Mr. Speaker, first I wish to remind the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup that, as members of Parliament, we have a responsibility to work for the common good of our country. We have a responsibility to adequately represent the public and to serve its interests as best as we can.
The interests of Canadians have to do with economic prosperity, jobs, equality, justice, safety within their community and national reconciliation. The issue of whether or not the Senate should be abolished is not a priority for them right now.
The government listens to Canadians. Its response is clearly reflected in the measures announced in the throne speech and in the budget. These measures seek to improve relations between governments and to meet the concerns of Canadians. According to a Gallup poll, unemployment has been at the top of the list of concerns for Canadians, including Quebecers, for 10 years already. This is the issue they want their government to tackle.
During the first half of its mandate, our government took measures to create conditions promoting sustained economic growth and job creation. It launched a major administrative reform, reduced the deficit and took initiatives regarding trade and international investments.
However, these achievements do not tell the whole story. They do not tell that over half a million jobs were created in the Canadian economy since we took office, that the unemployment rate went down 2 percentage points and is now under the 10 per cent mark for the first time in five years. Our government also undertook to put public finances on a healthy footing.
As you know, since its election, our government has followed a pragmatic approach regarding the renewal of the federation. It remains focused, as always, on issues of interest for Canadians, namely the economy, jobs and social programs.
However, it is hard to believe this is the case for the official opposition. Instead of making a constructive contribution to help Quebecers join their fellow Canadians from the other provinces, the Bloc Quebecois disregards Quebecers' true interests.
It is clearly stated in both the speech from the throne and the budget that our focus will be on preparing Canada to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
In fact, the first ministers' conference that will start in just a few hours fits in with our commitments, as a step toward renewing the federation.
The first ministers will be discussing how governments could better work at creating jobs in Canada, preserving our social safety net and developing a joint program of changes aimed at renewing our federation. Those are the issues that concern the people of Canada. Those are this government's priorities. These should also be the official opposition's priorities, because what do Canadians from all provinces want if not for their governments to work in co-operation to bring in changes that will have a direct and positive impact.
First of all, we have promised to limit the federal government's spending power in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. The government will no longer use its spending power to develop new shared-cost programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. It is the first time in our history that the federal government offers to limit its own powers outside a formal constitutional negotiations setting. This is a milestone in the evolution of federalism. We believe that it
is through this spirit of co-operation with and respect for the provinces that we will promote Canadian unity.
At the social level, the government promised to ensure that Canadians can continue to rely on a secure and sustainable social safety net. Again, we will work in co-operation with the provinces to preserve the kind of social programs Canada is famous for. That is what our government's commitment to social solidarity is all about.
The government also made a commitment to clarify, in co-operation with the provinces, the respective responsibilities of the various levels of government. We are withdrawing from areas for which responsibility lies more appropriately with the provinces, the municipalities or other stakeholders, areas like occupational training, certain sectors of transportation, forestry, mining and recreation.
Three weeks ago, our government announced it was completely withdrawing from the area of manpower training. This is a fine example of allowing the provinces to adapt programs to their specific needs. This is an important step toward a federalism that better meets the needs and aspirations of Canadians.
At the economic level, the government will continue to work in co-operation with the provinces to reduce barriers to domestic trade and manpower mobility.
This is how our government is renewing the Canadian federation: by proposing constructive and practical solutions to the issues concerning Canadians, moving step by step in a climate of dialogue and respect.
I urge my colleagues in the official opposition to co-operate with our government in helping Canada, and especially Quebec, move forward.
Ever since I started my speech, Bloc members have been asking me: What does this have to do with the motion before us? I would like to quote from an editorial by Pierre Gravel that appeared in the June 5 edition of La Presse . This editorial, headlined ``Temps perdu'', ends like this:
-the harshest critics of the Senate finally realized that attacking this institution is totally futile under the current Constitution, which requires unanimous approval for any change at that level, something that is not going to happen tomorrow in Canada. Any member who tries to revive this debate must have nothing better to do. But the most troubling in all this is that his leader is letting him go ahead.
That is why I chose to use my time to show Canadians that we have a lot of work to do and that abolishing the Senate would not help us in any way to renew federalism. What Canadians really care about is employment and social security.