Mr. Speaker, you will, of course, permit me to comment on the discussion that took place between the member of the Liberal Party and the member of the Reform Party, earlier, when they were speaking about distinct society. On a number of occasions today, we have heard our colleagues in the Reform Party berate the Liberals for supporting this concept.
That being said, government members have on each occasion been at pains to make it clear that they were supporting the concept only in so far as it meant as little as possible and that absolutely no power was involved. One minister even told us this during question period.
This is a clear illustration of the fact that distinct society means different things to different people. Today, during the debate between government members and members of the Reform Party, the government took the trouble each time to make it clear that this concept did not involve any specific or additional power. In that sense, they supported it. It is very worrisome to hear such things. These people are saying that they have promised to recognize the concept of a distinct society, and that they will keep their promise, as long as it does not mean anything. We could doubt their good faith and sincerity when they come selling us all sorts of promises.
That being said, let us return to the motion proposed today by the Reform Party. This debate always leads us back to the constitutional debate, because there are many problems associated with the division of powers in this country.
Today, the Reform Party is complaining that the federal government is impeding progress in western Canada through its mismanagement of the affairs of the nation. It gives a series of examples: discontinuation of Coast Guard services, the closure of military bases, the elimination of federal Ports Canada policing, and so on.
I will take the few minutes allotted me to draw a parallel with the situation in Quebec regarding the federal government. One of the problems, and the problem that will eventually lead to the reconfiguration of Canada without Quebec, in which Quebec will simply be one of Canada's trade partners, is this centralizing tendency that has always dominated thinking over the years here in Ottawa.
We see there has always been a movement in western Canada that favours decentralized government, a movement that never found favour with a government that has always been at the mercy of the bureaucracy or the bureaucratic inertia of the people who make the real decisions here in Ottawa.
That also led to the current situation: excessive debt. It also means that we have a federal government that is responsible for spending more than $160 billion annually, which is disproportionate to the role government should play if we had a real confederation instead of a federation. What the Reform Party proposes today brings us back to the crux of the problem, where there are certain choices we will have to make, choices that will be made in the years to come.
As I said earlier, I will discuss the similar situation that exists in Quebec, without necessarily commenting on the situation in British Columbia, with the exception of a few areas for which I have some figures. I will start with defence spending.
I find that ridiculous. We often hear people, especially on the government side, harp on the fact that unemployment levels are higher in Quebec. They get all excited, they are in fact delighted, and they think it is just one more weapon to fight the sovereignists, and they told us that to our face.
I say this because last night I was watching a news feature on RDI, I think it was "Le Point". In this program they explained, using statistics and interviewing an economist with Statistics Canada, why there was a difference of about 3 per cent between unemployment levels in Quebec and Ontario. With the automotive industry removed, we could see it clearly accounted primarily for the difference. If the automotive industry had been transferred to Quebec, Ontario would have had 3 per cent more unemployment than Quebec.
The same sector is responsible for the fact that the level of investment in Canada is higher in Ontario than Quebec. Historically, who made the decision that the automotive industry would be concentrated mainly in Ontario? These are political decisions that were made here in Ottawa.
This, together with spending on research and development, on which I will say more later, means that the interests of the province of Ontario have always come first. Ontario, in the final instance, has had the advantage of an economy that attracted productive investment, often at the expense of Quebec and perhaps of other regions as well. All this has made one region stronger economically, while other regions have been able to improve their economies thanks to other factors.
We have heard a lot about British Columbia today. The main economic advantage of this province is based on a growing Asian market that will continue to grow in the years and perhaps decades to come. They have managed to position themselves strategically between the Asian economy and the U.S. economy.
However, when we consider the situation in the Maritimes which, up to a point, has been similar to that in Quebec, we see that the federal system has not been very favourable for partners other than those who control the decisions here and are located mostly in Ontario.
The Reform Party members mentioned the defence aspect, because they have lost a major infrastructure in British Columbia as a result of what they consider to be unfair distribution of federal spending. Let us look at the expenditures per province, and more specifically per capita, for the Department of National Defence. The provinces benefiting most are, in order: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba, with Ontario ranking fourth, PEI fifth, and Quebec sixth.
I can, of course, understand the Reform Party members' disappointment with this, since they are not the ones to benefit most from these expenditures. But the situation in Quebec speaks volumes: $316 per capita, on the average, compared to $1,200 for Nova Scotia, for instance, or four times more; $1,050 for New
Brunswick; $471 for Manitoba; $420 per capita for Ontario; $365 for PEI, and $316 for Quebec.
There has, moreover, been a study saying that the federal defence underinvestment in Quebec had deprived Quebec of $650 million in economic fallout every year for 15 years. Just think, these are considerable amounts which, when recirculated into the economy, increase the development of the service sector, as well as investments in other sectors. They generate economic activity, and we are not talking of a pittance here, but of $650 million annually.
Now, for some other figures. Personnel expenditures account for 15 per cent of the budget. I am referring here to the 1992-1993 budget. There may have been some changes to the figures, but nothing drastic. Personnel expenditures, therefore, represent only 15 per cent, while the figure for DND infrastructure investment in Quebec was 13 per cent.
Other things that have happened have also triggered strong reactions. In August 1995, for instance, the federal government had a major contract to award, relating to personnel carriers. It will be remembered that this was awarded without a bid process-and where? To Ontario, of course, GM to be precise.
Yes, there was a contract for parts and so on to be awarded to Quebec, but it did not come at all close to generating the same economic activity, and certainly was not of the same magnitude as what went to Ontario without a bidding process.
Once again, this was an arbitrary decision, one which has always, over the years, favoured the same area. How, after that, can one wonder why in Quebec certain sectors have a higher unemployment rate than elsewhere?
There is no doubt that, when the federal government decides to be an active player, it comes and takes billions of dollars in revenue from each of the provinces, $30 billion from Quebec, and spends them in a rather arbitrary manner, often with questionable judgment. Obviously, this leads to distortions. Some lose, and others gain.
Furthermore, Statistics Canada officials are doing some very interesting studies, although they are not known to be sovereignists or to have any political association, and they said that Quebec's share of federal investments, and they had studies to back them up, was clearly below the percentage for its population. They said that Quebec's contribution to Gross Domestic Product was 18.6 per cent, while we represent 23 per cent of the population. There are those who may say that 5 per cent is no big deal, but when you are spending billions of dollars, each percentage point adds up to hundreds of millions. So when you are talking 5 per cent, obviously that is a lot of money not invested in a province like Quebec that should have been invested there.
Obviously, I fully expect to hear members from the Reform or Liberal parties say: "Yes, but, on the other hand, you benefited from equalization payments, you received transfer payments for more than your share of the population, for example, for unemployment insurance, welfare and so on". That is true, but because of an infrastructure that was not well enough developed and was distorted by political choices made outside Quebec, we ended up with a higher rate of unemployment and a higher jobless rate, leading inevitably to greater numbers of people on unemployment insurance and welfare, as well as additional costs.
We are compensated, less and less I might add, through transfer payments and told: "Quit whining, we pay a sort of social assistance to the provinces and you should be happy with that".
But never in a month of Sundays does this make up for all the political decisions that led to this situation. I would much prefer that we receive a fairer share in research and development, in procurement and in all these sectors that help us take control of our economy.
I will give you an example. During the last referendum campaign, I had the opportunity to visit a plant involved in the purchase of goods and services-this time by the Government of Quebec, but the example still shows how important an issue this is. This company had obtained a government building maintenance contract which enabled it to develop a computer-controlled system for ventilation, air conditioning, electric power and so on. Thanks to its government contracts, the company was able to develop an extraordinary technology, which it is now exporting throughout the U.S. for use in a large number of buildings.
But, first of all, they received the necessary jump start from having obtained a government contract, which added to their credibility. Of course, when the federal government does not give Quebec its just dues, contracts like this, with their significant long term economic fallout, are not obtained. The obvious results of this are less research and fewer investments in such a province.
I do not want to get carried away, to overdo it, blaming the federal government for everything that is wrong in Quebec. Far from it, but we do have to face reality. They talk about not wanting to make a connection between the economic debate and the political one, but one is possible. I am not afraid of doing just that. I am a sovereignist, and a great economics enthusiast, and I can tell you that, while there are cultural and historical reasons which cause me to opt for sovereignty, there are also some very pragmatic ones which are linked to the economy. If one looks at the situation, one cannot reach any other conclusion.
Now, moving on to research and development. This is another sector in which, over the years, Quebec has not been overwhelmed with federal expenditures. For example, in 1990-91, Quebec received 19.5 per cent of federal expenditures, compared to Ontario's share of 53 per cent. Once again, these are Statistics Canada's figures.
In 1990-91, 13.8 per cent of federal R&D expenditures in federal laboratories went to Quebec. Here again, Ontario was the big winner. Between 1979 and 1989, in a study over the longer term, Quebec received an average of 18.5 per cent of the federal government's total R&D spending. For those ten years alone, this represented a loss of $2 billion in R&D spending.
I can give you more figures. There are plenty of statistics. Ontario has 73 federal research centres. This works out to one per 150,000 inhabitants. There are 50 in western Canada, 30 in Quebec and 24 in the Maritimes. If we compare Quebec and Ontario, we have a ratio of 30 to 73.
I remember that in university I had a chance to do a study on research and development, and it was clear that the way spending was distributed was most unfair. There was a definite bias in laboratory expenditures in Ottawa or in the Outaouais, where 3 out of 41 centres are in Quebec. Hull, Gatineau and Aylmer are not that far away, so it would not have been a problem to have more, which would have made for more balanced statistics on research and development.
It goes on and on. Look at what happens with procurement. Here again, Quebec has never received more than 19.1 per cent of spending on goods and services. That was in 1981. A long time ago. This percentage has varied between 15 and 19 per cent. I repeat, we always get several percentage points less in procurement and research and development than our population sends in taxes to Ottawa. About 23 per cent of taxes collected come from Quebec, but we never get more than 17 or 18 per cent of investment spending.
It should come as no surprise today to see more people drawing conclusions about the positive impact of political systems like the one we have now. This government has had ample opportunity to change its power structure, to limit its spending powers and decentralize its jurisdictions, but it has always failed to produce a positive response, even when at times western Canada showed an even stronger political will to demand some level of decentralization.
Today, we see practically everyone on the Canadian side rallying behind Ottawa's strategy, which is to go for broke. It has taken a very hard line and painted a threatening future for Quebecers. They say there will be total chaos, legal chaos and economic chaos, uncertainty, and so forth.
However, they offer no alternative because they are incapable of defining one. They do not want to. Deep down they probably think that fear of the unknown will lead people to opt for the status quo. Surprise. Since last October, we see more people drawing different conclusions, and next time, there will be even more.
Before I finish, I may recall the program I watched yesterday-very well presented and very objective-on the economic situation. The program explained the difference in unemployment levels in Quebec and Ontario.
With figures to prove his point, an economist with the Bank of Canada explained the variables: investment, the unemployment rate, the importance of the automotive industry in Ontario. These are the reasons why today we have the kind of differential in the unemployment rate that we see between Quebec and Ontario. The difference is about 3 per cent. It has always existed. This is not new. This has been going on for 25 or 30 years.
I would like to send a message to our federalist friends opposite, especially those from Quebec. They should take another look at the statistics they are spreading around left and right and stop getting excited because jobs were lost in Quebec for two consecutive months. I urge them to start digging, to see what is behind all that, instead of always blaming everything on political uncertainty, which is being used as an excuse for just about anything today. Let them look at how political decisions made over the years have had a negative impact on the development of Quebec.
I am not talking about the situation of the airports in Montreal or the Borden line or the rest, I am simply talking about a few major sectors. I am talking about how decisions made over the years by the government for which they work, where their tax money is administered, to the tune of $30 billion coming from Quebec, how those decisions have had a negative impact on Quebec's development.
I would ask them to take a realistic look at the situation. If they want them, I will be glad to provide the statistics and discuss the issues with them to get the right picture and find out how to get this economy on the road to recovery. They will want a federalist solution, of course, but that being said, they should convince the people here in Ottawa to check the imbalance in investment which has grown over the years, but I doubt they will succeed.
In concluding, people are complaining about the situation in British Columbia, for instance. I want to provide a picture of the situation in Quebec which is scarcely better, a picture that the federal government has certainly not helped to improve.