Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in the debate on the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
This partisan document once again follows along the main thrusts of the September 1997 throne speech. There is continuity here: it is a document continuing centralization and non-respect of Quebec's jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister and his so-called strategists have taken each of the themes of 1997, changed their titles and added paragraphs. A fine makeover, with the maple leaf in the background.
The Liberals' Canadian policy is clear, as is the Canadian model they are defending. It involves spending budget surpluses in areas of provincial jurisdiction, avoiding problems at the federal level, such as employment insurance and air transport, and presenting a long shopping list with items that could create new federal-provincial friction.
The editorial of Le Devoir of October 13 provides in this regard: “It would be good news for once to hear that the federal government wanted to honour the principle underlying all federal regimes, which is the sharing of jobs and jurisdictions and proposed to its partners that the provinces come up with a consensus on joint policy. New real desire remains to be proven, however, especially since the speech includes a number of projects that could rapidly become irritants”.
This centralizing recipe now includes a social union sauce, which could well further spoil relations between Ottawa and Quebec City.
I smile at the thought of Liberal ministers and members talking partnerships, agreements with their partners. How could we be expected to believe such a philosophy when the government itself cannot respect jurisdictions and is continually encroaching on their jurisdiction?
The day after the throne speech, the federal government received several warnings that it was heading off on the wrong track. I quote from La Presse of October 13 in this regard: “The Conseil du patronat is expressing concern over federal government spillover. The Quebec university students association went so far as to accuse Ottawa of invading provincial jurisdiction in the field of education”.
Examples include the case of the national plan on skills and learning for the 21st century, future health research institutes and the five year infrastructure program.
On this issue, the federal government has made a commitment, but we will have to wait until the end of the year 2000, not the end of the current year. Yet, during the prebudget consultations, all the municipalities of the electoral district of Lotbinière asked me to urge the federal government to take immediate action.
Another vague promise, with no specific funding, and we will have to wait for the 2001 budget to know the specific commitments of the federal government. I have made a diagnosis of this government. It is suffering from a new political condition called acute wait and see syndrome. The government makes a promise and then waits. It makes a promise now, but only for 12, 15 or 24 months from now. In the meantime, those who need the money suffer.
Let us now go back to employment insurance. Considering that 60% of the unemployed currently do not qualify for benefits, what do we find in the throne speech to give some hope to these people? Not much. Yet, when the federal government talks about fighting poverty, it should give priority to the employment insurance program, which is one of the causes of poverty and one of the main reasons why people are leaving the regions of Quebec.
What have the Liberals done to help regional development? They have come up with minor partisan measures and they made a big deal about some small subsidies, as they did last month when they sent a delegation of five federal ministers headed by the new minister of patronage, assisted by the new secretary of state for professional sport—I mean amateur sport, but given his recent statements, I am more and more convinced that his job is geared primarily to helping professional sports.
But let us go back to unemployment and regional employment insurance rates. This is an absurd situation which jeopardizes the very foundation of the employment insurance program.
In my riding of Lotbinière, the regional rate set for the regional county municipality of Lotbinière is very detrimental to the people there, compared to the riding's other RCMs. Having two regional rates create two classes of unemployed in the riding. People constantly contact my offices to condemn this social injustice.
The Corporation de défense des droits sociaux de Lotbinière, social and economic stakeholders and the unemployed will mobilize in early November to convince the new Minister of Human Resources Development to correct the mistakes made by her predecessor.
Once again, I would like to explain this administrative nightmare. The rate, which is determined arbitrarily by Statistics Canada and considered to be realistic, means that one must work 630 hours to be eligible for benefits for a period ranging from 17 to 40 weeks.
In the other RCMs in my riding, the regional rate is 11.2% and the number of hours required is 490 to be eligible for benefits for a period ranging from a minimum of 23 weeks to a maximum of 45 weeks. It is a gross injustice for the RCM of Lotbinière, since the socio-economic profile is the same for the whole riding. Therefore, setting a single employment insurance rate for the whole riding that is in line with our true socio-economic profile is of the utmost importance.
Businesses are also penalized by this regional rate, since they do not have access to the same federal subsidy programs as businesses from other areas in my riding.
In the Speech from the Throne, the federal government expressed its intention to make the Internet accessible to everybody. First of all, a lot of parents cannot even afford to buy a computer. Second, in our opinion, the CRTC should ensure that all Canadians have access to an individual telephone line so that they can connect with the Internet. Right here at home on the eve of the third millennium, certain regions in Quebec and in the rest of the country still do not even have the basic services necessary to access the Internet.
This government is completely cut off from the daily lives of people in our society.
This government has not changed since the beginning of the 36th Parliament: it remains a centralizing government, now pushing its social union agreement, a government that stops at nothing except tackling the problems that come under its jurisdiction, some examples being EI, the airline industry, and provincial transfer payments.
But it is in a big rush to get its hands on our money. The budget surpluses belong to all taxpayers, not just the Minister of Finance, who fiddles with the books and conceals the real state of the country's finances.
The Minister of Finance already has the necessary leeway to announce immediate tax cuts for middle income taxpayers, those whose hard-earned money paid down the federal deficit, unemployed workers, youth, the sick and the poor.
In short, my conclusion is very simple: the federal government has money to spend in fields of provincial jurisdiction, but not a cent when it comes to problems for which it is accountable. That is the Canadian way of the Liberal government as I see it.