Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party indicated, in 1992, the federal government conducted a comprehensive review of the legislation governing the operation of financial institutions and changed things that had remained unchanged for 50, or even 60 years, in some cases.
At the time, the industry asked that the act or amendments thereto be reviewed after five years to see what, if anything, had gone wrong with the 1992 reform. That is why we are doing this now, in 1997.
We have before us Bill C-82, an act to amend certain laws relating to financial institutions. My hon. colleague from the Reform Party referred to this bill as a highly technical 250-page bill, which it is indeed. These amendments will affect a fair number of acts. It will affect the Bank Act, the Cooperative Credit Associations Act, the Insurance Companies Act, the Trust and Loan Companies Act, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation Act and the Canadian Payments Association Act, to name a few.
This bill is very much a symbol and an object lesson for Quebec. A symbol because, once again, it contains provisions that encroach upon Quebec's jurisdiction-but I will get into that later; we have used the word "encroachment" so often in the past three and a half years that it is beginning to stick in my craw-encroachments that fly in the face of the Canadian Constitution.
It is kind of funny to see Quebec being taken to the Supreme Court of Canada to find out whether we have the right, under the constitution, to take a democratic step in this country, while every day, the Liberal Party, the government in office, encroaches on, invades provincial areas of jurisdiction without even bothering to ask permission, thus violating its own law. It even amended the Canadian constitution in 1982 without asking Quebec's permission. In fact, it did so in spite of the unanimous opposition of Quebec's National Assembly, which included federalists. The federal government uses the constitution when it wants to and the way it wants to, while forcing Quebec to comply with it.
I want to take this opportunity to stress that the decisions to be made in the next Quebec referendum will not have to take into account what the Supreme Court of Canada thinks, what the Minister of Justice thinks, or what the Prime Minister of this country thinks. Quebecers will make a decision that concerns them alone. I am reminded of a famous line coined by Mr. Bourassa, who was a known federalist in Quebec. He used to say: "Quebec is, today and forever, the master of its own choices and of its destiny".
The bill is also a great object lesson in that it tells us a lot of interesting things I will get back to later.
Generally speaking, we can live with the bill in its present form. However, we deplore the fact that the federal government is trying to interfere, as I was saying, in areas under provincial jurisdiction, through the back door as it were, as is often the case. That is why our main amendments-and I give advance notice, there will be a few covering the bill as a whole once we have gone over it in depth-will be along the lines that the federal government should just require federal institutions to respect, which they do not do, the provincial legislation in effect where they conduct their activities, when these activities come under provincial jurisdiction; insurance being strictly a provincial matter.
In a joint brief mentioned by my colleague, the member for La Prairie, some twenty minutes ago, which was signed by a number of people, including the Canadian Life Insurance Association, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Canada Trust, the Trust Companies Association of Canada, and Credit Union Central of Canada-we are talking about a lot of people here-they all asked the federal government to allow, with the minister's approval, life insurance policies in Canada to be transferred from a federal to a provincial underwriter. This is not in the bill, with the result that the injustice to provincial underwriters and specifically those in Quebec continues to exist.
A provincial underwriter may not buy blocks of insurance policies from a federal underwriter under the law as it now stands. What exactly does this mean? It means that when underwriters want to obtain a charter, they are better off going for a federal charter, which lets them buy up blocks of provincial insurance policies, because the reverse is not permitted under law. In the long term, underwriters in Quebec and elsewhere will always be better off obtaining a federal charter, while Quebec already has legislation covering this. In the long term, underwriters will gradually switch over to federal charters, with the result that, in a few years, the federal government will be able to say that the legislation we
have in Quebec covering these fields of activity is redundant, without purpose, and should be abolished.
This is how the federal government has gradually taken over the provinces' and specifically Quebec's fields of jurisdiction. In the long term, the purpose of this interference is to increase Ottawa's powers. This has been going on for a long time. People have been talking about it as far back as 1867, well before my time. This is how they have gradually turned Canada from a confederation into a federation.
The term "confederation" has an extremely specific meaning. First of all, it is the name that was given to Canada: the Canadian confederation. A confederation is a group of virtually autonomous states which decide to provide themselves with a central government less powerful than the sum of themselves, to pool certain things. That is what we are seeing in Europe. Europe will be a confederation.
But, gradually, the central power has taken over certain jurisdictions, or taken over from some participants in this power, and the circumstances have gradually turned Canada into a federation. In other words, the central power is now greater than the power of the provinces, not what the Fathers of Confederation initially planned. This has led to the political impasse we are now at, going from one referendum to another, until the next one.
The goal of all of the federal government decisions is to transfer more and more power to Ottawa, more and more political power, while the economic power is being transferred, generally speaking, to Ontario. To refer to Gordon Gibson's famous book, Plan B , which I think my Reform friends have read, he says that the major problem in Canada is not Quebec, the problem is Ottawa.
I recommend that my colleagues, who think we are the only ones saying this, read Gordon Gibson's famous Plan B , where he states that the federalists are the problem. The problem is Ottawa, and the senior public servants, the bureaucracy that exists here, which is perpetuated by inertia.
I will return later to a discussion of the invasion of jurisdictions, but this act is one of the many we have spoken out against since coming to this House. I could not begin to list the laws we have spoken out against as invading Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, as gradually transferring powers that belong to Quebec to the central power in Ottawa.
We know very well that being a political minority leads inevitably to being an economic minority. The one with power over the purse strings has control, and vice versa. The more power, the more control. Ottawa is gradually assuming all of the power by invading Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, and it is making the decisions. This bill represents a decision to invade one area of jurisdiction: insurance, which belongs literally to the provinces. It has been decided to pass legislation to cover all insurance, whereas Quebec already has a set of laws governing this.
So this is a minor decision in a 250-page piece of legislation that will have long term consequences for Quebec insurance companies.
I would like to give a few examples of minor decisions made in the past that have had disastrous economic consequences in the long term. Take for instance when they dug the St. Lawrence Seaway. At one point it was decided to dig the St. Lawrence Seaway. What have the consequences been for Quebec? Well, Montreal lost its basic economic infrastructure. As you know, ships used to stop in Montreal before the seaway was built, and all the plants were there. The government wanted to shift the economic centre to Toronto to have direct access to the core of the U.S. market: Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, via the Great Lakes.
So they created the St. Lawrence Seaway, which took away Montreal's basic economic infrastructure, and you do not have to take my word for it. Mordecai Richler said as much himself in his book Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! My dear friend Mordecai tells us:
"Once the St. Lawrence seaway was in place Montreal's slippage was inevitable".
Once the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, Montreal's decline started. It was inevitable. A minor decision made in Ottawa which had disastrous consequences for Quebec, in the long term, exactly like those we find in Bill C-82.
Another example, much more recent, is the Borden line. In 1963, the federal government started to regulate the sale of crude oil by establishing the Borden line. All oil sold in Ontario had to be western oil, and the pipeline built from the west to Sarnia ended in Sarnia. At the time, the petrochemical industry was in the east end of Montreal, in my riding, in Montréal-Est, in Anjou. That is where the oil companies were. We were refining the oil.
So what happened as a result of this minor political decision? The oil companies in Montreal that were refining oil had to get the oil in Sarnia, refine it and return it to Ontario. In the long run, the oil companies realized they would be better off if they transferred their refineries to Sarnia, got the oil locally, refined it and then delivered the finished product to Quebec. We lost 8,000 jobs when four of our six major oil companies moved out.
A minor decision was made in Ottawa, with disastrous economic consequences in the long run for Quebec, like the decision we see in Bill C-82.
What about the auto pact? The entire automobile industry was established in Ontario. Quebec never got any of the tens of thousands of jobs in that sector.
Air transportation: more minor decisions were made in Ottawa.
They decided one day to build the Mirabel airport, because Dorval was busy and had too much air traffic. Once the Mirabel airport, which cost an arm and a leg, was built, and tens of thousands of people were moved out of their homes, a minor political decision was made: the requirement that air carriers arriving from the east serve Montreal ahead of all other Canadian cities was lifted. The requirement was eliminated.
What costs airlines the most is not flying time, but take offs and landings. So it is to their advantage to land in only one place to serve Canada, and of course they chose Toronto.
Once Mirabel was emptied, hundreds of millions of our dollars were allocated to expanding Pearson airport in Toronto. Money was spent to empty the place, because a decision was made in Ottawa, just like the decisions that appear in C-82.
What happened as the result? Ottawa could then question the use of having the air traffic controllers' school in Montreal, when Toronto was where the action was. So the school was moved to Toronto, and the head office of Air Canada was moved to Toronto, because that was where the action was. A minor decision to transfer things to Toronto had dreadful economic consequences.
In the energy system, what about the billions of dollars that were spent? I think $12 billion was spent in all over 20 or 25 years in Ontario to create 40,000 jobs in atomic research, whereas Quebec all on its own developed the single it controls, hydro electricity. One quarter of the $12 billion came from Quebec and went, because of a government decision, to the development of atomic energy in Ontario, which will eventually become a competitor.
Then there was the tobacco debate. Today in Oral Question Period, we saw that the federal government has been doing research up to now to increase levels of nicotine. I worked in the tobacco fields in Ontario for a number of years, and the research centre is in Delhi. I know this city well, because I spent some time there.
They did studies for about ten years in order to increase the nicotine content in tobacco and then they turn around and, choking with emotion, make decisions in the House to show their concern about smoking among young people and they abolish tobacco company sponsorships.
Where does most of the tobacco sponsorship occur? In Quebec. In two to three years, we may lose the Montreal Grand Prix, the Jazz Festival or the Benson & Hedges Symphony of Fire because of a government decision. All this is happening because the government has decided to pass laws and make decisions encroaching on our areas of jurisdiction.
All those cases are examples of small decisions with catastrophic consequences, the same way a small provision in Bill C-82 encroaches on Quebec's jurisdiction. The government is trying to justify this-and what an object lesson it is-by claiming that the transfer of insurance blocks between a company with a federal charter and a company with a provincial charter raises a problem of civil law and common law by virtue of what is called "novation", an extraordinary word.
This means that someone cannot transfer his debts to another person without the agreement of his creditor. In other words if I borrowed, for instance, $6,000 from a bank, I cannot tell the bank that my brother will pay my debt. Under the principle of novation, a bank will never accept that, and the peculiar thing is that this principle is being used in bill C-82 to encroach on one of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
Double standards again, if that principle applies-and, as I just explained it largely does-a debt is not transferrable. The government has used this principle in a bill to encroach upon Quebec's areas of jurisdiction and has failed to specify that the same principle would apply to the transfer of Canada's debt.
You will remember, I am sure, that the Bélanger-Campeau Commission received three studies. One was conducted in France, the other in England and the other, if I am not mistaken, under the aegis of the C.D. Howe Institute. They all came to an extraordinary conclusion saying that Quebec is not legally required to take on part of Canada's debt if it becomes a country. These studies were conducted by people outside the government.
We all remember what Ross Perot said. During the presidential campaign in the United States, he said: "Poor Quebecers, you do not have to carry that debt". Those are the words of Ross Perot, who was then in the running for the presidency of the United States. He did not get in, but he did say that.
These studies tabled before the Belanger-Campeau Commission explained the principle of "novation", and they were taken up by English columnists across Canada. I will briefly read from one of those texts to show that whenever you refer to principles in a bill, you have to recognize that these principles apply everywhere and at all times. The principle is the following; I am quoting in English
from a December 13, 1994 article by David Crane. As you know, David Crane is the financial editor of the Toronto Star . He said:
"Canada's foreign creditors would not want to transfer part of Canada's debt to Quebec. This is money they loaned to Canada, not Quebec. There is no way in the world you can go to an international banker and for every $100 Canadian bond get a $75 Canadian bond and a $25 Quebec bond. In a way that helps Quebec because it means that Canada would have to reach an accommodation with Quebec. Since Canada cannot force Quebec to take its share of the debt technically Quebec could walk away from its share of the debt".
That is all. I yield the floor to my friends. However, William Johnson has a similar text.