Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to the Bloc Quebecois motion on the social union.
I have had the opportunity to work with the hon. member for Témiscamingue and I admire his passion for politics, his political smarts and his dedication to his constituents. I think this motion clearly shows the failure of the status quo and how this failure hinders the delivery of social programs in Canada.
At a discussion forum in Quebec City and a similar meeting in my riding of Edmonton—Strathcona, everyone realized that the hon. member for Témiscamingue and I were proposing a slightly different approach to resolving the national unity problem. But we both understand that this problem is mainly the result of federal mismanagement of constitutional affairs and social policy.
The federal government has overstepped its jurisdiction and has entered into areas that rightfully belong in the domain of the provinces. This federal intervention is seen as a kind of insulting paternalism in Quebec, Alberta and the rest of Canada.
As is being discussed today, the federal intervention has also led to the deterioration of Canada's social programs. The federal government promised a centrally planned and administered solution to our social needs. It has not been able to live up to that promise.
With all due respect, I would like to remind my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, whom we should congratulate on their motion, that we can build a new partnership within Confederation if we keep trying to break the federal government's monopoly. We must bring about changes that will ensure every province has the level of autonomy it demands.
This motion addresses among other things the very serious problem of underfunding of our national health care. When the federal government established the Canada Health Act there was an understanding that it would pay 50% of the costs. In exchange the federal government was able to implement the nationwide health care program that legally bound the provinces to implement health care according to dictates of Ottawa. Many Canadians viewed this as a fair exchange. The provinces lost some autonomy but Canadians saw the benefits of a nationwide comprehensive health care system.
This system is no longer working the way it was supposed to. Since 1994 cuts to health care and social transfers have reached 23%. The federal government does not even meet half the commitment to the provinces it said it would commit under the Canada Health Act. The same federal Liberal politicians who claim to care about health care are starving the provinces of health care dollars.
The irony in this is that premiers Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and others have received criticism for trying to work creatively within a cash strapped health care environment. This has meant some tough choices but the Canadian people should remember that it is the federal government that has broken its health care promise to the people and not our premiers. The Prime Minister has let us down and the premiers are working to fix the problem.
The Prime Minister has not only broken his promise to the people of Canada, he has ignored the legal opinion of the supreme court which over the summer stated that the federal government has a duty to enter into good faith negotiations with any provinces dissatisfied with the status quo. When the first ministers get together defers to old style political bullying. The Prime Minister wants to call the shots without making a fair contribution.
There is a new reality in Canadian politics that the Liberals are going to have to understand. There is now widespread support for the rebalancing of powers and widespread dissatisfaction with overcentralized, out of touch Liberal style federalism.
My colleague from the Bloc has brought attention to an issue Reformers have campaigned on for some time, the need to reinvest in health care. Reformer has proposed a $4 billion reinvestment that would come from cuts to programs we believe are not core government services. Any politician who does not believe there is at least $4 billion of waste in the federal government is either dishonest or asleep.
The problem is not finding the waste. The problem is convincing Liberal politicians to stop playing politics with the paycheques of average Canadians and to start spending taxpayer money on programs taxpayers actually support. Why is the Liberal government spending money on the millennium fund when health care remains underfunded? Why has it once again interfered with provincial jurisdiction?
Another important aspect of the social union is the suggestion that the federal government should actually have to work to gain the support of 50% of the provinces before pursuing a new program. Imagine a system where the federal government has to find support for federal programs before moving ahead with them. This would be truly revolutionary in Canadian politics.
The Reform Party has outlined in the new Canada act a provision that seven provinces must give their support before a federal initiative can be implemented. But the provision in front of us today calling for six provinces to commit to a program is definitely a good place to begin. If the federal government goes ahead with the program after six provinces have signed on, those provinces that are not supportive of the federal initiative can pursue their own programs with full compensation. This is very important. For too long the federal government has used its powers of taxation to ignore constitutionally protected jurisdiction.
If the federal government is interested in seeing quality programs implemented it should not be concerned if they are being implemented at the provincial level or the federal level. It should be argued that programs administered locally better meet the needs of the people.
The motion also suggests some form of conflict resolution strategy should be created in cases where the federal government and the province or provinces disagree as to what qualifies as an equivalent provincial program. I have looked into a prospect of a national standards tribunal, a proposal that goes beyond what is mentioned in the new Canada act and what is being offered today by my hon. colleague from Témiscamingue. It is a project I will continue to work on, as I believe there is clearly a dilemma between the rebalancing of powers and the establishment of national standards.
Canadians are not prepared to accept extreme regional disparity. Nor are they prepared to accept poor federal mismanagement of social programs. Therefore some dispute mechanism must be created that addresses the question of jurisdiction in the context of national standards.
I say this not to qualify my commitment to the realignment of powers and the return of many powers to the provinces but to reaffirm my commitment and to find a way to remove the obstacles currently standing in the way of the success of the new Canada act and the proposal put together by the premiers in Saskatchewan.
The Liberal failure to understand that Canadians want to see fundamental changes to the administration of Canadian social programs will very likely become the single most united force in the united alternative effort. Status quo federalism is a failure that Liberals continue to hang on to, despite the damage it is doing to national unity and despite the damage it is doing to the Canadian social fabric. It is a shame that Canadians have to suffer, but I am optimistic that this issue will unify Canadians in opposition against an arrogant, out of control Liberal government that refuses to listen to the people, the provinces, the courts or anyone else who disagrees with it.