Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka, who just spoke, for sharing his time with me.
Today, I address this House, and the Bloc Quebecois, as a French speaking person living outside Quebec.
Canada is the most decentralized of all modern federations. During the sixties, a series of agreements between the federal and Quebec governments triggered a decentralization process, and it was not necessary to amend the Constitution. These changes have allowed Quebec to extend its jurisdiction to areas that traditionally came under federal jurisdiction. Examples of this are the selection of immigrants and the fact that Quebec is represented at the Francophonie summit as a participating government.
In a study prepared for the Bélanger-Campeau Commission, professor Edmond Orban, an expert on federalism, said that "the autonomy of Canadian provinces and their possibilities are, in fact, relatively greater than that of the German Länders and particularly the Swiss cantons".
Mr. Parizeau himself said the following when he was a Quebec minister and delivered a speech at the University of Edinburgh:
"And because rather often in Canada we tend to talk of the abusive centralized powers of Ottawa, we tend to forget that in reality, Canada is highly decentralized". This quote is from the Globe and Mail of December 9, 1977.
In light of this evolution of the Canadian federation, and in line with the changes already made, the government pledged to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the various levels of government, so as to modernize the federation and make it more respectful of the provinces' priorities and areas of jurisdiction.
Building a federation that is more receptive to the needs of its citizens and better adapted to the realities and challenges of our era is our government's goal.
The measures announced in the throne speech seek to implement the commitments made by the government to improve relations between the federal and provincial governments, including Quebec, and to truly modernize the federation.
Canadians want their country to work. They want the various levels of government to be effective and to perform their respective roles.
The federal government has already brought about important changes. It will continue to do whatever is necessary to achieve this modernization, in co-operation with the provinces and with all the people of Canada.
The government has promised, on the one hand, to undertake a retooling of the federation on four fronts, and, on the other, to limit its spending power. The plan is as follows: first, the government intends to withdraw from certain fields of activity, such as manpower training, forestry, mining, and recreation, and to transfer responsibility to local or regional authorities or to the private sector.
Second, the involvement of the federal government is no longer necessary in certain sectors. The federal government will therefore transfer management of these sectors to other levels of government or to the private sector.
I see, Mr. Speaker, that you are replacing the Speaker of the House. This is perhaps a first, having a member of the Bloc Quebecois occupy the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons.
To continue what I was saying, this is the case for part of the transportation infrastructure. Operational control of transportation systems and facilities, now a federal responsibility, will be transferred to local and private groups. Thus, we will reduce the cost, and the services provided will address Canada's real transportation needs.
Third, in a spirit of increased co-operation with the provinces and greater respect for provincial jurisdiction, the government intends to work with the provinces to find new forms of co-operation and co-management in certain fields, such as environmental management, social housing, food inspection, tourism, and freshwater fish habitat. The government will also explore the possibility of setting up a Canadian securities commission, thus ending the proliferation in that sector.
However, such initiatives will not be introduced unless a number of provinces express an interest. As well, participation is voluntary.
Fourth, the government intends to ensure greater harmonization of federal and provincial policies.
All these measures have as a goal the harmonization of federal and provincial initiatives, thus eliminating overlap. They will mean significant savings and more efficient services to the public.
No doubt the most eloquent example of the government's intention to respect provincial jurisdiction is our intention to limit the federal government's spending power in co-financed programs that come under provincial responsibility.
The federal government will not use its spending power to create new co-financed programs without the consent of the majority of the provinces. Provinces setting up and providing equivalent programs will be compensated.
This is an unprecedented initiative on the part of the federal government, which, for the first time ever, is acting on its own initiative to limit its spending power, unequivocally, and outside constitutional negotiations.
The federal budget for 1996-97 consolidates the government's initiatives and intentions in this regard. Measures proposed give effect to the government's commitment to assume its fiscal responsibilities and reduce the deficit to two per cent of the gross domestic product for 1997-98 through ongoing reduction of its expenditures.
The government is also providing long term predictable and increasing funding to the provinces for social programs under the Canada health and social transfer. What is more, the 1996 budget, like the previous one, contains no tax increase.
In addition to these measures, the budget confirms the federal government's commitment not only to spend less but to spend better. In fact, the creation of agencies like the Canada Revenue Commission is part of the federal strategy to modernize the federation and to better define the respective responsibilities of the various levels of government.
This government has made every effort to lay a solid foundation by bringing the deficit under control, avoiding tax increases, cutting red tape, and rationalizing government services to Canadians. Its priorities remain job creation, economic prosperity and stable social programs. Achieving these goals involves modernizing and reinforcing the economic and social union that brings all Canadians together.
We also firmly believe that changing the way the federation works, improving federal-provincial relations, and bringing all
Canadians closer to the decision making process will eliminate the need for another referendum on secession and the break-up of this country.
This government has resolutely embarked on a co-operation-based process of change. These are the values that will guide Canada and help it take on with confidence the challenges of the 21st century. The measures and initiatives put forward by this government will open a new chapter in federal-provincial relations by emphasizing open-mindedness and dialogue.
The process of change under way is part of an aggressive action plan put in place by the Canadian government. It clearly shows that the federal government wants to be pragmatic and that it is not the great centralizing force portrayed by the official opposition.
Canada is a success story, although we agree that our federation needs some changes. We are ready to take up the challenge, to roll up our sleeves and to get down to work, but we need the co-operation of all our Canadian partners. We sincerely hope that the Quebec government will be open-minded and agree to act as a full-fledged partner of Canada and work with our government to modernize the Canadian federation. That was what Quebecers told their provincial government on October 30.
We must continue to build this country and make it stronger. The initiatives undertaken by our government clearly show its intention to bring about changes that fulfil the aspirations of all our fellow citizens.