Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate as a former member of the human resources development committee.
First, I would like to read the text of the motion brought forward by the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. The motion reads as follows:
That this House condemn the government for the poor management seen at the Department of Human Resources Development, particularly in the award and use of grants for partisan purposes, and that it recommend the creation of an independent public commission of inquiry, whose members will be appointed by the House, and whose mandate will be to inquire into all practices of that Department and to report to the House by September 19, 2000.
There is also an amendment, which reads as follows:
That the motion be amended by adding after the word “condemn” the following:
As I was saying, after the 1993 election I was a member of the human resources development committee. That committee toured major cities in all the provinces, including Quebec. My colleague opposite was on that tour. If he could talk he would certainly tell us that every place we went the majority of witnesses who came before the committee were against cuts in social programs. They were against cuts in the unemployment insurance program, as it was then called.
There were several protests. I do not encourage protests but it happened several times during that tour. My colleague is nodding in agreement. He remembers. He may be a Liberal but he witnessed those protests.
I remember our visit to Montreal, where people turned over tables to protest against the government's intention to cut employment insurance.
A subcommittee had been set up and on the last day we went to Bathurst. I wondered why we were going to that riding, the riding of the former minister of human resources development. Why were we going there at the very end, as a subcommittee, without the TV cameras? That was Doug Young's riding. Protesters were particularly vocal there. People told us that the situation in Acadia was similar to that in the Gaspé Peninsula. The Liberal majority had rejected the idea of going to the Gaspé region or the Magdalen Islands.
Nor did we go to the Abitibi or the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, where seasonal unemployment is extremely high. Still, even if the subcommittee's destinations had been carefully selected, we had to go to the minister's riding. But the minister did not come on that day.
It was quite a surprise for me to see that the protest was even better organized there than elsewhere. This was because there were real problems. The wives of fishers came to testify. They told us that switching from a number of weeks to a number of hours of work would have a major impact in their area.
We remember that Doug Young, the former minister, was ousted, as had been the Conservative minister before him, Bernard Valcourt, who, at the time, had wanted to proceed with an unemployment insurance reform. I remember—that is Quebec's motto—that at the time the current Prime Minister had criticized the idea in a debate against then Prime Minister Kim Campbell, saying “You intend to cut social programs and the UI program. This is unacceptable”. The Prime Minister has left a trail. He even wrote a letter, using the same arguments ans stating that social programs and unemployment insurance should not be tampered with. These programs were necessary in the so-called seasonal unemployment regions.
But Ms. Campbell would not promise not to follow through on her plans, or the plans of Human Resources Development Canada officials. So the plans went ahead and the minister made the cuts in question, but it will be remembered that there was a marvellous transitional fund with up to $300 million for Quebec.
The reaction was “Fine, they are making changes but, with the transitional fund, people will be able to adapt”. But the problem was the way in which this transitional fund was managed, when it was realized that it would be limited to regions where unemployment was higher than 12%.
Unemployment in my riding, and in most ridings in the Quebec City and Chaudières-Appalaches region, was less than 12%. They therefore did not qualify for this program but, in the riding of the present minister, where unemployment stood at 6%, businesses and organizations did. Why? Because, she said, there were pockets of poverty.
All members in the House are capable of showing that there are pockets of poverty everywhere. There are pockets of poverty in my riding. I go to the Lauzon and, when the shipyard lays people off, it is not long before there is a pocket of poverty. There is still one right now.
But, oddly enough, we in the Bloc Quebecois and members of all the opposition parties were not informed of this directive. Only the Liberal members heard about it. Luck was on their side.
It hits even closer to home is when one realizes that 54.3% of the sums allocated over three years through this transitional job fund were during the six months before and the two months after the election. Promises had been made and there had not been time for the grants to be authorized. After the fact, when questions were raised, it became obvious that the money was sometimes six months or a year in coming. This is unbelievable.
The hon. member has said that there were partisan attacks from the opposition. Why are there such attacks which he calls partisan? Simply because the facts point very clearly to there having been partisan action in Liberal ridings or in ridings with opposition MPs on which the Liberals had designs.
The facts are even more worrisome. I will not spend much time on the Prime Minister's riding, but it is clear that, particularly in the riding of Saint-Maurice, there was a sort of flood of grants. Sometimes grants that had been awarded to another riding, such as Rosemont, got added to the ones already promised. In the Prime Minister's election literature, he was not shy about mentioning that this was the result of his interventions. He even included a quote from the business owner in question.
I also recall another instance, during the first mandate, involving phone-in centres for the unemployed and other people with problems. There were a number of these centres, more or less everywhere, but they were reduced to two. In the Quebec City region, there was one in the riding of my colleague for Louis-Hébert. It was not a face-to-face service. Everything was done over the phone. They did not receive any clients.
All of a sudden, when there was not even an office, and it was not one of the centres concerned, the number dropped from 10 to 2. There was not even one in the riding of Saint-Maurice and, all of a sudden, they were cut to two, and one was opened in the riding of Saint-Maurice. The one in Montreal they left there.
The one in the riding of Saint-Maurice was to serve eastern Quebec. I can tell you that the Prime Minister's riding is a long way from eastern Quebec. This is an example of decision making.
The member for Trois-Rivières pointed out what happened when the employment office in Trois-Rivières had to be moved. They streamlined, and where did the office go? Once again, to the riding of the Prime Minister, the riding of Saint-Maurice.
We reveal all these facts, plus those mentioned by my colleagues before me, and the Liberal member opposite looks offended. It seems to him that the members of the Bloc Quebecois are making partisan interventions. These facts are never contradicted. In 19 instances, the RCMP, as the Prime Minister said repeatedly, is investigating.
For me, the evidence is very clear. There was political influence in the awarding of grants in the transitional jobs fund. Since I find that scandalous, I add my voice to those who are protesting.