Madam Speaker, it is my turn to speak on this opposition day motion by the Reform Party.
I would like to divide the motion into two parts. The first part of the motion condemns the government's failure to address the concerns of the regions of Canada. In Quebec, our region, this failure is only too clear. Our presence here is vivid proof that Quebeckers are deeply dissatisfied with this government and the federal system that governs them.
The second part of the motion, on what should be done to remedy the situation, is a proposal that the government rename the Liberal committee on western alienation the Liberal alienation committee. Even if this proposal might be considered justified, it seems to me that somewhat better wording could have been found to condemn the government's action and suggest to it possible courses of action.
I shall concentrate on the first part of the motion, condemning the government's failure—I would say historic failure—to address the concerns of many of its citizens, and in our case, Quebeckers.
I shall not go over all the constitutional negotiations that have been the subject of dispute and the failure by the federal government to respond to Quebec's demands. There have been many such negotiations, particularly in the past 30 years, and they have one thing in common: regardless of who was negotiating—the federal Liberal or Conservative Party, a Quebec Liberal or Parti Quebecois government—the result has always been the same: failure.
It might be tempting to lay this failure at individuals' doorsteps, but that would not hide the fact that there is a profound problem: an inability to live together or find rules that can govern all of us within a single system.
Efforts to this end have always been based on the concept of Quebec as a province. From the federal government's point of view, the provinces must have a certain character. Though the government is reluctant to say that it sees them as all equal, it does have a very strong tendency to say that it has to avoid special treatment for certain provinces. This has prevented agreements being reached that would have led to an asymmetrical model, more particularly for Quebec, giving it a different constitutional status from the other provinces. The Canadian government has always been too frightened of the reaction from other regions of Canada and too frightened as well that the whole thing would become unmanageable, although it is already extremely difficult to manage.
To come down to brass tacks, this is causing a considerable number of day to day problems for ordinary citizens. I am going to indicate some of these. I will not expand on my examples right now, I will return to them, but I am thinking of the millennium scholarships. There are also secretaries of state for various economic development agencies, for example Canada has a regional development agency for Quebec, while Quebec has its own regional development sttructure.
This gives rise to a sizeable number of concrete problems. It is hard to co-ordinate the work in the field, because the federal government wants to be visible more than it wants to be useful. This causes problems of slowness and inefficiency in the system, when it comes to meeting people's needs.
The primary underlying problem in all these negotiations, in Quebec's case, is that it is difficult to reach an agreement with someone who represents an entity whose existence one refuses to recognize.
When we are told there is no such thing as Quebec culture, as the Prime Minister said, when one refuses to recognize the fact that Quebeckers are a people, it is very difficult, when it comes to negotiating with someone who refuses to recognize our very existence, to find a basis for understanding. This in turn creates a number of problems. The basic problem in relations between Quebec and Canada has always been at this level.
Even though people believe we talk too much about it, we do not stress it often enough. When it comes to the Constitution that currently governs Canada and contains the fundamental rules according to which people are living together, it is now shameful to talk about it. Are there many other countries that are ashamed to talk about their constitution, which should be a fundamental principle and something accepted by the citizens as a whole? There is something wrong when a country is ashamed of its constitution. Why is it wrong? Let us not forget what happened during the patriation of the constitution which governs us currently. One player did not sign, and this player is Quebec.
I know a few people will say “Yes, but separatists will never sign anything”. They should remember that for nine years there was a federalist government in Quebec. Even the main federalist party, the Quebec Liberal Party, does not intend to sign the Constitution as it stands today.
This does not seem to worry too many people. On the contrary, the federal government is forging ahead with administrative framework agreements, such as the one on social union, to further centralize decision making in Canada. This is along the same line. It could not care less that one of its components, which it sees as a major, beneficial, essential part of Canada, did not sign the Constitution.
Let us go back to specific examples, such as culture. If there is one thing that sets Quebeckers apart, it is of course their cultural characteristics. The Government of Quebec is rightly claiming, and in practice now, the ability to represent itself internationally. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Prime Minister reacted hysterically to its doing so and to its promoting its unique qualities internationally.
How can these people not understand even such basic things as these? They are, however, the very people who, with meaningless resolutions, would have us believe they recognize the vaguely distinct character of Quebec.
They will not agree to our promoting even the most obvious elements of our distinctiveness. This is a cultural element.
There is also our ability to do things differently. The Government of Quebec has made decisions regarding the education system in order to give students better access to post-secondary education, saying “We must have more graduates, therefore we will lower fees as much as possible”. Our policy on tuition fees is very different from that of Canada. They are much lower.
Outside Quebec, tuition fees are very high, less than in the United States, but still a lot higher than in Quebec. Obviously, that creates a debt problem that is heightened when students have difficulty finding a job.
I understand there is a problem and a need that is greater in Canada than in Quebec. The government creates a scholarships program for students and says “We will help them, we will reward excellence. There has been this whole debate on elitism. Therefore, we will back off a bit. We will go back to the issue of financial need and help students in this way”.
So, the government came up with a coast to coast program. Yet, needs are not the same everywhere. If we could have control over that money, our priority might be to provide tools that could benefit all students, because in Quebec the primary issue is not students' indebtedness, as is the case in the other provinces. For example, we might use that money to modernize the technological equipment used in our CEGEPs and universities. In this communications era, this might be a greater priority than scholarships.
However, these choices cannot be made because, with its taxation power, with its huge power to collect revenues, the federal government dictates its decisions, or uses the tax system to do so, thus setting priorities that are not necessarily the same as our own.
Because it is incapable of getting along with the Government of Quebec, the federal government does not even want to come to the negotiation table. Instead, it gave that mandate to a private foundation run by BCE's president, and told him “We are sending you $2.5 billion. In addition, you will get two year's interest before starting to deal with issues. You will settle them by negotiating with the government”.
There is a very big accountability problem there, but they are washing their hands of the whole thing by hiding behind a foundation. That is a problem. In the meantime, our educational system cannot define priorities as quickly as it needs to be able to do.
Quebec held a summit conference on priorities in postsecondary education. But the federal government does not see this as important. One morning, the Prime Minister had a bright idea and told the House that that was the priority because he believes that Canada has a role to play in this.
In the few minutes I have left, I want to look briefly at regional development. It is the same thing. Our RCM in Témiscamingue has managed to develop a genuine single window approach. Higher levels of government having had difficulty reaching agreement, we created a single window with one board of directors for the federal, provincial and municipal programs.
Who barged in? The federal government. Having lost its visibility in such a structure, it made us dismantle it. Now, we are going back to two boards, two directors general and, in the long term, two different development visions. Locally, it was a success, but because the federal government had lost its visibility, it decided to make us go back to the earlier system. This is not conducive to economic development. This agency should be called Propaganda Canada, not Economic Development Canada.
The government takes the attitude that Quebeckers do not know how good they have it and should be shown. But our presence in the House, and the presence of others who are not satisfied with this system, shows that there are serious problems that the members opposite have historically been unable to resolve.