My speech today deals with third reading of Bill C-11, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, and with the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Mercier to withdraw this legislation.
For the benefit of our listeners, let me point out that this bill was debated at second reading during the first session of this 35th Parliament. We resume the debate where we left it before the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament, last January.
First, a general comment must be made regarding this legislation. The government wants to change its administration and reduce its size and costs. This in itself is a laudable goal. Consequently, it merges, eliminates or creates new departments, which means that legislation is required to legalize the situation of several ministers and departments. Indeed, several ministers were sworn in under the former names of their department, not the new ones.
I did an intellectual exercise which was meant to be objective, even though objectivity is always subjective. I examined certain documents dealing with this bill, I reread several speeches made in this House at second reading, when the bill was known as Bill C-96, and I took a look at a few letters and memos released by colleagues, organizations and ministers.
What I noticed was a great deal of consistency. With his bill, the minister has managed, as have many ministers in this government, to unite everyone against him. Let us take a closer look at what some have said or written about this legislation.
First and foremost, Quebec's employment minister who, on October 4, 1995, issued a communique indicating that the Government of Quebec was associating itself "with its labour market partners to oppose the designs of Ottawa on the issue of manpower". The minister was echoing the position taken by the board of directors of the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, which includes major employer associations and unions, as well as representatives of the co-operative, community and academic world. That same morning, the corporation had issued a statement indicating its unanimous rejection of this piece of legislation. At that time, Mrs. Harel, the minister, wrote: "This bill is the very opposite of the consensus on manpower in Quebec, the opposite of the single window principle. This proves that Ottawa is committed to continuing and even increasing its costly duplication and overlap in the area of manpower in Quebec".
The next day, October 5, 1995, the Canadian Institute of Adult Education also issued a press release, entitled: "Bill C-96: Minister Axworthy's Blueprint for Society or How to Manage Without the Provinces". Today, six months later, the institute could issue the same release except for two things: the bill has changed numbers and is now called Bill C-11, and the minister responsible now is the one who was then the transport minister, before the Prime Minister did a major cabinet shuffle last January.
Here are a few excerpts from this press release which is still relevant today: "This bill seriously undermines the equity principle governing the social security system in Canada and denies the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces over manpower training and development. With this bill, the federal government has demonstrated a blatant lack of respect for the aspirations of the provinces.-Clauses 6, 20 and 21 leave no doubt as to the centralizing designs of the federal government".
Two days later, on October 7, 1995, Henri Massé, then secretary general of the FTQ, a labour confederation representing nearly half a million workers in Quebec, signed a press release describing the dangers of federalism and urging the government to refrain from intruding into the field of manpower training in Quebec. The FTQ cautioned the federal government about any attempt to intervene in areas of provincial jurisdiction and to set up parallel structures.
He went on to say: "There is a strong consensus favouring Quebec's becoming solely responsible for policies on manpower adjustment and occupational training within its borders.-The Conseil du patronat itself agrees with the unions on this.-Even Robert Bourassa's Liberal government opposed a similar move by Ottawa in 1991".
Mr. Massé then pointed out that the bill will confer extensive powers to the minister who could always bypass the provinces. Finally, Mr. Massé concluded that: "This bill leaves the door wide open for privatization and contracting-out of certain programs, including the unemployment insurance plan".
On November 28, the very same day that Bill C-96 was to be voted on in this House, the Minister of State for Joint Action, Minister of Employment and Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the Parizeau government sent out yet another press release saying, and I quote: "Bill C-96-now Bill C-11-is a fraud and it confirms the federal government's intentions to systematically bypass Quebec's jurisdiction and institutions to maintain, and even increase, duplication regarding manpower related measures in our province, under the guise of decentralization".
It goes on to say: "Bill C-96 amounts to a flat rejection of the unanimous Quebec consensus to the effect that the federal government must completely withdraw from the manpower sector and give related budgets back to the province.- Ottawa's tactic was formally condemned by all labour market partners. Ottawa has confirmed it intends to pursue its centralist manpower policy and ignore the specific needs of the Quebec labour market, thus dismissing the consensus in Quebec on manpower issues which stresses the need to fight unemployment effectively by allowing for the differences in the various labour markets across Quebec and
promoting the involvement of the socio-economic players in every region and community".
So, based on these brief reactions and comments and since I do not have much time, I have come to the conclusion that, with this bill, the federal government is far from withdrawing from the manpower sector. On the contrary, it is getting more involved. And what worries me is that the minister in inconspicuously using this bill to give himself even greater powers at the expense of the provinces.
The basic points of the bill are reflected in certain clauses. The powers, duties and functions of the minister are defined in clause 6, which stipulates:
- 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 another 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.
Under legislation now in force, the powers of the minister deal with the creation, implementation and organization of human resources in Canada, placement services, unemployment insurance and immigration.
Since these parameters have been left out of the bill now before us, the phrase "all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction" is most disquieting.
Certain clauses give the minister the authority to entrust whomever he wants with the management of his department's policies and programs without having to discuss this with anybody, including Parliament.
To conclude, this bill is a sinister manoeuver but the official opposition has not been taken in. With this bill, Ottawa wants to gain full control over the labour market policy and human resources development in Quebec. We say no to this bill, which is one more reason for Quebec to separate.