Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on an issue that members of the Progressive Conservative Party know well. We are talking about the social union, but we used to call it the Canadian pact. This, of course, was part of our 1997 election platform. If I have enough time, I will be pleased to indicate to the House the similarities that exist between the two.
Some members pointed out earlier the advantage for the provinces to have worked together and reached an agreement. That is the positive side. It was the same for the Calgary declaration. It was a small starting point. The provinces and territories are doing the work. Why? Because Liberals are not doing their job. The success achieved by the provinces in the social union is linked to a lack of leadership from the government. It is a causality link. Liberals are not doing their job, so the provinces are doing it for them. The Liberal government should show much more inclination and willingness to greet positively what is happening in the provinces.
The message that we want to send, both to Quebec and to the rest of the country, is that, if there are problems in federal-provincial relations, it is not necessarily because of the provinces. Perhaps we should look at the other side of the House, where the Liberals are sitting. But there is hope if the provinces are able to talk to each other. That is the interesting thing.
The other point I would like to make—and I did so earlier in a question I asked this morning—is that the social union is not only a health issue, but also an education and a social assistance issue. It is not only a money issue.
The idea behind social union is not only to say that we want six, seven or eight billion dollars more. It is a way of putting in place a new and effective system of federal-provincial relations. We must see beyond money and health issues, even though they are also very important. The health issue was raised this morning by my colleagues from the Bloc. I share their view. Education also is important.
So, what we are saying is that social union must go a little further, but, as I indicated, I will talk about that later.
I would like to talk to the motion put today by my colleague from Témiscamingue. Of course, it talks about money. The provincial ministers of finance proposed many solutions involving cash and tax points over three, four or five years. These are all very interesting solutions provided that the so-called team captain, in this case the Prime Minister, agrees to co-operate. But that co-operation is not there at the moment.
The deadline for the social union is December 31. Madam Speaker, I do not know the state of your personal finances, but if you have money, do not bet on that, unless the federal government decides to be more open. The social union project appears to be in jeopardy. Can we already talk about failure? No, because the very fact that the provinces and territories reached an agreement is a great success. But since the federal government is not there, that achievement seems likely to be turned into a failure, unfortunately.
Now, I would like to come back to the social issue, more specifically to the circumstances leading to the need for more money. But there is the principle of clarifying federal-provincial relations.
I would like to talk about the points made in the motion presented by my colleague from the Bloc. Restoring the level of contributions is a question of money, of course, and it is important. I agree with 98% of the Bloc's arguments, which says it is Ottawa's fault. In effect, Ottawa is the one behind it all. But I disagree—and I rate this at 2%—with its arguments because the Quebec government is doing to municipalities what the federal government is doing to the provinces. I know, I was a mayor long enough. So, it is sometimes neither black nor white, but grey.
What is interesting, though, is the support of a majority of provinces before initiating new federal incursions into sectors under provincial jurisdiction. It is fantastic. But what could first be clarified is what is neither under federal nor provincial jurisdiction. It is said that health care falls under provincial jurisdiction. That is all fine and good, but how many hundreds of millions of dollars in health research are funded by the federal government? The tens and hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the federal government in research seem to be accepted by Quebec and the other provinces. And what about the granting councils? Do they come under federal or provincial jurisdiction?
We must sit down and look at all areas of jurisdiction, and not necessarily make constitutional changes—we have not reached that point yet—but maybe establish correctly the different areas of jurisdiction and, after that, look at how we can manage them for the benefit of Quebeckers and Canadians.
So, it is important to clarify the areas of jurisdiction, because some people always consider our country as being upside down or the other way around. Maybe we should liken this country to a tree, with the roots meaning we are all working toward a common goal, and the leaves representing the whole population. Maybe that is how we should look at it. The federal government and the provinces alike want to be at the top of the pyramid, to have jurisdiction over it. But ultimately, the most important in all this is the population we are here to serve.
As I said earlier, there is also the provincial right to opt out with full compensation. I am not sure we really understand what it actually means. Opting out means you take your money and leave. But it seems now that it is not quite that simple. You take the money, but you somehow have to spend it in the same jurisdiction and to work toward the same goals.
This is not really opting out, except administratively. If we really want what the Progressive Conservative Party calls a Canadian pact and the provinces call social union, there cannot be any opting-out, because we have to agree on certain rules or standards.
My NDP colleague raised concerns about the national standards to be set by the federal government. That is not our position. We are suggesting instead a Canadian pact office with federal and provincial representatives who are going to first set and then implement the national standards.
When we have standards, if for some reason a province should decide to opt out, it should still abide by the standards of the Canadian pact or social union.
Some real progress has been made and I congratulate the people and premier of Quebec on this. This is not the same concept of opting out we had back in the 1970s or the 1980s. It is a right to opt out because some things, some programs have been put forward. This will be done in the same spirit, except that we might like to manage things. And why not, since the provinces have often shown they can manage things better than the federal government. I do not have a problem with that.
It must be well understood that we are saying that, if we agree on the rules, the standards, the basics relating to the Canadian pact or social union, we cannot have a right to opt out, pure and simple. Should it be an administrative opting out? Sure, why not, as long as we abide by the rules. It is nonetheless important.
It is so important that if we do not have that, we cannot have a dispute settlement mechanism. How can we have a dispute settlement mechanism without agreeing on the main points? What we are proposing is a Canadian pact office which, once it has decided how it should work, and decided of course on the funding, will set the rules so we can settle any potential problems. Of course we do not like conflicts. That is why we need well established rules.
If a province chooses to opt out, or if a province that opted in mismanages a program, there will be enforcement mechanisms with teeth—not only a slap on the wrist.
Some people seem to have a problem with that. I apologize for talking about Quebec in particular, but I feel it is important. Even though any analogy is lame, may I remind the House that, when the free trade agreements were negotiated, a dispute settlement mechanism was put in place. Everybody agrees on this.
If we have an agreement on social union, what we call a Canadian pact, it is normal to have a dispute settlement process inasmuch as we agree on the terms of this social union.
In conclusion, I would like to stress the fact that the provinces must persevere. If I am not mistaken, the next meeting will be held in Winnipeg two weeks from now. I hope the Minister of Justice will be more voluble. Of course, she had to understand what was going on at the provincial level. Perhaps this proves once again that there is a dichotomy between what goes on here in Ottawa and the reality.
I say to the provinces that they should persevere and resist temptation, and I ask the federal government to start showing more leadership.