Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Motion No. 102 put forward by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.
First, I want to say that this motion should be deemed admissible only if it is agreed that Quebec would oversee the new policy being promoted in the motion.
Quebec has a comprehensive transportation policy with very specific priorities and goals. Members may remember the meeting of Canada's premiers held in Quebec City last autumn and hosted by the premier of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard. The premiers unanimously agreed to ask the federal government to start reinvesting in a national highway strategy. They did not ask the federal government to intrude in areas of provincial jurisdiction but only wanted Ottawa to do its share where the national highway system is concerned.
Some of the highways in my area of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean lead outside our region. I am referring to highway 175 as well as highway 169 in the Parc des Laurentides. I have often put questions to the Minister of Transport in this House and I have sent him letters asking him to reinvest in this national highway.
Since 1996 the Canadian government has refused to renew the strategic highway improvement program. In Quebec, half of the costs of this program were covered by the province and the other half by the federal government. Ottawa did not renew its financial contribution.
Like the former Quebec transport minister, Jacques Brassard, and the current Quebec transport minister, Guy Chevrette, I have asked the transport minister again and again to renew the program. Each time, the Minister of Transport's answer was that we needed a national agreement. There was national agreement at the last meeting of the premiers and leaders of the territories.
I do not understand why this government always ignores every region's concerns about the infrastructure necessary for regional development.
Many years ago, this government stopped subsidizing the railways. What happened? An increasing number of heavy trucks travel our highways. Heavy trucks crowd our highways. Access is more difficult and there are fewer opportunities because our system was not really designed to handle the effects of globalization, as I said, in the Parc des Laurentides.
This government withdrew its financial support for railways, airports and shipping. What happened? All major firms are now shipping their products by truck.
Highways are under provincial jurisdiction. This government withdrew from an area where it should have been working with the provinces.
I think the proposal is the obvious solution but I encourage the member to demand that the government let the provinces implement the agreement, which is part of his proposal.
We will have to stop thinking that the government has the authority to intrude in all areas under provincial jurisdiction. Ottawa needs to understand what the provinces expect from it. It collects taxes in each and every province, so it needs to contribute to highway improvement.
I must say that I will support the proposal provided the provinces are in charge of its implementation. I hope the government will listen to us. In 1998, all provincial transport ministers submitted a five-year proposal to the federal Minister of Transport. It was a comprehensive proposal whereby, over a five-year period, the federal government and the provinces would have invested $16 billion in a joint national highway building and improvement plan.
Once again, the government, through the Minister of Transport, told the provinces that they would have to talk to their finance ministers and their premiers. It is always the same old song we get from the government through the Minister of Transport.
As we move toward the new millennium, the government is bragging about the astronomical surpluses it is expecting after slashing transfers to the provinces and bleeding the middle class dry. It has refused to index the tax tables. It grabbed the EI surpluses, which actually belong to workers and employers.
I think the federal government must start acting and stop prevaricating constantly adding new conditions to the legitimate and justifiable requests of the provinces and the population of this country.
I hope this motion will serve as a wake-up call to the government, whose ears must be stopped up. I think it is normal and that the provinces ought to have full jurisdiction. Then and only then will I be able to support the motion of my hon. colleague.
I want to take the opportunity to wish all my hon. colleagues in this House and everyone listening to the debate a happy new year and a very pleasant holiday season.