name of this Department of Human Resources Development and of the way the clauses are formulated, the central government will be able to interfere in these areas on account of its spending power.
This has not been often stated in this House, but the spending power is not entrenched in the Constitution. I still have to use this word. While the efficiency of this program could be ensured in Quebec through coordination and management, control and planning by our own institutions and maximizing scarce resources, the funds are not used in the most efficient way because, at least in Quebec, the central government insists on being the one to plan, organize, manage and control.
Indeed, the government can say that it will sign contracts with this group, this organization or that person. The government is the one to decide the terms of the contract. This is a most efficient and rigorous way of setting national standards. The government will decide which needy group will get some money, regardless of the strategy, priorities and conditions set by Quebec. This is nonsense.
I read earlier a letter from 1991 referring to discussions with Mrs. McDougall that go back well before that date. As you can see, Quebec is not moving forward but backwards, because, in 1991, Mr. Valcourt did not dare to go ahead in spite of Quebec's opposition. He did not dare ignore the agreement in place.
Unfortunately, we must face the fact that Canadian federalism, since its inception, has always developed in the same direction, that of centralization. Again, it is quite possible and understandable, and we have nothing against it, that the other provinces and the central government decide to do things differently. If the other provinces do not care about what is in the Constitution, as long as they find the agreements adequate, it is fine by us.
I often noticed that the other provinces do not feel threatened by the central government. For instance, they did not feel threatened when the government passed Bill C-28 in 1994. I am sure that this legislation can be challenged under the Constitution because it enables the central government to designate those who will set out the conditions for granting scholarships to students. This has very substantial implications on the type of students that will enrol in
colleges and universities, i.e. those who can afford to study. It is a very serious issue for the provinces, but they did not protest.
The right of withdrawal became much more stringent, new conditions were added to it; the Bloc Quebecois objected to these conditions, but the provinces did not protest. That the central government or a financial institution can designate those who will set out the conditions that the students will have to meet in order to get a scholarship, I can respect that, but in Quebec, it cannot work this way.
In this bill, there was an historical recognition of Quebec's right to opt out with compensation. This right is nowhere to be seen in the bill. In Bill C-96, the government gives itself the power to decide alone how the Department of Human Resources will use the money. With the groups, there is no condition, no consultation. The government decides.
We are even a long way from the situation at the beginning of the 1960s. I have done so already, but I will read one more time the conclusions of a document presented by René Lévesque at the January 1966 federal-provincial conference on poverty. I will go over it rapidly in conclusion.
Here is what it said: "The establishment of a real economic and social development policy is now urgent. This policy must be integrated, flexible in its application and provide for a social security system centered on the family and based on the right to assistance suited to the needs. For efficiency and constitutional reasons, the Government of Quebec is the only one which can and should, within its territory, conceive and implement such a policy. Consequently, Quebec cannot accept that the Government of Canada assume this responsibility. Quebec does not, however, exclude interprovincial cooperation and mutual consultation".
Mr. Lévesque went on to say: "The economic and social development policy that we are developing will integrate a social policy, a regional development policy, a manpower policy, a health policy, a housing policy, a job training policy", and we could say a human resources development policy. "All these policies have not been described in this document, but it is important to indicate in these conclusions that we intend to use them all as a means of meeting our objectives.
"This comprehensive policy will not necessarily be in line, in its spirit and its application, with one the Government of Canada might opt for, but it will not necessarily go against it. However, the advantages that the people of Quebec will get from this policy will at least be equal, for efficiency and constitutional reasons, to those other Canadians might enjoy".
We have gone back a very long way from this statement of principle and from this description of a plan by a federalist provincial government. We have gone back a very long way. Bill C-11 is totally unacceptable, it cannot be amended, and that is why, besides wishing that a new referendum on Quebec sovereignty be held soon, I propose this morning an amendment to the motion for third reading to have the bill withdrawn and the subject matter referred to a committee.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following:
"Bill C-11, An Act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts, be not now read a third time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject-matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development."