Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this motion.
I am rather confused by the priorities set by the Bloc Quebecois and its vision of the priorities of all Canadians, including Quebecers, in introducing the motion today. I can hardly believe there is serious indication that there is any interest among Quebecers in
pursuing a divisive interest like Senate abolition at this time in the country's history.
What is more, in connection with what the member who has just spoken has said, he knows very well that the Parti Quebecois in power in Quebec has no intention whatsoever of pursuing such a motion, since to do so would require that party and the Quebec National Assembly affirm the Canadian Constitution. Is that likely?
Perhaps, under the circumstances, it would be a good idea to accept abolition of the Senate. That would be the price to pay to gain Quebec's total endorsement of the Canadian Constitution. But I can tell you straight that, here in this House, the Bloc members are all perfectly aware that the Government of Quebec has no intention of following suit. Under those circumstances, then, the motion we have before us is a waste of time for the House, and does not show the respect of the institutions the hon. members claim it does.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that other provinces would approve of these changes. For example, smaller provinces like Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which together represent only 6 per cent of the national population but which hold 19 per cent of the Senate seats, would gain nothing from its abolition.
Canadians have told us there are more pressing priorities which must first be addressed. In addition to economic concerns, as my colleague from Simcoe North noted earlier, national reconciliation is one of the fundamental priorities the government is committed to achieving.
I remind my hon. colleague that in the referendum of October 30, 1995 Quebecers chose to stay in Canada. At that time the Prime Minister acknowledged that Quebecers also indicated they wanted change. Thus renewal is the priority of Quebecers, of all Canadians and of the government.
To this end the Prime Minister was quick to lead us on the road to reconciliation by introducing in the House of Commons a resolution recognizing Quebec as a distinct society, a resolution the Bloc Quebecois refused to support.
The Prime Minister also extended a veto to Quebec and initiated changes that would make it possible to bring government services and the decision making process closer to citizens in accordance with the wishes of Canadians across the country.
The Prime Minister has acknowledged that Canadians throughout the country want to see the federation modernized, adapted to today's economic realities and to the needs of all citizens. That is the vocation of the government. That is not in any way the purpose of the resolution we are debating today.
The government understands the desires of Quebecers and of all Canadians for change and has made this central to its mission. Among other things, we are committed to establishing clear lines of responsibility between different levels of government, eliminating unnecessary duplication, ensuring the viability of our social safety net and reducing barriers to internal trade.
The government has also limited its spending power. As set out in the speech from the throne, 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. This is the first time any federal government has undertaken to formally restrict the use of its spending power outside constitutional regulations.
Madam Speaker, I note that you are informing me that my time is drawing to a close. I understand that this debate will be resumed when this motion next comes up and I will be able to complete my remarks at that time.