Mr. Speaker, can I count on the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands' friendly support? It would motivate me in my presentation. I would have liked to speak to a bill more concerned about fighting poverty.
On my way to the House from my office, I was thinking that, instead of recycling Bill C-96, a bill that was roundly condemned by just about everyone in Quebec, the Minister of Human Resources Development would have enjoyed greater support from us if he had tabled a bill with two objectives.
The first objective would have been to take steps to fight poverty and the second one, to give back to Quebec some 25 manpower training programs duplicating provincial initiatives in this area, because $250 million is being wasted or not used as efficiently as possible.
Why talk about poverty in 1996? Why should we, as members of Parliament, talk about poverty when the minister is about to put forward a centralizing bill? May I remind you that, by and large, government members took little notice of the annual report tabled a few days ago by the National Council of Welfare, which-I think it is important to remember this-pointed out that, globally, the number of poor people in society is not going down.
The government majority may act as though this was not an issue but, for all those with a social conscience-and God knows that includes the opposition-the fact is that even though people in our society are living longer, the poverty rate is rising.
In Canada, poor people-that is to say those who have to spend 56 per cent of their income on basic necessities, such as food, clothing and housing-according to Statistics Canada, are considered as such when they live in a large urban center and have to spend 56 per cent of their income on clothing, food and housing.
Looking at poverty rates in Canada, while 15 per cent of the population was living under the poverty line in the 1980s, 14 years later, 16.6 per cent of Canadians are still living in extremely difficult conditions and can be considered as poor.
Why did the minister and his government not look into this matter? Let me remind the House that the National Welfare Council prefaced its remarks by saying-I realize that some parliamentarians may not like to hear this, but let us nonetheless bear in mind the opening line of the council's press conference and related press release, which said: "Governments should add combatting poverty to the list of immediate economic priorities".
When was the last time we heard any member of this cabinet protest against the fact that such a situation is tolerated in a society like ours, where resources are plentiful, new production technologies available and a gross national product of about $750 billion? Why is this situation being tolerated? How can this government allow that? In philosophical terms, it means something to be a liberal. But what did these Liberals do, those Liberals who, in the 1960s, were calling upon us to live in a just society, an increasingly just society? What does it mean for this Liberal government, in
1996, to live in a just society, an increasingly just society, when poverty rates are allowed to raise as high as 16 per cent?
The National Council of Welfare which, as we will see later, the government is about to muzzle with Bill C-11, tells us that 4.8 million people live at the poverty level. It must be understood that poverty, like other phenomena in our society, is not evenly spread.
Single parents are hardest hit. Three times out of four, it is the woman who is alone, often in difficult conditions, to raise her family. The reality is that, in 67 per cent of the cases, it is these women who are hit hard and who suffer from poverty.
Mr. Speaker, you may wonder what these comments have to do with Bill C-11. As you know, since I became a member of this House, I never allowed myself to be out of order. The connection is the following: had the minister taken a good look at the situation, he would have realized that we cannot afford to have two levels of government investing in programs which are similar in many respects.
Let me just give you the example of Quebec. Quebec employment minister Louise Harel, who happens to be the MNA for my riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, told us during the last referendum campaign that the province of Quebec alone spends $10 billion on its labour market policies. If you take the Quebec territory for the purpose of this comparison, relatively speaking this is more than what is invested by all OECD countries.
As you can see, the problem is not a lack of money. Considerable resources are allocated to labour market programs. The problem is the duplication of resources.
The minister is asking us to pass a bill which, for all intents and purposes, seeks to allow federal involvement in areas over which this government has no mandate. Try for a moment to imagine one of the 33 Fathers of Confederation coming back here and trying to understand what provision of the Constitution Act gives this government the authority to get involved in the area of labour or manpower.
Yet, if we were to accept this bill, the human resources branch would get involved, as it does unfortunately too often, in income security, post-secondary education, social welfare and student loans.
On the train earlier this week I read-maybe you heard about it because I know you have a sharp mind and that nothing escapes you in social matters-the Fortin report, which was commissioned by Quebec's minister of income security. The economist Pierre Fortin is not a research officer for the Bloc. Moreover, he has never declared himself in favour of sovereignty. You will be surprised, but even more disappointed, to see the analysis made in the Fortin report. I take the liberty of quoting from it, with the consent of my colleagues.
Part of the report reads as follows: "The federal government has already reacted to its own financial crisis in several ways. Of course, as we very well know, the federal government's debt is rather astronomical, and its deficit out of control". It goes on to say: "Three federal measures directly affect income security in Quebec. First, access to unemployment insurance benefits has been reduced in 1990, 1993 and 1994". In fact, Mr. Fortin should or could have gone even further back to 1988, when the unemployment insurance program was first attacked by the now infamous Conservatives.
The report reads: "For the year 1996-97, a cumulative reduction of 15 per cent of transfers to provinces under the CHST has been announced. Third, the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan in 1996 has been announced". Hon. members will remember that, under CAP, Ottawa used to share the cost of welfare programs fifty-fifty with the provinces. The most interesting part in this report is that it estimates that the federal retrenchment-in other words, the kind of policy being adopted here with regard to unemployment insurance-will create a very heavy burden for Quebec because 70,000 households will go onto income security if the bill is not amended. The direct and indirect costs of this will not translate into a deficit, but into unforeseen expenses of $1 billion for the province. All of this, because of the offloading the federal government is doing. That is how harmful this system is.
In a system such as this, it is getting extremely difficult, even for the best Quebec government-and I think Quebec has a pretty good government right now-to plan effectively and to abide by its budgetary decisions, because the federal government can at any moment, without prior notice and without negotiating anything, wreak havoc with Quebec public finance. That is exactly what happened during the last three recessions.
As many have said before and as the hon. member for Mercier put it so eloquently, this bill which the government side wants us to pass is unanimously opposed. It is hard to think of another bill that brought together, in a unanimous show of displeasure, the employers, the unions, and various associations and co-ops.
What I am saying is so true that the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, a lawyer by profession-not his best quality, but then it was his choice-will perhaps want to raise a question of order at the end of my speech to have this document tabled. Should that be the case, I would be glad to table a resolution concerning the first version of this bill, numbered C-96, adopted by the Société
québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, whose work the hon. member from Kingston may be following.
Pursuant to this unanimous resolution, the tripartite board of the Société, made up of representatives from the unions, the employers and the Quebec government, is asking the federal government to take a very praiseworthy initiative, which meets the consensus reached in Quebec, and to give back to the province about 25 programs it currently manages.
This is no small achievement when a non-political organization, authorized and mandated by the government of Quebec to review the labour market policies, has its board, where the Bloc is not represented of course, pass a unanimous resolution to urge the federal government to give back the areas of jurisdiction related to manpower.
What are we seeing instead? How can the human resources minister be so insensitive, ill-advised and confused as to fail to recognize that by passing and supporting Bill C-11, we would thoroughly not only violate Quebec's interests but a consensus, which is a sacred thing in democracy.
If all this was only academic, there would be no reason for concern. These would only be rhetoric debates that would have nothing to do with the day-to-day life of our fellow citizens.
Here are some of the consequences resource duplication in the management of labour training programs can have. First, as it is now well known, there are 25 manpower training programs in Ottawa and 25 others in Quebec.
When his party was in power in Quebec, former minister Bourbeau, a Liberal, estimated that human resource duplication costs us $275 million that could be put to a better use.
Even more dramatic is the fact that the system's inconsistency is such that, at this very moment, people really need help, really need training. You know full well that, as we near the year 2000, more and more the jobs that will be created will require 13, 14 or 15 years of schooling. This is a fact.
My father, who is almost 60, worked all his life for the same company. He succeeded in earning his life, supporting his family and making his children happy, but he spent all his working years with only one company.
I am only 33 years old, or rather I will be on May 13, and I already have three careers to my name. It is said that in the year 2000, people will accumulate five careers. That is why continuing education is so vital. It is not true that once you have a university degree or a technical of vocational diploma you will have the same job for all your working life without having to go through adjustment periods. On the contrary, nobody, in the young generation, can think that he or she will have only one employer for all his or her life.
We will be committing a sin, a crime if we do not establish a manpower training system that is more rational, more coherent, and is based on the single-window concept.
This is so true that, at this very moment, there are approximately 25,000 people on the waiting lists in Quebec. There are 25,000 people in Quebec who, at different levels, need to improve their skills, who need to acquire experience, who need guidance services, but who are deprived of this resource, who are deprived of the assistance to which they are entitled because the system is inefficient.
You will ask: "Yes, but did the minister learn the lesson?" No, this minister is stubborn. This minister is looking ahead without concerning himself with what is going on in his environment. All Liberals are not like him, but I must say a majority of them seems to be of that type.
We can only wish, and anybody in their right mind would agree, that the minister will realize that the best thing that can happen to Quebec is that he changes his mind, that he does not authorize, as proposed in Bill C-11, various bodies which do not represent the Government of Quebec to obtain mandates directly from the Department of Human Resources Development, that he respects Quebec's jurisdiction and that he contributes.
He would become famous should he accept to put an end to duplication and work towards the establishment of a single window, as he has been asked to do by Quebec's Minister of Employment and Concerted Action, Louise Harel. This would ensure a more productive use of the resources that are available in the system, because it is absolutely wrong to suggest a lack of resources as an excuse. That is the challenge facing a minister who has been too stubborn until now.