Mr. Speaker, we have a problem in the country when policies are not made on the basis of good reason or good common sense but on the basis of pure politics. That is what has happened in this regard.
A task force was convened back in 1995. I would like to share with the House some of its observations. The clerk of the privy council asked Ivan Fellegi to chair a task force of senior officials to review the state of the government's policy capacity. The task force submitted its report in April 1995 and it concluded:
The most notable weaknesses at present relate to longer term strategic and horizontal issues. Resources are disproportionately consumed by short term demands.
It was basically a condemnation of the way in which the government makes policy. Its observations were such that it highlighted to those who read it the unfortunate political motivation behind too many of the policies that are misconstructed by the government.
Such is the case here. The bill proposed by the government is after the fact. It is designed to fulfil a promise made by a Prime Minister, in anticipation of a federal election, to a group of Canadians in the Atlantic region who he hoped to persuade through his promise to support them. It is clear and obvious to members opposite that was the case.
Is that the way policies should be designed and shaped? Is that the way policies should be communicated to the Canadian people? The obvious answer is that it is not.
The bill is a reflection of the government's ability to act in an ad hoc fashion rather than to plan. There was no consultation in advance of the promises made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister does not have to consult but he should. The Prime Minister has made announcements before on behalf of various ministries and sometimes without consultation with his ministers. For example, the millennium scholarship fund was introduced by the Prime Minister without consultation with his finance minister. This is not the way to make policy and design a better Canada.
We have another problem in this case. We have a problem for the people of Atlantic Canada because in many regions the constituents in Atlantic Canada elected Liberal members. Liberal members were sent here not because they were bought, which is not the nature of the people of Atlantic Canada at least in my experience, but rather to represent their constituencies and to represent them well.
However I have not heard voices raised in the House in strong support of the people of Atlantic Canada on the equalization formula. No one from the Liberal side has stood to condemn the words of the Prime Minister or his lack of action and the lack of action of the finance minister on this policy issue. That is a shame.
I have heard members from Atlantic Canada. They have not attacked the Prime Minister's approach to this issue. They have not attacked his lack of sensitivity around the needs of the people of their own regions or of other regions such as my own in Manitoba or in the province of Saskatchewan, both provinces which depended to some degree on equalization payments to offer the kinds of services to their residents they deserve to have. I have not heard voices raised in that respect.
Rather I have heard voices raised in the House attacking provincial politicians in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick. I wonder at the wisdom of those kinds of personal, petty and partisan attacks. I wonder why members opposite would rise and criticize the governing parties of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
It seems the only reason they would do so is that currently there are Progressive Conservative governments in those provinces. That seems rather shallow. It also seems at odds with what their constituents would want them to do, which would be to stand with Premier Lord, Premier Hamm and with many others in Atlantic Canada. Their constituents are trying diligently to have this formula revisited and to ensure the resources they and their provinces need are made available to them under a fair formula.
Partisanship is at its worst in the House when members opposite fail to address issues of importance to their own constituents. There are clear divisions in the Liberal caucus and among various ministers on this issue.
The Minister of Industry crowed like a rooster in the barnyard about his voracious appetite for a revisiting of this formula when he was premier of Newfoundland. I have not seen him rise in this place on this issue since returning to Ottawa. Perhaps he has another agenda in mind. I have not heard him put on the record his strong support for the people of Newfoundland on this issue. I have not seen it and I have not heard it.
I heard the minister on a lot of other issues as the people of Newfoundland have when he was there. When they said goodbye to him I am sure it was with some hope that he would come to this place with a Newfoundland agenda in mind. That has not been evident.
The finance minister has not shown any interest either. Rather he told finance ministers that this file would not be opened. He said that a single act would suffice. This ad hoc act and self-serving makeshift policy is not the way to deal with an issue as important as this one is to the people of Canada.
The finance minister for some reason refuses to open the file. Perhaps it is because he does not want to give any credit to the industry minister, who may be behind the scenes raising this issue, although he is certainly not doing it where anyone knows that he is doing it. This has been a closed debate and that is unfortunate. It has been closed to a very few. That kind of policy making is not the kind of policy making that people want.
I have sat and listened to the debate with some interest. Members have unfortunately misrepresented Canadian Alliance policy. I would like to put on record our policy on this issue. We recognize that different provinces and regions of Canada have different levels of wealth but all wish to provide similar services to their residents.
We are committed to the constitutional principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide their residents with reasonably comparable levels of basic services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. That is the Canadian Alliance policy, not the policy that has been misrepresented and put on the record in the House by some members opposite.
Our policy reflects the desire for fairness and for some equitable treatment of all Canadians. We believe that equalization should serve the longer term purpose of equalizing economic opportunity and autonomy in all regions of our country. It should not create incentives for perverse economic policies. It should not be used for self-serving political purposes. Rather it should be used as it was originally designed, to provide a way up for people, not just an excuse for a government to try to buy support.
Donald Savoie in his book Governing from the Centre made some observations concerning the nature of the way in which the government has chosen to develop policy. He stated:
While I argue that the centre and, in particular, the hand of the Prime Minister, has been considerably strengthened in recent years, this is not to suggest that the federal government is better able to define new strategic direction or a coherent plan to which all government departments can contribute. It is ironic perhaps that as the hand at the centre has been strengthened, its ability to manage horizontal issues has been weakened.
We see evidence of that in many policy areas and certainly we see it in regard to this file. The Prime Minister's controlling hand is all over the legislation. His desire to use legislation such as this to fulfil pre-election promises is obvious and self-evident.
What is the ability of the government to deal with the horizontal issues that affect all regions of the country? According to Donald Savoie, a noted observer of things political for decades, the ability of the government to deal with the horizontal issues that face our nation has been considerably weakened.
We see that here and in many other areas. Our desire as a political movement is to make sure that everyone in Canada feels they are a part of Canada. That is not the case today in Canada. We have seen centrifugal federalism where the willingness of the government to practise and develop policies does not reflect the true Canadian fabric. Too often we have seen a willingness to use partisan judgment rather than develop good, comprehensive, intelligent, foresighted policy.
The Council for Canadian Unity has been at work developing ideas, researching and looking into ways to enhance that sense of being a Canadian that should exist across the country from coast to coast. It has just released the results of a study it conducted. What it revealed is truly disheartening and should be disheartening to all hon. members of the House.
Canadian residents were polled and asked the question “Do you feel that the federal government is respectful of your province?” The results were tabulated by province and were truly sad in terms of what they revealed. The results revealed that in only one province of Canada did the government get a passing grade from the people in that province. That province was Ontario. In nine other provinces from the west coast to the east coast, the Council for Canadian Unity study revealed that Canadian people do not feel their provinces are being treated with respect by the government.
This is a condemnation of the way in which the government has chosen to develop its policies. Perhaps it is a condemnation of the way in which it has chosen to communicate. However, I doubt very seriously that venturing out to western Canada on feel good trips, for example, will change the perceptions of western Canadians toward the government.
What western Canadians are looking for, and I believe what people in the maritime region are looking for, is real change, a real change in the attitude and the approach of the government toward the people of those regions, a real change in the ways in which the government develops policy and does consultation. I believe they are looking for a real change in the way in which the government and the Prime Minister deal with the reality of the need for democratic reforms, for openness, and for increased openness in the Chamber and elsewhere. I believe they are looking for a real change in the institutional approach we have developed over many years in the country, a change that would allow for a greater sense of belonging to the country, a greater sense of control among the Canadian people, so that they would feel their input was being valued, that they were being respected as Canadians.
When the study was released, the reaction was silence on the part of the government opposite, but I genuinely hope that in the days to come we will not have to deal with any more of these pieces of legislation that are designed clearly and simply to fulfil promises made by the Prime Minister in isolation from any of his own caucus members and in isolation from any consultation with the Canadian people. He simply made them, pre-election, for his own personal electoral purposes. That is not the kind of legislation we should be dealing with in the House and yet we are today.
I will conclude by saying that we in the Canadian Alliance will continue, as will I in my responsibility as the regional equity critic, to look for ways to genuinely develop a country of which all Canadians feel they are a part and in which they feel they are respected. That has not been the case under the government's mandate.