—said: “The premiers unanimously agree—so many people dream of unanimous agreement in Canada, and they certainly have it in this case—that the federal government's top budget priority should be to increase funding for the Canada health and social transfer”. That is clear, but that is not what the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have done.
True to their old ways—Liberals, like leopards, never change their spots—they implement new programs, especially in areas outside their jurisdiction, which do not meet the needs of Quebec in particular.
The federal government, for instance, is increasing the deduction for child care from $5,000 to $7,000 just as Quebec is developing an early childhood policy to reduce child care costs. This means that the deduction will have little or no impact in Quebec. This shows how little they know Quebec. It is not surprising, considering the Prime Minister has not lived in Quebec for 35 years. He has lost contact with Quebec society and he thinks he can buy people by sending them cheques. Things no longer work like this in Quebec.
The millennium fund tells the real story. The Prime Minister clearly admitted it yesterday. When the Prime Minister loses control, he becomes very transparent, and yesterday he clearly told us what his true objective was.
A few days ago, on February 17, the Prime Minister addressed the Canadian Club—a respectable institution to whose members he spoke respectably—and said, in reference to the fund, that “as incredible as it may seem, some will criticize it. Yet, we are only trying to prepare young Canadians to enter a new century and to take their place in the new economy”. This is political grandstanding.
So much for the Prime Minister's good intentions. A leopard cannot change its spots. The Prime Minister's contemptuous attitude quickly showed through again when he said very clearly yesterday that “students are entitled to know where the money they receive comes from. We think every Quebecker should know that the taxes they pay to the federal government give them something in return”. This is very clearly what we call contempt.
The Prime Minister talks about sending cheques to students. It reminds me of the contempt he showed a few years ago toward the unemployed in the Gaspé Peninsula, when he said they were only interested in getting their unemployment insurance cheques. Talk about contempt. We are used to it. We know the Prime Minister. We know how contemptuous he can be when talking about Quebec.
His good intentions to help students have gone up in smoke. The Prime Minister forgot, or perhaps he did not know, that Quebec has, for over 30 years, had a program of loans and bursaries far more developed that any such program elsewhere in Canada. The Liberal Party, the Parti Quebecois, university rectors, CEGEP principals, students and teachers all agree: they are not interested in the millennium scholarship fund, because there is a bursary program in Quebec. A program that is to be found nowhere else in Canada.
Quebec students' debt load, while too high, is $11,000, while, for students outside Quebec, it is $25,000. The situation is different. We are truly distinct, and our program of loans and bursaries is especially so.
An agreement was reached in 1964 with Jean Lesage, the federalist Quebec premier and the initiator, with René Lévesque, of the Quiet Revolution. He believed and Quebeckers believe that this program does not meet the needs of Quebec. The spirit of the Lesage and Pearson agreement to enable Quebec to opt out with full compensation from the loans and bursaries program needs to be revived.
The other side of this House fails to acknowledge this. What is more, they want to impose mobility. In other words, students moving from one province to another will be given special treatment under one of the criteria. I can understand the case of a student from Vancouver going to Toronto or to McGill in Quebec, where there is a network for anglophones in Quebec. We look after our minority.
For a francophone student wanting to study outside Quebec, well, there are no full-fledged French universities outside Quebec. There is a university in Ottawa, but it does not offer all the programs. There are none anywhere else. Mobility is theoretical, virtual. The mobility criterion will do nothing for students in Quebec. It is a coast to coast to coast program for them, but not for us.
The Prime Minister made deliberate choices. After taking away money from the provinces, he chose to take that money and get his name in the history books as the first Canadian head of government to have interfered in Quebec education. What he wants is to get the flag onto the cheques. That is what he wants.
It would not be surprising if he eventually introduced a bill to get his portrait on Canadian $20 bills in place of Queen Elizabeth II.