Mr. Speaker, the first words I speak in this House are directed to those who supported me from the very beginning and believed in me. In Longueuil, we proved that when people want something, when they put all their energy into a plan in which they believe and a dream they cherish, the combined strength of these individuals can move mountains.
I want to thank those who give me their encouragement, support and advice during the last election campaign, so that I could come here to represent them. I want to thank all the volunteers who worked so hard to ensure that the riding of Longueuil is once again represented in the House of Commons by the only party that looks after their interests and has done so since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois.
To all those men and women who put their trust in me, especially my family and my husband, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I also thank the people of Longueuil who voted for the youngest woman in this Parliament. Today I want to reiterate my commitment to serving and representing them to the best of my ability and with the utmost dedication.
I also want to thank my friends among the hearing impaired whom it is always a pleasure to meet. Today I want to confirm my commitment to working for the deaf. It is an honour and a privilege to salute them.
I was curious to read the throne speech, and I was disappointed when I read it a second time. The only conclusion I could draw is the message sent to Quebec: Be satisfied with a centralist Canada as it is now. Otherwise, it will be plan B.
After repeating this message for months and after it was almost unanimously criticized by Quebec, the Prime Minister has come back again, with the same centralist message, this time in writing, saying he thinks he knows what is best for Quebec.
Is the Prime Minister again trying to scare Quebeckers? Is he trying to make Quebecers accept the “lesser of two evils”? Never before did a throne speech contain such direct threats to Quebec's right to determine its own future.
Quebeckers will never agree to be satisfied with the “lesser of two evils”, much less with the alternative, which we all realize consists in making Quebec go along with the centralist vision of the Liberals and give up its historical expectations.
Yet I would not be honest if I did not admit that I agree with one point which passed virtually unnoticed in the torrent of words in the throne speech. I interpret it as a surprise overture coming from our friends across the way.
As everyone is well aware, what we representatives of the Bloc Quebecois want is a country for the year 2000. That we have never hidden. Now, in reading the throne speech to keep myself awake between coffees, I see in black and white that the federal government is prepared to form a partnership with the Quebec government to celebrate the new millennium.
Of course we will have suggestions of activities to submit to the government, and we may even perhaps send an invitation to the head of state of the next country to come celebrate the new millennium with us in Quebec. That is the least partners can do, celebrate with pomp and circumstance the occasion of an event as important as the arrival of a new country among the nations.
I am pleased to accept the idea of the Canadian Prime Minister and I invite him to Quebec three years from now. We will drink a toast to the new economic partnership between Quebec and Canada.
With the exception of this small overture, what can be seen clearly in this speech is the federal government's stubborn determination not to recognize the legitimate right of Quebec to decide its own future. The federal government even seems to want to reserve the right to draft and impose its referendum question during the next referendum. One wonders whether the referendum ballot will have a red maple leaf printed at the top.
What I find most upsetting in this speech is that the sovereignist movement's proposal is misrepresented by the excessive repetition of the word “partnership” when what is meant is interference, overlap and costly duplication. You will agree that this is not the same thing as the real economic partnership we are proposing to Canada. We are used to seeing this government glibly twist any proposal coming from Quebec. They have outdone themselves in the bad faith department.
At this point in my speech, I would like to turn to a subject of great interest to me and one that my party has entrusted me with defending: the status of women.
First of all, I would like to express my surprise and disappointment at the throne speech's complete silence on women's concerns. Nothing in this speech has women in mind. Worse yet, no one is speaking about them or for them. The government has not even taken the trouble to “feminize” the text. My search for some reference to women netted only one occurrence, in the very first line of the speech, where the Governor General tells us how happy he and his wife were to welcome Her Majesty the Queen last June. Need I say more?
If this is the best our political system can do for women, I can tell you that we have our work cut out for us.
In case he is listening, I would like to remind the Prime Minister some facts about the most beautiful country in the world and the best country in the world to live in, as he likes to say. In Canada, women hold 75 percent of the ten lowest paying jobs; 36 percent of women work part time, because they are unable to find full time jobs. In 1996, Canadian women earned 73 percent of what their male colleagues made. Moreover, 57.3 percent of single mothers with children under 18 years of age live in poverty.
Need I go on about the tragic plight of women in the most beautiful country in the world and the best country in the world to live in? The government must realize that it is women who are paying the price for the cuts made in recent years.
The cost-cutting measures taken by this government were felt more deeply by women than by any other group in our society. The government does not seem to be too upset, since nothing is provided for women in the throne speech.
Today, the government has a duty to do something to help women because, in addition to the numerous cuts, the government also reduced by some 26 percent funding for women's programs, which were already operating on a shoestring budget. The government has got its priorities wrong. Ideally, women should get a little more to make up for what they lost.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the women who preceded us and who worked so that, today, the situation has improved somewhat, thanks to the many battles they fought. We have come a long way, but the road ahead is still a long one.
Thanks to these women, some progress was made regarding equity, including the “equal pay for equal work” principle. I thought the government had understood the meaning of this principle when it passed its pay equity legislation, in 1977. Unfortunately, it was just wishful thinking.
Given all this, you will agree with Canadian women in saying that, if the Liberals really want a just society, as they claim to in their speech, they forgot to show that they are concerned with economic equality for women, otherwise they would have acted differently.
I have always felt that my environment, my way of being, my education, my language, which make up my culture, make me a Quebecker. Therefore, you can understand my disarray when the Liberal government arrogantly claims there is no Quebec culture. I always thought culture was the nourishing element of a people. My people is being insulted whenever such remarks are made.
Worse still, the federal government is now holding accountable the major Canadian cultural institutions which funded sovereignist Quebec artists. We recently learned that Telefilm Canada refused, for political reasons, to provide financing for Pierre Falardeau's film on the Patriotes. This is a tragic decision for all Quebeckers, but the government does not care, because the Quebec culture obviously does not exist.
As you know, I am a young person. But do you know that the plight of young people is a source of concern, particularly the high rate of unemployment and poverty? In 1997, just barely one young person out of two has a full or part time job.
At this point, allow me to make a short digression and to offer my most sincere condolences to the families and friends of the four teenagers who recently committed suicide in my riding. I want to assure them that I will support any initiative to prevent young people from committing suicide. To all those affected by this ultimate act of despair, my thoughts are with you.
To conclude on a happier note, I would like to repeat the line which the late Doris Lussier, an artist who made Longueuil his home, often quoted from the great writer Félix-Antoine Savard “I have much more to do than to worry about the future: I must work toward it”.