House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Saint-Maurice Québec


Jean Chrétien LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, this week we begin the last Parliament of this century and the first of the new millennium.

I congratulate you on your election and express to you my high regard for your office. You bring decorum and dignity to this House and represent its great traditions and the historic responsibilities of your office.

Among those responsibilities which you discharge so will, is turning off the microphones when they are meant to be off. I can assure you that both my party and I will support you fully in this task and the other important functions of your office.

I also want to congratulate the hon. member from Parkdale-High Park for her eloquent speech as mover of the address in reply to the speech from the trone, and the hon. member from Beauce for his speech as seconder. I am very proud of their maiden speeches and I must say their careers are definitely off to a good start. I can tell both members have great futures ahead of them in this House.

Since I last spoke in the House, we have had a general election. This is the 11th time I have been elected to Parliament. The voters of Saint-Maurice have supported me for the tenth time and their confidence in me inspires me in my public life. They have taught me that politics is about people.

What I've learned on the sidewalks of Shawinigan, at the kitchen tables of rural farmhouses, and with workers on factory floors enriches all I do here as a member of Parliament and Prime Minister. The people of Saint-Maurice want a government that listens to them and respects them, and that is the kind of government I want to lead.

Parliament opens appropriately as another glorious Canadian summer comes to its end. Our farmers reap their harvest and the young return to school. This fall, Canadians, especially young Canadians, begin to reap the rewards of what we have done together in the past four years.

When I stood before you in January 1994, many forecasted bleak economic harvests in our future. In reply to the speech from the throne I said then that everything that we would do would be “aimed at rebuilding our economic vitality to ensure that every Canadian is able to realize his or her potential”.

Now we can say that we needed no polls to tell us that most Canadians did not think that we could ever gain control of the massive deficit that had deeply wounded the economy and Canadian self-confidence.

Who then would have believed that Canada would create 974,000 jobs between October 1993 and September 1997? Who then would have predicted that our interest rates would fall far below those of the United States, in fact three and three-quarter per cent for the prime rate?

Who then would have believed that we would have inflation lower than 2 per cent, growth close to 4 per cent and the highest rate of job creation in the G-7? Who then would have believed that four years later all the international forecasters would be predicting that Canada will enter the next millennium with the best economic performance of the G-7 countries?

Who then would have believed that I would be joining Canada's premiers in a spirit of co-operation in the fall of 1997 to discuss how we could help our youth, how we could improve our health system, how we could strengthen our social programs in an era of balanced budgets?

By working together, by being bold, by conquering fear and despair, Canadians have done much for themselves and for others. We have rebuilt economic vitality. Indeed last week the Governor of the Bank of Canada said, “Canada is in better shape now than it has been for many years to face the economic challenges of the future”. He said, “The Canadian economy has the potential for a long period of sustained growth in output and employment, with rising productivity and improving living standards”.

Now is the time for Canadians to realize their vast potential, to turn toward the new century, to invest wisely and strategically in people and ideas, to build a secure foundation for Canada's future.

We made our priorities clear in the election campaign and in the speech from the throne. We will invest in children, our most precious resource. We will invest in knowledge to prepare Canada's youth for the technologies and knowledge based society of the future. We will work closely with the provinces to strengthen our health system following the excellent suggestions of the National Forum on Health.

As a nation we invested in medicare exactly 30 years ago. I was in the House when we did that. What incredible dividends it has paid to Canadians, to our economy and even to our sense of identity. By strengthening and modernizing medicare to meet new needs, our health care system in the 21st century will yield even greater returns.

I would like with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to salute the Minister of Finance who introduced medicare, Mr. Sharp, who is in the gallery.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Jean Chrétien Liberal Saint-Maurice, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of the election campaign we said that we would spend some of our fiscal dividend on health care.

We will be introducing legislation to increase health care transfers to the provinces in accordance with the recommendation of the National Forum on Health that the cash floor be $12.5 billion. This means that in 1998-99 the provinces will receive $700 million more than is currently budgeted. In 1999-2000 the provinces will receive $1.4 billion more than is currently budgeted. Canada will remain the best country in which to live because it cares about its people. These are words that we did not hear in the speech from the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon.

We will work very hard to continue to strengthen the economy, to continue to create a climate for more jobs and for sustained economic growth.

I want to pay tribute today to the Minister of Finance for his remarkable achievement in managing the finances of the nation. I want to tell the House that we will never again allow the finances of the country to get out of control. We have already begun to reduce the debt as a proportion of the size of the economy. By 1998-99 the government will balance the budget for the first time in almost 30 years.

Working together with members of Parliament, with the provinces and, above all, with Canadians, we have removed the burden on our future that the deficit represented. No longer will we pass on present problems to future generations of Canadians. No longer will we have the large deficit that prevented governments from meeting real human needs. No longer will anyone be able to call Canada a bankrupt nation worth leaving. No longer will critics say that Canadian federalism does not work.

Canada is working so well that leaders throughout the world are speaking about the Canadian miracle and the Canadian model. There is a new optimism in Canada. Canadians have begun to dream again, and this Parliament's challenge is to live up to the spirit of those dreams.

Now we must move forward together into a new millennium. Many in the House today are having their first taste of Parliament. From my long experience I can say that the taste will be enormously satisfying, of course spicy at times but in the end satisfying. Some denigrate what Parliament can do but they are wrong.

I have seen over the years how individual MPs on all sides of the House advance causes they believe important to them, their constituents and Canadians. Over the last four years our government has opened this process more fully than ever before for private members' bills, for serious work by parliamentary committees and for open participation in parliamentary debate. We will continue.

The situation today is much better than when I became a member of Parliament. Even as a private member I was able to pass an important private member's bill changing the name of Trans-Canada airline. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the House. I asked some of them to shut up and to help, and we made that change. My success was shared with members on both sides of the House.

When I first got on a plane marked Air Canada I knew that the new member for Saint-Maurice had made a little difference. Many members will, as individuals and as part of this great Parliament, make a difference.

Let me tell you what we can do together as Canadians and parliamentarians. When I first entered Parliament, Canada faced a major crisis of poverty among seniors. Despite general prosperity, many seniors found themselves victims of inflation and of the fact they had not been able to save much during the hard years of depression and war.

The challenge was great, and the responsibility for dealing with it was shared. The federal government had an old age pension scheme, but, of course, the provinces had principal responsibilities in health, welfare and housing.

The government of Canada worked with the provinces and through Parliament used the flexibility and creativity of our federal system to confront seniors' poverty. We proved then that we share more than we admit; we differ less than we profess. Saskatchewan led in medicare; Quebec worked effectively on pensions; and Ontario and New Brunswick were innovative in housing. But it was the Government of Canada that gave national leadership to assure that the creativity of our individual provinces was shared by all Canadians.

Today the rate of seniors' poverty in Canada is less than one-third of what it was only a generation ago. When the UN names Canada as the best country in the world to live in, it is partly because our seniors now live much longer lives, and are more comfortable financially. And in this mandate my government will assure seniors' security for the future. We will introduce legislation this fall to sustain the Canada Pension Plan and the Senior's Benefit, making Canada the first G-7 country to make its public pension system affordable and sustainable for the millennium.

As we responded to the challenge of seniors health and poverty a generation ago, we must now face the challenge of a new generation of Canadians. They are the generation which will inherit Canada in the new millennium. They are our children and our grandchildren, and they will judge our generation by how well we have prepared theirs for the 21st century.

Election campaigns are exciting for me, as for all of us, because we get a real chance to meet Canadians of every kind. My wife tells me that my excitement is greatest when I am around young people. The hopes and the dreams of the young are an inspiration for me, but in recent campaigns I heard too many fears mixed with their dreams.

Let me say frankly that we have lots of work to do. With the fiscal crisis at an end, our government has more ability to act.

As the Minister of Finance said in his last budget, “a government relieved of its deficit burden is not a government relieved of its obligations. It is a government able to exercise its obligations”.

We owe our greatest obligation to our young, the future of Canada. As I think of the hopeful yet troubled eyes of the young people I met this summer, I become even more determined that our government will not evade its own responsibilities and opportunities.

I know, as all of us do, that poverty is an enemy of a good start whether in aboriginal communities or in the urban centres of Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Parental love, family support and strong communities are antidotes to poverty's sting but they are not enough. People also need our help. By investing now in the well-being of today's children we are improving the long term social and economic health of our society. Together federal and provincial governments must respond through the national child benefit system we are now building.

During the course of this Parliament we pledge to do more to meet the needs of low income families with children. We will do so by increasing the child tax benefit and we will work in co-operation with the provinces as they invest in services for children. Children must remain at the top of our national agenda. We must make certain that wherever they live or whatever their background they have a head start on a good future. A head start helps but it is not a guarantee they will win the race or even finish it.

We have the best educated young Canadians in history. Young Canadians can go to the best schools in the world, but too many drop out and too many do not find work. Youth unemployment is simply too high.

The private sector has created almost a million new jobs over the past four years, but as a society we need to do more to create jobs for young people. We will discuss this and more at the first ministers meeting this fall.

We will step up our efforts at offering first jobs through internships and summer placements. We will challenge the private sector to train young Canadians to take leadership roles in the new knowledge based society of the future. We will challenge the private sector to do more to meet the employment needs of young people. We will develop with the provinces a mentorship program, and we will partner with the provinces and communities to give the young at risk a better chance at acquiring the skills and experience they need.

The more education young people have, the better are their chances to find a job. We will challenge parents, communities, schools and provincial governments to encourage young people to stay in school.

In my family every spare penny my parents could save went to education. For my parents the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and education was the way their children could get into greener fields. Even though I was a bit of a trouble maker at school—and I have kept a bit of it—my parents never lost their dream for me and my better behaved brothers and sisters. Their faith and devotion to our education put the spring in our leap that carried us over to the other side of the fence. Today, together, parents, communities and governments must assure the barriers are not so high that young Canadians do not make it to the other side of the fence.

The struggle against the deficit was not undertaken so that we could celebrate our accounting accomplishments. We fought to lessen the debt burden hanging over an entire generation. We fought so that we could reduce payments to bankers and begin to invest in the future of our young people. That is what we are going to do.

We on this side of the House, plus two or three on the other side, do not believe that the role of government should be that of the 19th century laissez-faire state waiting to deal with emergencies.

Rather we believe government in the 21st century is an efficient, effective partner to make wise and strategic investments in areas that really count for the future prosperity of our country. One of the most important of these areas is knowledge and learning. It is the key to growth and jobs in years ahead.

That is why, in the last budget, we announced the creation of a Canadian Foundation for Innovation. With the dividends from successful fiscal management, we made a one-time investment of $800 million designed to rebuild the research infrastructure of our universities and teaching hospitals.

While I do not want to scoop the fiscal update of the Minister of Finance which will be delivered in mid-October, it is no secret that because of the good work of the government and of the Minister of Finance, we are doing a great deal better in 1997-98 than had originally been projected.

I expect, therefore, that in the weeks after the Minister of Finance tables his fiscal update to be able to take advantage of another dividend from our successful fiscal management, to announce the deal of another one-time investment in learning and knowledge similar to what we did last year when we created the Canadian Foundation for Innovation but on a bigger scale.

This time the purpose of the investment in our future will be to reduce barriers to access post-secondary education. There can be no greater millennium project for Canada and no better role for government than to help young Canadians prepare for the knowledge based society of the next century.

As our most significant millennium project we will establish at arm's length from government a Canada millennium scholarship endowment fund. The income from the fund will reward academic excellence and will provide thousands of scholarships each year, beginning in the year 2000 for low and moderate income Canadians to help them attend universities and colleges.

We will be working closely with appropriate partners to help in the actual design of the fund. It will not be a monument made of bricks and mortar but when future Canadians look around, they will see its legacy everywhere.

I hope it can do in the 21st century for our economy and our country what the investment after World War II in post-secondary education did for our returning soldiers, for our economy and our country in the last half of the 20th century.

On a very personal basis I hope it will be able to do in a different area for many thousands of young Canadians what my parents were able to do for me, my brothers and my sisters.

In addition to this one-time endowment, the government will make further changes to the Canada Student Loans Programme and will increase assistance for students with dependents. With these and other measures, to be developed over the next few months in concert with the provinces, we will build on the progress made in the last budget to address the increasing cost of post-secondary education and the resulting debt burden on students.

When I was young, pursuing my education meant that I had to leave home for boarding school. Small communities lacked the resources to support institutions of higher education. What is wonderful about modern technology is the way the most remote communities can be in thouch with our greatest institutions. SchoolNet, developed by our Department of Industry, allows schools to deliver the same information at the same time to Whitehorse and Weyburn, Victoria and Victoriaville. Bill Gates has said that SchoolNet is “the leading programme in the world in terms of letting kids get out and use computers”. And we know that we can, and must, do even more.

As I travelled through Canada during the last four years, I saw how new technologies are strengthening rural Canada. We promised in our election programme that we would help rural Canada share new technologies and we will keep that promise. It is tremendously important to know that our great country with its millions of square kilometres will be the most connected country in the world by the millennium. Distances will matter much less; and we will see tha differrences need not divide. The promise of technology is astonishing but technology must have a soul.

It was very troubled to read a survey this summer that suggested that young Canadians knew too little about each other and what we have done together. According to the survey, in every province except Quebec, more Canadians thought Neil Armstrong was the first Canadian in space rather than Marc Garneau. Only 28 per cent of Quebec youth could name John A. Macdonald as our first prime minister, although 78 per cent of them could name Wilfrid Laurier as the first Francophone prime minister. Too often we forget, or do not know, what we have achieved together. It is unacceptable that our youth may know all about computers but so little about their country.

At one level, this is why our future youth programs will emphasize exchanges. I never knew Canada until I sat at kitchen tables in Saskatchewan, skiied in the Rockies, walked on the tundra in the Arctic, played pool on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, and talked with aboriginal elders around fires.

Similarly, Canada touches my heart and affects my thoughts as I discover the grandeur of our history. It moves me deeply to learn that over 150 years ago, when religion and race caused wars everywhere else in the world, here in Canada Robert Baldwin resigned his seat in the Parliament of the United Canada's so that his colleague, Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine, could run in a seat in the heart of English Canada.

Lafontaine became the francophone Catholic member for a thoroughly English and Protestant riding. Working together, Baldwin and Lafontaine brought us responsible government.

How many young Canadians know that just over a century ago as religious quarrels engulfed the world, Canada, a country with a large Protestant and British majority, elected its first francophone Catholic Prime Minister? It had the good sense to re-elect Laurier for three more terms, a reasonable goal for any prime minister, it seems to me.

We must find ways for young Canadians to learn what they share, to know what we have done and to gain pride in their nation's accomplishments. The Government of Canada will work with our great museums, other federal and provincial institutions and with voluntary groups to develop ways to increase Canadians' knowledge of what we have done together.

We Canadians have built together an astonishing country, respected, even envied throughout the world. This fall more than 100 nations will come to Ottawa to sign a treaty banning forever the use of anti-personnel landmines. I am proud that it was an initiative taken by this government in 1994. I am very proud too that my government, through the foreign minister, refused to accept a second best treaty. The foreign minister deserves our congratulations for a job well done.

We worked with others of like mind and showed that Canada can make a real difference in the world. At one of the international meetings I recently attended, a world leader told me that only Canada could have been the leader in the campaign against landmines. I most strongly agree with the recent comment of the opposition member for Esquimalt—Saanich, a medical doctor who has seen landmines tear apart human bodies and who has worked with us to achieve the ban. He told reporters that the landmine treaty marks the “the onset of a new era in Canadian foreign policy using our moral force for humanitarian purposes. This treaty,” he said, “will save tens of thousands of lives”.

That moral force comes from what we are, what we have done together and what values we share in common. Canadians expressed that spirit nationally during the Saguenay and Manitoba floods. As we stood at the dikes and watched the raging waters we shared the experience as Canadians.

My government feels the burden of that moral force in all that we do. That is why we will take a very broad approach to promoting and strengthening our unity. When we seek to realize the highest aspiration of Canadians we help make Canada more united.

I welcome the Calgary initiative of the premiers and territorial leaders. It is a positive and constructive statement and affirmation of important values about what Canada is, and what makes us Canadian.

It contains a key message. The French fact is a fundamental part of our Canadian identity, and as such the unique character of Quebec society with its French-speaking majority, its culture and civil law tradition, is fundamental to the well-being of Canada. The French fact is an essential part of my identity, one that has nurtured me, one that has given me strength and identity, one that has made me the Canadian I am.

I welcome the commitment of the Premiers and Territorial Leaders to involve the people in their provinces and territories in strengthening the unity of this country by joining in giving voice to these values.

The message to Quebecers, to all French-speaking Canadians, indeed to all Canadians, is one of openness and solidarity. It is a message that should be heard.

I welcome the very constructive approach that the leaders of the Reform Party, the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party are taking on this issue.

I urge Quebecers to hear the message coming from Calgary and to join in building on it. The words form Calgary should be taken form what they are, an inclusive and timely message for all to hear. It is an important step in building understanding and confidence. Nothing more should be read into it.

Since this is not a constitutional or legal text, I would urge Canadians not to be drawn into a legalistic analysis of a statement of values. The day may come—I hope it will, and it will if Quebec ever has a government willing to work for those Quebecers who wish to remain a part of Canada, and they are the majority—when there is a legal and constitutional text to consider as such. The words from Calgary are an attempt to express worthy Canadian values and that is how they should be welcomed.

I pledge to all Canadians that we are open to all good ideas to strengthen the unity of our country. We invite the ideas of all opposition parties, and we will have an opportunity to discuss them either in this House or in committee. But we will never be hostage to demands that diminish or deny to each and every Canadian the benefits of his or her citizenship and our nationhood, our existence as an independent nation recognized by the UN.

We will continue to be frank and open about the consequences of what those who seek to partition Canada are proposing. Clarity does not cause fear, it is the enemy of fear. Our adversary is confusion. I am convinced that when things are clear, Quebecers and other Canadians will choose to stay together because it is the best choice for them and their children. As I have emphasized today, we are committed to collaboration and partnership with all those who, in good faith, will work with us to realize the wonderful opportunities that await Canada and Canadians.

Our strength, our character and our recent successes have positioned us to pursue those opportunities in new ways to meet new challenges of a new century.

We began this century as a small nation, without a flag, without our own Canadian citizenship and even without Newfoundland. Alberta and Saskatchewan were not yet provinces. The slums of Montreal and Halifax had a high rate of infant mortality than do the modern slums of Calcutta where Mother Teresa toiled.

Few Canadians even met others more than 50 miles away. On the prairies new settlers lived in isolation throughout cold winters, unaware of the petroleum riches beneath them. And yet we knew we had a future.

At the beginning of the century Laurier dreamed of that future when he said:

Three years ago when in England, I visited one of those models of Gothic architecture—The cathedral was made of granite, oak and marble. It is the image of the nation I wish to become. For here, I want the granite to remain granite, the oak to remain oak, the marble to remain marble. Out of these elements I would build a nation great among the nations of the world.

We have built that nation and we continue to shape its elements. Our young will do so in the next century. Their architecture will be new but it will be Canadian. Greatness may have a different meaning but it will be Canadian.

Today there is in Canada once again a wonderful sense of a country moving, of a country that matters, of a country that dreams again. For a long time for too many Canadians Canada has seemed stuck. Now everywhere Canadians together are making choices for a new millennium.

I pledge to Canadians that this Parliament and this government will be worthy of their dreams and their aspirations. With every ounce of energy we have, with the support of our colleagues and our fellow Canadians, we will keep this wonderful country, this Canada, our Canada, united. Together we will move into the next millennium as a prosperous, tolerant, generous, caring and modern country.

This country will be a model to the world. We are all very privileged to be members of this Parliament. People see Canada as the country to look at. When we travel around the world we realize that we are the envy of the world. Millions and millions of human beings around the world would give their last penny to share this citizenship of ours. That is why we have the collective duty to work together to make this country even greater and to give the best country in the world to our children and our grandchildren.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, may I begin by congratulating you on your election as Speaker. I wish to assure you that, in this House, the Bloc Quebecois will always behave with the greatest respect for this institution, just as we have in the past.

After the last election, we find ourselves in a fragmented Parliament, a Parliament reflecting the true face of Canada. The Bloc Quebecois finds itself as the principal Quebec party, the main voice for Quebec in Ottawa. Forty-four members, constituting the majority of the Quebec deputation, 60 percent of the deputation in fact, that is what the Bloc Quebecois represents.

Indeed, speaking of the true face of Canada, we had an eloquent example yesterday in the Speech from the Throne. Two main conclusions can be drawn from the intentions of the Liberal government.

The first is no surprise: continuation of Plan B, the hard line with Quebec. I will return to this point later.

A second conclusion must also be reached: after going after the deficit at the expense of the unemployed and the most disadvantaged members of society, by hacking savagely at transfer payments to the provinces for health and education and at unemployment insurance, now this government has the gall, the indecency, to make use of the surpluses generated by its own cutbacks to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

Clearly, the aim is political visibility rather than efficiency for the public. With this objective, this second conclusion falls in line with our first one.

The cuts to unemployment insurance, the cuts to social assistance imposed on the provinces and the reductions in health and education transfers occasioned by this government's deficit reduction have wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands of Canadians.

Rather than repair the damage it has done, the government is concerned with only one thing. It wants to use the money it saved to increase its profile for purely political purposes.

If I had to summarize the speech on government policy, I would say that the word is federalism in capital letters.

In its speech, the government is inviting us to take part in a great debate on the post zero deficit age. The Liberals are proposing that half the surplus go to paying the debt and to reducing taxes. The other half would go to misusing its spending power in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

Having been the cause of many social ills, the government now wants to set itself up as the saviour. It will have cut $42 billion from social programs, health care, education and social assistance, thus forcing the closure of hospitals, driving thousands of workers denied unemployment insurance toward welfare and causing massive cuts in schools.

The surpluses that will be generated after the deficit is eliminated should not be used for federalist propaganda, but should go directly to reinstating the transfer payments made to the provinces for social programs. Specifically, this would mean more money for hospitals and CLSCs. It would also mean more teachers and student services.

Secondly, surpluses should go to job creation through a targeted reduction in payroll taxes. In its electoral platform, the Bloc proposed that the employment insurance fund surplus be used to lower employment insurance premiums by at least 35« and to re-invest $2.5 billion in improving assistance to the unemployed, including the seasonally unemployed.

Not returning the annual surplus of approximately $7 billion in the employment insurance fund, and not telling workers and the unemployed about this surplus, is a clear misappropriation of funds. The suggestions I am now making had the agreement of the premiers in St. Andrews recently.

Next, the surpluses must be used in the fight against poverty. And this includes improving the employment insurance system, given the deep cuts made over the last five years, particularly in benefits to seasonal workers.

Finally, there is the long overdue $2 billion in compensation paid to the Maritimes but not to Quebec for harmonizing the GST, one of the demands from Quebec that was also supported by all premiers at the St. Andrews meeting. And only after it has fulfilled these obligations should the federal government think about lowering taxes or reducing the debt.

But instead of repairing the damage caused by its policies, the government announces that it will now use this breathing room to systematically interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The worst interference ever seen in the history of Canada. Even Pierre Elliott Trudeau never dared to go this far. And that's saying something.

The government is confirming its interference in the health field by creating a pharmacare plan, when Quebec already has its own such plan.

Moreover, after taking over 30 years to partially withdraw from the manpower training sector, this same federal government is now seeking, six months later, to maintain, confirm and increase its involvement in youth training.

One the very few new things mentioned in this speech is that the federal government will now get directly involved in education, in order to, and I quote: “measure the readiness of Canadian children to learn”, through an innocuous leaflet sent to every home. And then are we going to have national standards in the education sector? Are we going to have national exams in that sector?

I say we will never let the federal government get involved in Quebec's schools. Never.

However, these measures and policies are just part of a more global strategy designed to achieve the first objective that we pointed out, namely to pursue more aggressively than ever the government's plan B. This is the logical consequence of the last election, when we witnessed repeated attacks against Quebec, its politicians and its democratic institutions.

The prevailing ideology in the rest of Canada is getting further than ever from Quebec's traditional demands and aspirations. Such hardening is being promoted in an irresponsible fashion by the comments of the Reform Party, by the actions of the Liberal Party of Canada, and by the collusive silence of the leader of the Conservative Party. As for the NDP, it has always ignored the Quebec issue, and in fact this is why Quebecers have always ignored the NDP.

Slowly but surely, through the use of psychological profiles, changing democratic rules, hate-filled Internet sites and the promotion of partition, public opinion in the rest of Canada is falling into collective beliefs that still smack of colonialism as regards Quebec, in that they view us merely as a quaint entity.

This attitude is obvious in the government's throne speech. Never before, in a Speech from the Throne, has a government so directly threatened Quebec's right to decide on its own future.

Moreover, the Liberal government is dropping the solemn commitment made after the referendum to recognize Quebec as a distinct society, after putting it in a motion passed by the House of Commons, and after repeating it in the form of an election promise in its second red book.

Further watering down recognition of the Quebec people, this government has embraced the definition in the Calgary declaration, referring to the “unique character of Quebec society”, as unique as B.C. salmon, and without constitutional amendments.

If we carefully examine this agreement, it is easy to understand why the Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs were so enthusiastic. This is the worst it has ever been for Quebec. Several experts agree it is far less than Meech and even less than Charlottetown.

The federalists were rather quick to applaud the results of a recent survey on this agreement. They should not get carried away, because as Quebecers become better acquainted with the contents of this agreement, their support will be affected accordingly. In the rest of Canada, we already hear people saying that Quebec has been given too much. There is a very real possibility it will be Charlottetown all over again.

The only message sent to Quebec in this throne speech is that we should be satisfied with Canada as served up in Calgary, otherwise it will be Plan B.

All in the defence of national unity, the government even has the nerve to emphasize the bilingual character of this country, when the facts tell a different story altogether. They show a shocking rate of assimilation among francophones outside Quebec, a national Constitution that since 1982 has never been translated into French, and a few weeks ago, the closing, to all intents and purposes, of the only francophone hospital in Ontario, the Montfort. That is Canada's bilingual character.

I have only a few words for the rest of Canada about the premiers meeting which was held in Calgary. Forget the Calgary deal, it will never pass Quebec.

The Bloc Quebecois has never deviated from its basic principles. Now more than ever, we deem sovereignty to be necessary. The constitutional impasse is still there, even more so since the Calgary declaration. The main purpose of the Bloc Quebecois is clear: to advance the sovereignist project while staunchly defending Quebec's interests.

During this next mandate, defending Quebec's interests will have to involve defending Quebec's democratic institutions. When we came to Ottawa, we knew it would be hard, that harsh words would be exchanged. Yet we would never have dreamed that we would have to defend democracy, we would never have dreamed that the federal government would stoop so low as to question the very foundations of democracy.

This best country in the world is behaving like an imperial power looking down its nose at its ignorant colony, which dared to get just a little too uppity on the evening of October 30, 1995. A colony which no doubt needs psychoanalysis, I suppose, as the hon. member for Don Valley West so clearly demonstrated to us with his pseudo-psychoanalysis of the Premier of Quebec. Some might also add that the people who voted yes did not know what they were doing, while everything was perfectly clear to those who voted no.

Yet the rules governing the last two referendums were accepted by all parties, including the federal government. A federal government which, let us recall, accepted Newfoundland into Confederation with a close vote in a second referendum. Casting doubt on those rules now indicates obvious bad faith and, in particular, a profound disdain for the near-victory of the yes side in the last referendum.

Let us look a little closer at the rules the Prime Minister is trying to discredit with the help of his hatchet man, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

In Quebec, all of the province's political leaders agree on the rules governing Quebec's move to sovereignty. There is clearly a consensus in Quebec on this, which the federal government is refusing to recognize.

This consensus is grounded on three basic principles: first, the existence of the people of Quebec; next, respect for fundamental democratic principles; finally, the integrity of Quebec territory. All of Quebec's premiers, be they federalist or sovereignist, from Daniel Johnson senior to Robert Bourassa, have defended these three principles.

The federalists, in their post-referendum panic and without an argument to stand on, are going after the process, trying to discredit it by all possible means. By doing so, however, they are the ones discrediting democracy in Canada by deriding the rules underlying it. Partition, a reference to the Supreme Court, doubt cast on the rule of the simple majority, a country wide referendum, all threats and fears are fair game.

Under the tutelage of the Reform Party, the Liberal Party of Canada has chosen not to face the issue. Everything is being questioned with the almost acknowledged aim of frightening Quebecers and with the obvious aim of saying, “You will never do it”. The bidding is escalating at the expense of Quebecers.

Although they are not acceptable, these attacks against Quebec's democratic institutions are not the real problem. Although they are irresponsible and dangerous, the threats of the partition and hacking-up of Quebec are not the real problem. Although it is both absurd and disgusting, the reference to the Supreme Court aimed at depriving Quebecers of their right to decide their future democratically is not the real problem.

The real problem is this stubborn denial of the very existence of the people of Quebec. This is the real problem, which in turn leads to all sorts of undemocratic excesses cloaked in legality and clarity. Such hypocrisy. This is the root cause of the deadlock. The Liberal Party of Canada's approach has failed, because it denies the existence of the people of Quebec people, a people different from the people of Canada.

By so doing, the big guns in the federalist camp are endorsing the position of the leader of the official opposition, who stubbornly denies the existence of the people of Quebec as one of the two founding nations of Canada in 1867.

Canadians are a people. The aboriginal peoples are made up of several peoples. People all over the world are divided into various peoples. If it is good for everybody else, why would it be bad for Quebecers?

I appeal specifically to members from Quebec in this House who, over and above their mandate, are citizens who must believe in respecting democracy and above all in the existence of the people of Quebec.

We urge you not to be part of the government's blind denial of the facts when it refuses to recognize that the people of Quebec people exists and is free to decide its own future.

To conclude, let me say a word or two about Canada's future. In its Speech from the Throne, the government is predicting a brilliant future for Canada during the third millennium. It even invites us to celebrate this future success ahead of time. We see things differently.

We believe that Canada is at a crossroad. It has a choice. The federal government can remain true to its traditions of tolerance, openmindedness and democracy, traditions upheld by Lester B. Pearson, among others. Then, the government will give Quebec the right to decide its own future in accordance with the democratic rules which are part of the common heritage of the peoples of Canada and Quebec.

Thus, it will become once again a model at the international level, with which a sovereign Quebec will be able to build a real partnership. Not a pseudo-partnership where Quebec would simply carry out orders from Ottawa, but a fruitful partnership between two sovereign countries. This is simply reasonable, this is plain common sense.

Or the government can let itself go and drift away from democracy, this has already started, driven mostly by the anti-sovereignist phobia of the Prime Minister and his Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. And this is the open door to all excesses, a slide towards anger and intolerance, towards totally anti-democratic behaviour. This is a dead end street.

Unfortunately, it is this second alternative which seems to prevail at the present time, because of a Prime Minister who is blinded and intoxicated by the arabesques and arrogance of his Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. This is regrettable, but I am deeply convinced that in the end the Canadian people, whom I sincerely trust, will not allow it. The government will have to pay a heavy price for having defiled its own institutions.

Members of the Bloc Quebecois will continue to stand by the democratic traditions of Lester B. Pearson's Canada. We will continue to respect this House despite the fact that many members on the government side try to defile it and use it for their own anti-sovereignist obsessions, as they are presently trying to do with the Supreme Court. Even if they continue to move down this dead end street, they will not prevent Quebec from progressing toward sovereignty. I do hope that Quebecers will have their own country by the year 2000.

In concluding, I move:

That the amendment be modified by adding after the words “legislative program” the following:

“that denies the existence of the Québécois people and their culture, which once again reflects the government's centralizing vision by confirming and increasing its presence in areas of provincial jurisdiction such as social programs, health and especially education, and”.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The amendment is in order. We now have a few minutes for questions and comments. If there are questions and comments, I will allow them; if not, we will move on.

As there are no questions or comments, I give the floor to the leader of the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for Halifax.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I rise in my place in this Chamber for the very first time I wish to congratulate you, Sir, on your re-election to continue serving as Speaker among your 300 peers. It is an honour for sure but also a daunting task.

I also want to congratulate and thank the other candidates to the Chair.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that it is your job to create a respectful political climate and at the same time favourable working conditions for all members who are elected to serve the public interest in this great Parliament of Canada. I also know that it is the responsibility of the Speaker to attend to the working conditions for all of the employees who serve Parliament here on Parliament Hill and in the precincts in the surrounding area.

I must say that over the last year and a half as I have served as leader of the New Democratic Party without a seat in Parliament I have looked on with some frustration and some horror as I have watched the deteriorating conditions for some of the people who are serving us here on Parliament Hill. In particular, I have felt a great deal of consternation at the spectacle of hundreds of locked out security guards.

Mr. Speaker, I know that it is not because you failed to exercise your duties but rather the government has been willing to not only tolerate but actually sponsor first the training and then the hiring of replacement workers who have replaced workers earning barely above minimum wage and who are coming up to a one year anniversary of the time when they were locked out from their jobs here on Parliament Hill.

I hope it is a sign of better times to come that there is some indication those security guards are now looking at a tentative agreement. I hope that as we come up to the one year anniversary of that lockout we will instead be celebrating a just settlement on behalf of those workers and their families.

I am delighted today to finally be taking my seat in the House of Commons and I am delighted to be surrounded by some 20 New Democrat colleagues. It is certainly true that three quarters of the NDP caucus are rookies, I among them, at least newcomers to this Chamber. Mr. Speaker, for that reason we will be looking to you frequently for guidance and counsel. I hope we can expect a little patience as we learn the rules and the procedures of the House.

As I look across the floor this afternoon I am very aware that someone very dear and very special is missing. He was someone special not only to New Democrats but to all parliamentarians present and past. I am sad that Stanley Knowles did not live to see this day, that he did not live to see the official return to the House of Commons of the party which he helped to found. It is a bittersweet celebration for us today.

Many of us learned of Stanley's death as we were arriving in Ottawa for our first caucus meeting in June. We will all miss Stanley Knowles greatly, his warmth, his humour, his fierce unyielding dedication to justice and equality and his unparalleled expertise in the rules and procedures that govern Parliament.

We all remember Stanley's lifelong battle for decent pensions for working people. Stanley would never have been fooled by euphemisms like seniors benefits into believing that a massive reduction in pension benefits was an improvement. We pledge today to honour Stanley's memory by fighting any further erosion of pension protection for our seniors. On this occasion I give thanks for the tremendous contribution that Stanley Knowles made to the House of Commons, to my party and to the people of Canada.

On the day of Stanley Knowles' funeral, a close long time friend of his arrived at my office. He brought me two publications that were co-authored by Stanley and by my father who came to work in Ottawa as the first researcher for the CCF caucus in the early 1940s. Those publications talked about a more democratic Canada.

For me it is a humbling experience and I admit an emotional occasion to take my place in the House of Commons, to continue that struggle for a more democratic and a more social democratic Canada. I was born in Ottawa because of my parents' decision to come here and be part of that social democratic movement. But of course Halifax is where I have spent most of my life and Halifax is the riding I have the privilege to represent here in the Parliament of Canada. Let me take a moment or two to tell the House a bit about my riding of Halifax.

Halifax is often said to be something of a bell-wether riding. I must say I never really quite believed that until the June 2 election. But when all four Halifax area federal ridings elected New Democrats to represent them in this session of Parliament, I knew that Halifax was a bell-wether riding.

Halifax is a growing modern metropolis and yet it is still characterized by the generosity and the openness of a small farming town or a fishing outport. Our maritime traditions are well known; the courage of our military men and women serving overseas, the resourcefulness of our current armed forces and civilian personnel rising to new challenges.

Less well known perhaps is our rich cultural ethnic diversity in Halifax and Nova Scotia generally. We are rediscovering and reclaiming the history of Nova Scotia's aboriginal people, the Micmac, our black population, the proud community that was Africville, our Acadian communities and their valiant struggle to maintain their language and their culture, the many other peoples who have entered Canada through the port of Halifax, many of them through pier 21, some settling in Halifax and many others moving on, all of them choosing Canada as their home.

That diversity I am pleased to say is very much reflected in the caucus that I have the privilege to lead in this Parliament.

It includes, for instance, the first Acadians in a New Democratic caucus as well as an aboriginal member from the Prairies.

We have the first Afro-Canadian member of Parliament elected from Atlantic Canada, several members from recent immigrant families and, I would add, the most women ever elected to the New Democrat caucus. My predecessor, the member for Yukon, served in the House with dignity and devotion under much more difficult circumstances, outnumbered by her caucus colleagues eight to one. I guess it can be said that the only caucus that has ever come close to being gender balanced in Parliament is the past Conservative caucus. I do not know anybody who is recommending that formula for gender balance.

In recent years Canadians have watched my province of Nova Scotia spawn an explosion of cultural expression and cultural achievement, Acadian and Celtic music, Scottish dance, Atlantic humour—who among us does not both love and fear “This Hour has 22 Minutes”—our vibrant visual arts, award winning film making, dynamic theatre and outstanding playwrights like my colleague, the member for Dartmouth, and amazing authors like Anne-Marie Macdonald, one of Cape Breton's finest, author of the epic novel Fall on Your Knees . Permit me to quote briefly a favourite passage: “There is nothing so congenial to lucid thought as a clear view of the sea. It airs the mind, tunes the nerves and scours the soul”. Maybe the inspiration of the ocean explains the eruption of self-discovery in Atlantic Canada these days. Now this quiet Atlantic revolution is sending shock waves through the world of politics.

My colleagues and I are well aware that we have an enormous responsibility, a mandate born out of suffering and out of hope. I want to say to my constituents and to all Canadians, Atlantic Canadians, today that we will not let them down in the coming Parliament.

Canadians understand what this throne speech has so callously ignored, that something has gone desperately wrong for far too many Canadians with jobs being wiped out, the quality of life being eroded, medicare and education crumbling, national institutions like the CBC under siege, tax subsidies for business luncheons but new tax burdens for family necessities, and new threats to our national sovereignty from the multilateral agreement on investment.

It is gratifying to see provincial and territorial leaders commit to the unity initiative announced earlier this month in Calgary, but let me also say that Canada is bigger than any constitution. Far more crucial than any notion of equality among the provinces is the fundamental equality of Canadians, Canadians as citizens, equality before the law, equality of services, equality of opportunity. Worsening our inequalities can only gladden the hearts of those who seek to divide us.

In order to capture the hearts and minds of the people of Quebec, we must prove that Canada can work well once again, that Canada can once again become a country where economic security, sound communities, interesting opportunities and real human charity prevail.

This Parliament must focus on rebuilding that kind of Canada. Otherwise, the next Parliament may very well represent a much smaller and a much sadder Canada.

If this government is willing to tackle the whole question of unity instead of focusing on the narrow agenda of those who would divide us then we will work with it for the shared goals of compassion, community and unity; but that requires that this government do some serious rethinking and requires a new commitment to the real priorities of Canadians.

We promised in the election campaign that not a week would go by in the House of Commons without New Democrat MPs fighting for Canadians pressing priority, especially for jobs. I only wish that the prime minister would devote as much attention to the creation of jobs as he devotes to the creation of senators.

Let us examine the facts: 82 consecutive months with unemployment above 9 per cent, 82 consecutive months with 1.4 million children living in poverty, unemployment insurance protection dropping below the level of the state of Alabama creating immense hardship while the unemployment insurance fund runs a huge and growing surplus, and those with jobs dogged by constant insecurity in an increasingly part time, low wage, no benefit economy.

Women are the most vulnerable. It is no surprise that this government has abandoned women. The first 1993 red book promise broken was that of a national child care program. Canadian families and Canada's children are still waiting.

Let us look at how this government treats its own women employees. The government is still refusing to honour the $2 billion pay equity debt owing to 80,000 women in this country. Aboriginal communities across the country are desperate for economic development and jobs while this government stalls on the royal commission recommendations.

Twenty-five per cent real youth unemployment is eating away at our country's future. Canadians have heard lots of lofty Liberal promises, but the fact is that there are 20,000 more youth unemployed today than this time last year.

The program reannounced in yesterday's throne speech will not make a dent for the 410,000 unemployed youth.

A whole generation of our young people finish their studies without being rewarded with a decent job offer and find themselves strapped with a huge debt, $25,000 on average.

What is really happening with medicare? The good news is that two tier health care is no longer a threat in this country, and the bad news is that two tier is already a reality brought to us by the finance minister's massive cuts, cuts in no way reversed by yesterday's hollow pronouncements.

Who bears the brunt? Families struggling with illness and, most of all, once again women: the backbone of the health care workforce reduced to casual workers with homemakers and volunteers forced to take up the slack as services are slashed.

With people suffering, with families struggling, with patients' lives on the line, why is there any debate over what to do with the fiscal dividend?

New Democrats will be relentless in fighting for a real commitment to move medicare forward, not vague platitudes but a solid commitment to comprehensive home care, a prescription drug program and the unequivocal rejection of two tier American style health care.

Where is this government on the environment? The short answer judging by yesterday's throne speech is nowhere. Canada's most endangered species is a federal Liberal politician willing to take any responsibility to protect our natural environment.

I want to be fair. There is one solid government achievement that we all celebrate. I want to give credit where it is due. Canada has played a pivotal role in the resolve to eliminate global stocks of landmines.

I trust the government will have the humility to acknowledge the work of so many Canadians whose pressure on our own government and others laid the foundation for this important success. I know all parliamentarians will join me in underlining the singular contribution made to Canada's effort by the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The treaty to be signed here in Ottawa will serve as a fitting tribute to her legacy and her memory. Every Canadian can be proud of this achievement. I pledge today my party's support to further the goals of that treaty and rid the world of all inhumane weapons of war.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I know the hon. leader of the New Democratic Party is just wrapping up.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

September 24th, 1997 / 5:35 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I might ask unanimous consent to make my concluding comments. I appreciate and respect the time limits.

These are the values of my party and they are the values that we will fight for in the coming Parliament, giving our children the best possible start in life, education and job opportunities for our young, decent pensions for our seniors, medicare for all and poverty for none, a healthy environment for future generations and strong safe thriving communities.

Anyone who doubts the strength of the community spirit in Canada has only to remember the floods which took such a terrible toll in the Saguenay last summer and in southern Manitoba this spring, to remember the sense of common purpose within these communities and the sense of solidarity which swept our nation in an outpouring of compassion and co-operation.

My caucus invites this government to honour that spirit, to learn from it and to unleash it to build the country we all know Canada can be.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Charest Progressive Conservative Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, this reminds me of my first day of return to the House. I sat here and said to myself “I am surrounded, surrounded by Progressive Conservatives”. What a contrast with the last legislature.

We are very happy to be back in this legislature and in this Parliament and to find the voice we had lost in the last few years.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like offer you my heartiest congratulations, not only on my behalf but also on behalf of my caucus, the Progressive-Conservative Party. I also want to assure you once again of our co-operation in the performance of your duties, which hold such importance for the operation of the House.

I would also like to congratulate the leaders of the other parties who were re-elected in their ridings and who will have the opportunity to cross swords with all the members in this Parliament.

I would also like to congratulate all those who were elected or re-elected, especially the new members who are here for the first time and who are about to experience something extraordinary.

I would be remiss if I did not seize this opportunity to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the constituents of Sherbrooke, Fleurimont and Lennoxville who have re-elected me for the fourth time. I must tell you I owe these people a great deal. They are remarkable. I have had the privilege of representing them for many years now. I am trying—with some success, I believe—to give a true picture of what they are; they in turn illustrate quite well what I represent.

To those people I want to reiterate my sincerest thanks and I want to confirm that I intend to serve them with the utmost dedication and energy.

An election campaign is a moment for the country to stop, to reflect, to look back and hopefully to look forward. The last election campaign was an opportunity to do that. For me and for my party the last three and a half or four years have been very much about learning more about Canada, about exploring our possibilities and about going forward.

In the last two years and during the election campaign a number of things struck me about our country that are worth repeating today. Beyond the walls of this Parliament, beyond partisanship, beyond the rhetoric, there are a lot of good things to speak about in this country. There always was, by the way.

I want to take a second—and it may sound unusual to some members—to speak about our successes as a country in dealing with our deficits and debts.

A very powerful consensus exists in Canada for governments to balance their books and get their priorities right. There is so much consensus that we find New Democrats in Saskatchewan, Liberals in the Atlantic provinces, the Parti québècois in Quebec City and even, who would have thought, the federal Liberal Party of Canada have come around to the idea that we have to actually balance our books.

No matter how much they would like to redo history and say that everything was the fault of the previous government, that they had nothing to do with it, little do they mention, because their memory is selective, that they left behind when we came to government in 1984 a debt that had increased 1,000 per cent fold under the leadership of the Liberal government, including this Prime Minister. Their memory is so selective.

This is also a country that has done very well in the area of trade. Thank God we had trade agreements. Thank God we fought and won the election of 1988 and had the free trade agreement that allowed this country to increase merchandise export trade to the United States by 100 per cent.

We fought and signed the North American free trade agreement. Do they remember that the same people who now sit on the government benches fought us tooth and nail on the free trade agreement? What do we have today? We have a Prime Minister bent on travelling outside the country to increase trade with new countries.

He is now bragging about his new amigos in Chile. He wants to sign deals with Argentina. He wants to sign deals with Israel. He cannot get enough of it. Yet they fought us every inch of the way.

The good news is that had it not been for these trade agreements that we signed, that we fought for, Canada would have had no growth in its economy. Our domestic economy has been on its back for the last four years. Canada's domestic economy under the leadership of this Prime Minister has been on its back. We would have been in a recession had it not been for the trade agreements which we signed and fought for in 1988 and 1993.

You have to appreciate the spectacle of the Prime Minister and the Liberal benches rising during question period to applaud the government on its brilliant record. Here is a government whose record will say that it has governed over the longest period of high unemployment in Canada, the 82nd month in a row of unemployment above 9 per cent, since the depression of the thirties. That is the record they were applauding this afternoon.

What is the record they are applauding? There are more poor children today in Canada than there were when this government was elected. What is the record of the Liberal government that its members all applauded? It is the record of a government that has left Canadians poorer today than they were in 1993.

The income of Canadians has gone down 1.3 per cent. Yet if we follow the reaction from the government benches, if we watch them as they get up and speak, if we listen to the Minister of Finance or even the Prime Minister, they will quote the numbers from the OECD “We are doing better than this country and that country”. Maybe they should travel to Atlantic Canada. Maybe they should stay out of the OECD a little more, move away from Paris and Sweden or the Norwegian countries.

If they spent a little more time in Atlantic Canada and in western Canada they might find out why so few Canadians rise to applaud them when they speak of their record.

This is also a country that saw its health care and social spending slashed unilaterally, without consultation. This was unprecedented: a 40 per cent cut in funding. Was there any consultation?

By the way, where was all the talk of partnership back then, this great notion of rediscovered partnership?

During the election campaign the Liberals had to back down on health care because the health care system in this country is broken. The health care system in this country is suffering. The health care system in this country is threatened. It is threatened because of the actions of this government and this Prime Minister and failed leadership. They are going to be held accountable in this Parliament for having done that.

The Speech from the Throne was the opportunity for the government to say to Canadians what it is about this new century, this new era that it cares about, that it wants to focus on. In fact, you will remember, Mr. Speaker, that we have had an election campaign—it was a first, a precedent, as far as I know—to allow the Prime Minister to write the Speech from the Throne. “I need the whole summer”, he said. Why did the Prime Minister go to the polls three years into the mandate? Because he needed to write a Speech from the Throne. I do not know who wrote the Speech from the Throne, but I hope he was paid by the word and not the idea.

We could have expected a Canadian agenda. What did we get instead? The usual expressions of goodwill. How many times can we rediscover youth unemployment? Guess what, there are young Canadians out of work. Gee, why did we not think of that before? Speech after speech, and budget after budget gives us these useless, meaningless words, backed up by absolutely nothing, except a measure announced a few days ago, $90 million for an internship program for 3,000 young Canadians.

About half a million young Canadians are out of work. I think it is more than 400,000. If a person has a young boy or girl out of work today, that person can tell them there is hope. At this rate in 136 years the Liberal government will actually help them find an internship. That is the great initiative of this Liberal government.

We expected the government to at least heed the message of the election campaign, to say “We have got it. We understand. We heard.” There were many messages sent in the campaign. One of them at least the Prime Minister and I would agree on. He certainly did not return with the majority that he was hoping for. He certainly did not return with the vast support from all of the regions of the country.

If there is one thing the Prime Minister and the Liberal government must have understood, it is that they definitely did not get the mandate that they were hoping for and that they talked so much about at the beginning of the election campaign. So a message was sent to them.

We wonder however if that message was understood. Is there any indication in the throne speech that this government accepted and heeded the message sent by the Canadian people? I looked in the Speech from the Throne and I can only conclude that the answer is no. The government did not get it at all. We were expecting a national action plan, a plan that would set priorities and tell us how we would enter the new millennium.

What did we get instead? We heard from a government that wants to repent, a government that tells us it will reinvest money in certain programs. In which programs will the government reinvest? Can you believe that it will reinvest in health, after cutting spending in that sector by 35 per cent? It will reinvest in summer employment programs for students, after slashing them. It will reinvest in culture, after making cuts in that sector. And it will reinvest in post-secondary education, after reducing its support.

A few minutes ago, we witnessed something extraordinary. I was here in 1995. When the 1995 budget was tabled, the finance minister rose to announce that he would cut the scholarship program designed to encourage student excellence. This was in 1995. And do you know what happened, Mr. Speaker? I see the member for Rimouski, who was there as well, and the leader of the Bloc Quebecois. They all rose as they did this afternoon and applauded the Minister of Finance. This afternoon, the Prime Minister announced a new scholarship program. Guess what? They all rose together and applauded again.

That is what they did. But we did not applaud, because we were extremely sad to see such a good program being cancelled. What has changed in the meantime? Thousands of students have lost the financial support they needed to pursue their studies. Why? Because the government was shortsighted and unable to sort out its own priorities.

What has not changed is the docility of the Liberal backbenchers, who rise and applaud their Minister of Finance and their Prime Minister day after day.

This explains why there were 31 out of 32 from the Maritimes in the last Parliament. The people of the Atlantic provinces have said, “We've had enough of hearing the same old tune over and over, now we'd like to have people who will speak up for us, including the Progressive Conservative members in the Progressive Conservative caucus”. They will speak up for the people of the Atlantic provinces, since silence has reigned in recent years.

This same government is now talking about reinvestments and partnerships. But if this government understands what true partnership means, what is it waiting for to form a partnership in the area of health, to co-manage our federation?

This government had an opportunity with health care to demonstrate that it really believed in partnership instead of acting unilaterally. There is still an opportunity. The government could still sit down with the provinces and agree to national standards in health care. Nowhere is it written in the Constitution that it has to be decided by Ottawa and enforced by Ottawa.

Let me share a secret with the Prime Minister. His position on health care is untenable. He cannot cut the provinces by 35 per cent and then sit at the same table and say to them “I will run the show”. It is not going to work. The worst news is that it is not the Prime Minister's government or the provincial governments that will suffer. It is Canadians in waiting rooms, Canadians on waiting lists who are suffering from the Prime Minister's lack of leadership on this issue. They are paying the price.

We await the Prime Minister's partnership. We hope this time the words will be worth more than they were the last time they were spoken. The same is true for child poverty or youth policy. This Prime Minister invited us to give him some ideas on what we would do for young Canadians. I want to invite the Prime Minister today to look at the program, the platform we put forward in the last campaign.

We spoke of a youth policy with a clear objective where every young person should either be in school, in training, at work or doing community service. The national government can do something useful in that regard. You, sir, have the power to change the employment insurance system as it applies to young people. You do not have to ask anyone's permission. All you have to do is work with the provinces—

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I know the hon. member is an experienced member. I know he intends to address his remarks to the Chair and I invite him to do so and to continue to do so.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Charest Progressive Conservative Sherbrooke, QC

I would be more than happy to address my remarks to the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

As I was saying, the Prime Minister has an opportunity to do so. We hope he is sincere in his extending a hand for some advice. He can change the employment insurance system and pursue this policy. He does not need to get involved in areas of provincial jurisdiction. We should all recognize outright that education and training are provincial jurisdictions but the Prime Minister happens to have some control. In this Parliament control of EI is an important lever that has an impact on the decisions young people make in the area of education and training. The employment insurance system must be put at the service of the objectives we pursue in this area.

The same is true in regard to the issues as they affect aboriginal Canadians. I was happy to see at least in the Speech from the Throne an acknowledgement of the royal commission's report. I am far from agreeing with everything that is in that report but we cannot as a country remain in denial in dealing with what is going to be one of the most important issues of the next century, an issue that will test our values.

The most disappointing part is on jobs and on taxes. The government had an opportunity. This is a government that could have sent the signal that it has learned something about the last 30 years. But what has this Liberal government been saying to us now that we are facing the prospect of a surplus? It is saying that there is new money, that the promised land has arrived, that happy days are back again. The Prime Minister and his government say that they are going to spend that money because they have learned nothing from the last 30 years.

This government works on a few assumptions. The first assumption is that if there is a problem then the answer must be that government has to intervene. The second assumption is that if a government must intervene it has to be the federal government. “We're the ones who have to intervene, no one else”. The third assumption is that if there is a problem we have to spend money. That is the Liberal philosophy. It is written nicely. I assume that it is written over the Prime Minister's door “If you send it we will spend it”. That is the way it goes.

Let us talk to the real record of this government, the record the government was applauding this afternoon. The real country with which we compare is to the south of us. It is a quite imperfect comparison, but maybe the prime minister could explain to us why the unemployment rate in the United States is half what it is in Canada. Why is it that in the United States real disposable income has gone up 11 per cent in the last two years when it has gone down 1.6 per cent while the Liberals have been in power? Will they blame the Conservatives? Of course they will. If something goes wrong during the term of this government it is the fault of the past government.

However, if there is job creation, if the books are being balanced, if there are low interest rates and if there is low inflation it is all due to the Liberals, assuming that Canadians are dumb enough to buy all of that. I believe they will find that all of that wears very thin.

The government could have offered a different course to the country. With respect to taxes this government should not put up with the shameless rip off of employed Canadians, of the working poor in this country, who are being gouged because the government is using the employment insurance fund to pay down the deficit.

I asked the question in the House today yes or no, is the employment insurance fund of the government being used to reduce the deficit. I cannot get a straight answer. We know what the answer is. The government is paying down the deficit on the backs of workers, small businesses and on the backs of the unemployed, especially young unemployed Canadians. If the government wanted to do something today it could reduce premiums 25 per cent.

Are they listening? No, they are heckling. Maybe I am not convincing. Maybe I am too partisan. But do members think that the Canadian Chambers of Commerce is too partisan? Do members think that le Conseil du patronat is too partisan? I do not think so. I hope the government will learn.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise to ask that the hon. leader of the Conservative Party be afforded the same privilege which was afforded the leader of the New Democratic Party, that he be, by the unanimous consent of the House, permitted to finish his remarks.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to complete his remarks?

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6 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Charest Progressive Conservative Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government speaks of taxes. It speaks of trade. There is all this talk of rebalancing the federation.

A new balance of responsibilities will be established in the federation. And no need to say that the leader of the official opposition wants a massive decentralization. However, there are areas where the powers of the national government must be strengthened because it is not by stripping the federal government of all its responsibilities that we will keep the country united.

If this government believes in the real rebalancing of the federation it would also speak to the areas where the national government should reinforce its powers. Believe it or not, this party of mine, the party which founded the country, the party of Sir John A. Macdonald, the party which was here through good and bad times, also knows that a strong central government in the areas in which it should be strong is the best bet in keeping this country together.

Again I will offer some advice to my colleague. If the government really believed in the strength of leadership it would offer some leadership on interprovincial trade. How is it that there is more freedom to trade between Canada and the United States and Canada and Mexico than there is between Manitoba and Nova Scotia? There is more freedom to trade between Ontario and Ohio than there is between Canadian provinces.

The prime minister is going to do another Team Canada trip in January. Can I make a humble suggestion to him. When he returns to Canada, why does he not get the premiers together and organize a Team Canada trip in Canada?

This government has the power to say to the provinces “we will give you a year to sit down with us and conclude an agreement for interprovincial trade with a dispute settlement mechanism”. Who would object to that? Surely not the government of the province of Quebec which in the 1995 referendum argued under the word partnership the value of the economic union of Canada. Surely not those who have signed on to trade agreements with dispute settlement mechanisms with the United States and Mexico. Why can we not have this for Canada and create jobs as we do it? That is also one of the compelling reasons why such leadership should be exercised. So here are a few of the ideas of things that we believe in.

In the area of health care we think this government needs to move very rapidly. We hope it will use the opportunity of the first ministers conference to propose a covenant in health care, to recognize that the agenda on health care in this country will not be a national agenda until the national government plays its role. It is fine to go out there and accuse the provinces of doing this or that. But they will be out there and Canadians will be in a period of uncertainty on health care until the national government offers real leadership, not denial. This includes recognition of national standards, a covenant in the area of health care, an agreement by the provinces to enforce those standards and also a dispute settlement mechanisms in the area of health care.

In education and training this government could lead the way by offering some leadership on testing in the sciences and math, wiring schools, doing everything in its power to offer access to post-secondary education which it seemed to say today. Frankly, excuse us if we are a little jaundiced, but we have heard the same words in the past and seen exactly the contrary.

Pension reform will also be very important. The prime minister will know that Canadians are very concerned, and they should be. The government has a hidden agenda. To put it very directly, it is proposing pension reform that is going to overwhelmingly affect middle class Canadians. Middle class Canadians are going to get whacked by the government. They are going to be affected. The people who saved for their retirements are now going to find out that these Liberal members are going to take that away from them.

We want the government to come clean. We are ready to debate it and prepare pension reform. But we want to know the truth. How will this affect single women? How will this affect married women who are in relationships where their income will be judged on family income, not their individual income? How will this affect decisions that Canadians are going to make in the future with regard to how they save? Will we have a system that will offer them incentives not to save but rather not plan at all because if they do the government will take their money away?

In the area of CPP we continue to support increases in premiums reluctantly. This is a payroll tax. But we equally believe that if there is going to be an increase in the premiums they must be offset by tax reductions. Otherwise we will end up with an $11 billion or $12 billion bite out of the economy.

Finally—but do not raise your hopes too high when I say finally, and it would go faster if I was not constantly interrupted, but I have plenty of time—I come to the unity issue. The Prime Minister probably read the letter I sent to the provincial premiers to explain the position of my party on the Canadian unity issue. It must be said that the Prime Minister knows that, for us, the national unity issue is not partisan. I think that we proved it in the 1995 referendum and after.

But what I would like most to share with the Prime Minister today is the need, the importance of leadership at the national level because it is one thing to ask provincial premiers to carry the ball, in the end, there is only one Prime Minister, only one national government and only one national Parliament. They cannot be replaced. We cannot expect the provincial premiers to act on behalf of a national government.

I would have hoped that we could turn the page on the post-Meech period and finally start building a national, a Canadian action plan. Until we agree at least on a common action plan, we will be at the mercy of a government in Quebec whose avowed intention is to break up Canada. And we only react to what it does.

The hope I place in this Parliament and in this government is that they come up with an action plan. Nobody expects that solutions will be found overnight. Nor does anyone expect any constitutional amendments. But what we want to see is the Prime Minister at least agreeing with the provincial premiers on a common plan of action.

I would caution, however, against a plan too heavily focused on Quebec, as it currently is following the Calgary declaration, and doomed to failure because demagogues elsewhere in the country are going to seize on this and once again say that Quebec is running the country, when in fact Quebecers do not wake up every morning wondering whether they are a distinct society. They do not have to ask themselves the question—they are a distinct society, period.

And while I am on the topic, they do not need anyone's permission to be distinct. Except that the redistribution of powers, the federal power to spend, and the new mechanisms for co-operation affect not only Quebecers and westerners but also people in the Atlantic provinces and in Ontario.

We will move forward if we can do so together. That is one of the lessons. There is no need to move heaven and earth. All that is necessary is an action plan with three or four priorities. The only person who can come up with that is the Prime Minister of the country. But our Prime Minister, unfortunately, seems disinclined to act.

The prime minister will know that in the cabinet room in which he convenes his cabinet, as he sits down there is something written on the wall in front of him. The next time there is a cabinet meeting I hope he and his colleagues will take a second to read what is written there. It is from the book of proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Fear of failure in this area of unity for Canada is not an excuse.

Plan Bs are nice but let me share with the prime minister that as far as this party is concerned they can pursue all the plan Bs they want, compete with the opposition leader in trying to be Canada's undertaker, but as far as this party is concerned and as far as Canada is concerned, failure is not an option and will never be an option.

We are happy and honoured to be in the House to offer our contribution to the national debate. We look forward to building, continuing to build what is a great country and offering our children even more than what our own parents left to us. That is the true test and will be the true test of this Parliament.

Of all the things a government can effect and decide on, one important symbol is a passport. If one stops a second to think about what we have accomplished together as Canadians through the last 130 years, from Sir John A. Macdonald to Laurier to yes, Diefenbaker, Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulroney, every government, the single accomplishment that symbolizes what we have done together is the value of the Canadian passport that we will pass on to our children.

Who would have thought 130 years ago when this country was founded that as a consequence of the work of these generations of men and women that we would pass on to our children today what is viewed as the most valuable passport in the world, in a world that is globalized, in a world where more than ever people travel—

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. whip of the Reform Party on a point of order.

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6:10 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the leaders speak of course we do not want to be tight on time. We understand that the leader of the New Democrats went over by two or three minutes to conclude her remarks.

When the leader of the Conservative Party asked if he would have a couple or three minutes to do the same, we are now into doubling the time allotted for his speech. I think it is time to wrap it up. This has gone on now almost 15 or 20 minutes over the allotted period. I ask you to ask him to bring his remarks to a close.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member has not raised a point of order. He is simply making a representation. The House extended the time and did not place a limit on the hon. member's time. I think the hon. member has expressed his view about what the extension should have been but in the circumstances, I recognize the hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Charest Progressive Conservative Sherbrooke, QC

Following the hon. member, Mr. Speaker, he could just leave if he wanted to. He does not have to sit and put up with this. I understand how difficult it must be for him to listen to all of this, but that is fine. I do not want to dwell on that. If he does not want to listen, he can just leave.

As I was saying, one of the great accomplishments of this country in this era of globalization, in this era where we as Canadians are more than ever present everywhere in the world, we are passing on to our kids this passport that is of great value. This is something that we, as a Parliament, have a very direct effect upon. I hope that everyone of us here will make a commitment, will inherit that passport and be able to benefit from what is one of the greatest citizenships in the world, being a Canadian.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, September 23, 1997, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 o'clock.

(The House adjourned at 6.17 p.m.)