Mr. Speaker, right off, I would like to say that I was not really impressed by the speeches of the members for Chambly and for Frontenac—Mégantic the day before yesterday in the debate on the Budget Implementation Act, 1999.
The remarks of the Bloc Quebecois members were all over the map, referring to points in the history of Canada's and Quebec's economy and interpreting the facts and events subjectively. In other words, these were half truths.
The pessimistic view of the Bloc members has only one purpose, that of promoting Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada, even though over 80% of those who pay their salaries want to remain in Canada. These same people said in the latest referendum that Quebec's separation was a matter for Quebec only without a trace of embarrassment at raising the subject daily across Canada.
The reality is something else. While it is true that the population of Quebec is comprised primarily of francophones, this is no reason to try, as the Bloc is doing, to turn them into the victims of some sort of machination, because Quebecers can stand up for themselves and with other Canadians build a country that is good to live in.
Francophones have always occupied their rightful place in Canada. They have proudly kept their language and their culture. They will always have to be vigilant, not only in protecting them but in promoting them, and they are working at it remarkably.
Francophones have acquired a confidence that enables them to say that they do not need to separate from Canada to enjoy their fair share.
The Bloc, and the sovereignists, are falling into the trap of paranoia. Instead of proposing to Quebecers a major challenge such as to continue to work to be competitive in Canada and in the rest of the world, the Bloc keeps whining about alleged injustices to Quebec.
The sovereignists are desperate to have people believe that Quebec's separation from the rest of Canada is essential to its survival. They are stuck in the past. They can no longer adjust their views and opinions to today's realities and tomorrow's challenges.
While they are talking about separation, the sovereignists are forcing municipalities and school boards to merge, which is an obvious contradiction. In short, the Bloc Quebecois is stuck, it is unable to propose solutions other than to impoverish Quebec from a political, economical and cultural point of view, at the expense of the one million francophones living outside the province.
The member for Frontenac—Mégantic had the nerve to say that there are two Ministers of Agriculture and that it is one too many. Let me give a quick example of what the federal Minister of Agriculture has done for Quebec.
Our province accounts for 24% of the overall population but 48% of the milk quotas. Among other measures, the federal government recently put in place a special assistance program for farmers who find themselves in difficult situations. This initiative complements the Quebec program, whose objective is to help the agricultural industry with problems relating to livestock production, seeds, and so on. Under its initiative, the Government of Canada will provide about $900 million. That amount could reach $1.5 billion if the provinces are interested in taking part in it.
Allow me to put our government's philosophy and initiative in their proper perspective. Let me give you a more realistic and accurate view of our last budget.
First, I would like to point out to the members of the Bloc that the structure has evolved in such a way that the Americans no longer have a hold over our economy. Quebec's economy is made up of thousands of entrepreneurs who invest in the various regions of the province, with the help and support of both levels of government, that have developed and implemented policies and programs, taking into account the needs of regional and local stakeholders.
Contrary to what sovereignists are saying, it is very much in Quebec's interest to be a full fledged member of the Canadian federation. In fact, sovereignists lack perspective and have a selective memory. The Liberal government remembers vividly that, in 1993, Canada had a huge deficit of $42 billion, which we have eliminated with the great co-operation of Canadians, who had to make big sacrifices.
But today, the new context created by the federal government's budget surplus, by the creation of 1.6 million jobs in Canada and by a thriving economy has restored the confidence of Quebecers. Their renewed confidence is also due to the fact that the government has been able to do things that were beneficial to them.
Confidence in the Canadian economy has been restored because we were able to create the conditions for investment and economic growth, which means, among other things, that unemployment has fallen from 11.4% to 7.8% in 1999. This economic recovery has also led to lower interest rates.
As indicated recently by the federal government, the Government of Quebec will receive about $7.4 billion in new transfers this year and over the next five years.
This sum represents 34% of all new federal transfers, whereas the population of Quebec represents 24% of the Canadian population. This is not bad, in terms of help and support for Quebec.
Our economic and budget choice was actually an easy one to make. Our government deliberately chose to no longer mortgage Quebec's and Canada's future. It was committed to a balanced budget.
In 1998-99, we balanced the books for the first time, and even had a surplus. This marks the first time since 1951-52 that Canada has recorded two balanced budgets or surpluses, back to back.
One last statistic: in 1995-96, when the debt to GDP ratio was at its peak, 36 cents out of every revenue dollar collected by the federal government went to interest on the debt. Last year, this amount dropped to 27 cents.
I will not have enough time to list the many positive actions by our government, especially the support and magnificent work by several federal departments during the floods in the Saguenay and during the ice storm, which hit Quebec especially hard.
Members will recall that the Premier of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard, was handing out $70 cheques to ice storm victims, even though 70% of this amount, or 63$, came from the federal government. The cheques were emblazoned with the fleur de lys.
The economic and budget priorities of our government are well known and shared by a majority of Canadians: strengthen our universal health care system; provide tax relief; fight child poverty, and invest in a more productive economy and a better standard of living by expanding access to knowledge, research and innovation. These are measures we took in the most recent budgets, and we will continue to promote them.
In conclusion, my message is one of optimism. It is one of pride in being a member of the Liberal team, whose primary concern is to do everything possible to improve the quality of life of Quebecers in Canada, the best country in the world.
My message is also one of pride in representing the people in the riding of Beauce who put their trust in me.
The riding of Beauce has an unemployment rate of about 4%, the lowest or the second lowest in the country. My constituents' priority, and ours, is to work and to improve the quality of life in Canada.
In conclusion, my constituents have given me a mandate that is straightforward and complicated at the same time. Not only have they asked me to represent them well in the House of Commons, but they have also asked me to protect their interests and make sure that their region, like all regions in Quebec, gets its fair share.
Their trust encourages me to redouble my efforts, for our children and the generations to come, for Beauce, for Quebec, and for Canada.