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House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leader.

Topics

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

I rise to defend my Prime Minister. When I say that, you, Mr. Speaker, will know well from your experience in the House that I am one backbench MP who has many times disagreed with my Prime Minister, many times spoken in the House against my leader's legislation, and many times expressed in the most candid way that not always has the government policy been correct, although by and large, obviously, because I am on this side and not on that side, I believe it to be so.

The reason why actually I take some satisfaction in standing here with the motion and defending my Prime Minister is that I believe it is incumbent on a team and the members of the team always to support their leaders, so long as they have confidence in those leaders, and I certainly have confidence in the current Prime Minister.

If I have time I will make allusion to some of his successes in the past, which include reducing the debt by $100 billion, turning back the forces that would split the country apart, the forces of separatism, and most importantly, the position he took on Iraq, which led Canada away from a traditional course and into a new course of independence in foreign affairs that I think will reverberate down through the ages.

It is not easy being a leader. I think one of the characteristics of a good leader is the ability to make decisions knowing full well that from time to time a mistake will be made. It is not easy, sometimes, to make these decisions and be brave. It is easy in hindsight or easy to sit on the side benches or from behind the curtains to second guess the decisions of a leader, but the reality is that to lead is a difficult task. So long as we, the members of the team, have confidence in that leader, then we should be supporting him. I do so now.

Let me address two points that have come up in this debate. One is the question of why the Prime Minister chose to leave in February 2004 rather than at some earlier time. I was there at Chicoutimi about 14 months ago at the national caucus meeting where the Prime Minister announced that he would leave in February 2004. Now, I have watched this person for a very long time and I understand his knowledge of the House, and I have acquired some knowledge of the House myself. You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that February is a very appropriate time because it is budget month and budgets for the government are prepared 11 months in advance.

So in fact, in February the presentation of the budget marks the end of a year of governance. Reading the current Prime Minister's mind, I am sure he would think that February would be an appropriate time to leave office because he would obviously have the satisfaction of leaving government in very good shape, because as we know from the current finance minister's remarks yesterday, it does appear that we are going to continue with a surplus situation. This means that the current Prime Minister is going to leave the financial situation of the country in good state and I think I can say quite confidently that this would be part of his strategy to ensure that his successor, whoever that might be, will have the best ammunition possible to go forward in the next election.

There is a second reason, which I think came up subsequently to his original choice of February, as to why the current Prime Minister would want to stay on until the new year, even though the convention date at which the party will pick a new leader is in mid-November. I refer to Bill C-24, the political financing act, which kicks in on January 1, 2004. This legislation overhauls and reforms much of the political financing mechanisms that are used at the federal level.

In fact, the federal Parliament had fallen well behind many of the provincial legislatures in terms of the transparency and the rules that should apply to political financing of riding associations, political parties and so on and so forth. Obviously not only would the Prime Minister want to see the next election fought under these new rules, the only way he could be certain of that would be to stay in office at least until the new year.

I am not suggesting that his successor would not want to fight an election under these reformed political financing rules, but the reality is that in the debate on Bill C-24 there were a lot of reservations among MPs on this side of the House and on the opposition side.

The reality is that a new leader chosen in mid-November would come under immediate pressure, no doubt about it, to call an election at that time. By staying on until the new year, the current Prime Minister guarantees that his successor does not have to deal with that type of pressure and that his successor can, in an orderly fashion, work toward preparing himself for his new role as the prime minister.

There has also been quite a bit of debate here that in this sort of interregnum period we are in right now government legislation and government operations are stalled. I think that we on this side of the House have to be candid and admit that this is indeed, to some degree, the case. Some legislation has been stalled. We are not advancing forward as quickly as we should on some bills. I particularly refer to Bill C-7, the Indian accountability bill, which is a very important bill. Also, the citizenship bill is stalled as well in committee, and there are other examples like that.

But I do not think that we can lay the blame either on the current Prime Minister or on his possible successor, because what has really happened is that my colleagues on this side are experiencing something they have never experienced before, and that is a leadership race, which always, I am told, because this is my first experience, activates loyalties, because politics and leadership races are very partisan processes. I think that some members on the Liberal side have indeed had trouble understanding where their loyalties should lie while this debate goes on.

I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the weakness that the opposition is seeing is really a certain amount of confusion among my colleagues. That confusion is reflected sometimes in the lack of attendance at question period and sometimes in the lack of participation in open debate.

I am absolutely confident that after November 15 when the question of party leadership is settled and it is very clear that there will be a change in prime minister in three months, I fully expect my colleagues will have no problem then differentiating between the party leader and the prime minister.

I would expect, Mr. Speaker, that you can look forward to an active Parliament, not a Parliament that is dismissed, not a Parliament that is prorogued, but MPs who are willing on this side to continue to tackle aggressively the issues of the day. I am very confident that it has been simply a questionof a new experience where suddenly members of the Liberal caucus have a sense of divided loyalties, but that shall pass.

Finally, I would just like to reiterate that the Bloc motion makes it very clear that even the Prime Minister's traditional political enemies in terms of separatism acknowledge that this Prime Minister has earned the right to go when he chooses. I think the NDP is correct in supporting this side, which will most assuredly defeat this motion.

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3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to challenge the member on a couple of things.

A longstanding tradition which I believe has never been broken is that the prime minister of the country is the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House. The day the member for LaSalle—Émard is elected and chosen as the leader of that party, by that tradition and in fact it is almost a rule, that member then becomes the prime minister and of course we would expect a couple of days, maybe a week, for the transition. If members checked the record, they would find that is always true.

When Mr. Mulroney resigned and Kim Campbell was chosen, I think it was a week before she was sworn in, but it was expected. He announced he was quitting, there was a leadership vote, she was selected and within five days she was the prime minister.

I wonder whether the member has any comment on the fact that there will be a transition time of around two months. It is unheard of and unnecessary. There will be two months of no direction and a lack of leadership.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to disagree with the member opposite.

A prime minister gets his mandate from the people when he leads his party to an election, wins a majority and then takes his place. That is why I said that when we get a situation where leaders change while a government is in office, then an election is immediately called. That is why the member for LaSalle—Émard or the member for Hamilton East, should they win the leadership, would be expected to call an election. I do not think that would be in the public interest in that Bill C-24 does not kick in until January 1.

So no, I have to reject the premise of the member opposite.

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3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, you know how carefully I listen to the member opposite when he speaks. He has my undivided attention.

This time, I asked myself all sorts of questions while he was speaking. I asked myself what kind of dance he is doing now. Is it the tango, the waltz or the cha cha?

During his speech, he said that he had unlimited confidence in his Prime Minister. We know that this government currently has two prime ministers, one who is in his seat, and one who is behind the curtain.

First, I would like him to tell me who is Prime Minister right now. I think that he knows the answer.

Second, when he spoke about the motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois, I was disappointed. I know how intelligent this Liberal member is and I also know that the Bloc Quebecois motion would help all the Liberal members and all the members in this House, because this government would finally have to answer questions from the opposition for the good of democracy in Canada.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very simple; my wife also tells me that I do not know how to dance.

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3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said he has no problem with the current PM not performing his duties and the aspiring PM holding parallel caucus meetings. But it has been made clear to us that this is causing serious problems.

For instance, on the one hand, the current PM has said that the government should open the tap wide, spend as much as it wants and, in particular, try to meddle in provincial matters to get as much visibility as possible. On the other hand, the PM in waiting has warned us that he would cut 10% across the board, regardless of the needs. The government will keep spending in areas outside of its jurisdiction, but will cut in areas badly in need of additional funding, like employment insurance, health care, and so on.

Both of these very different approaches are being considered. They are at the root of some of the discussions being held within the government. In closing, I have to wonder if there is not a very clear message here, that it would be better for all Quebecers and Canadians if Parliament were to vote in favour of our motion so that the whole situation can be cleared up as soon as possible.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is only one cabinet and only one Prime Minister. The problem may be that the Liberal caucus is not giving full support to some issues being considered in the House and in committees.

However, there is only one government and if members opposite want to argue to the contrary, they are free to do so, but it will not change anything. The government is the government.

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3:20 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Quebecois colleagues are nervous. In my opinion, they fear that their holidays in the Canadian Parliament are coming to an end.

I only have to hear my colleague from Jonquière to know she is nervous. They fear the next election although it is not for tomorrow. Luckily for them, we do not support their motion, otherwise they might have to face an election very soon.

I am convinced that no other party has more to lose if an election campaign took place in the near future than the Bloc Quebecois.

I only want to say that, fortunately, being inconsistent does not make one sick, otherwise my Bloc Quebecois friends would be quite ill. The PQ government always applied a double standard with regard to the federal government.

The federal government is always to blame for everything. The motion concerns a democratic imbalance. The Bloc members are talking about democracy and imbalance. And yet their founding father, Lucien Bouchard, was Quebec premier designate for a long time. There was no motion then mentioning a democratic imbalance and demanding that an election be urgently called to change the government.

The former Quebec premier, Bernard Landry, was premier designate for many months, and yet there were no demonstration asking for a quick election. I believe, and it is quite understandable, that they are in a slight panic. Our Bloc Quebecois colleagues are nervous. I listened to my colleague, the member for Roberval, who keeps wringing his hands. I can understand his nervousness.

They are all the more nervous as they really love being federal members of Parliament and sitting in this great Parliament, the symbol of western democracy. They are quite concerned, and understandably so, about losing their seat. That is why I will vote against the motion, because it would result in an early election and I want to make sure they stay here a bit longer, to benefit from their ideas and have the opportunity to debate with them.

I will add that the Prime Minister of Canada, who is like everyone of us—we all have our shortcomings and our qualities—is doing a more than commendable job. The government track record shows that it has focused its action on areas that are of the utmost importance for the future of Canadians, including young people across the country.

I am used to hearing this type of demagogy from my Bloc Quebecois colleagues. They are nearby in my region. I have grown accustomed to them. The idea is that, since here in the Parliament of Canada we deal mostly with regional matters, the Bloc members have decided they would take national issues, try to turn them into endless fights, and constantly bring up senseless figures.

Here is a good example of that. A few weeks ago, the Canadian Labour Congress published a report. Bloc Quebecois members and the central labour bodies in my riding held press conferences to say that the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay region had been shortchanged by $157 million. I told myself that, instead of reacting too swiftly, I should sit down and go over the figures. That is what I did and then I reacted very objectively.

You know that the Bloc Quebecois loves to harp on employment insurance. They keep bringing up unemployment again and again. They are not interested in jobs and successes. They want to capitalize on disappointments.

In 2002, the employment insurance program paid $239 million to people in my region. The figures provided by some residents, particularly Bloc Quebecois members and the central labour bodies, were not accurate.

Often, general themes are applied to specific regions, but they have nothing to do with the reality of life in those regions.

They also speak a lot about the fiscal imbalance; it is a buzzword these days. I said to myself that I should do some research and find out if there were such a major fiscal imbalance between Quebec and the rest of the Canadian federation. They always end up convincing the social and community stakeholders in Quebec that they are right.

Concerning the fiscal imbalance, each year, Quebec gets several billion dollars more out of the federation than it puts in.

Canada's is a country of growing prosperity. At present, it ranks first among G-8 countries. Obviously, all Canadians can benefit from equalization, a program from which the Government of Quebec greatly benefits, as the recipient of 50% of all equalization payments made. Under this program, the provinces can invest in whatever area they please without any federal restriction.

That is quite apart from all the social transfers. This is very important to governments. The central government has trade relations, with the American people, that generate a trade surplus of $90 billion a year. There are obviously spinoffs for all the regions, and Quebec in particular. All the better if they benefit from this.

One must be careful not to fabricate, to take general notions and say they are doing us harm. That is not true. As far as the government's record is concerned, the Prime Minister has played a lead role in research and development. I notice colleagues from my region, the hon. members for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay and for Jonquière. Our region has benefited in terms of R and D. In a few weeks, we will be opening a Canadian aluminum technologies centre. This represents an investment of more than $60 million by our government.

It is easy to understand, because our region produces aluminum ingots, but producing ingots no longer creates jobs. We have lost in excess of 6,000 jobs in our region.

I have convinced my government of the importance of processing. We will be processing aluminum. National programs were developed in cooperation with the National Research Council and Canada Economic Development for that purpose. All these areas of research are important for the future of our country, and the future of my region in particular. I fight first and foremost for the future of my region.

I am trying to target sectors where our government has proven a major player. Genetics is one. I could talk about infrastructure programs. We created a special infrastructure program for the highway between Quebec City and Chicoutimi. This is a $2 billion program. The Bloc members voted against it, and then they try to make people believe that they deserve all the credit.

We have to be realistic. The Bloc's motion is totally unacceptable. This motion refers to a democratic imbalance, but given how the Bloc interprets democracy, we have absolutely nothing to learn from it. In my riding in 2000, I witnessed the democratic process according to the Bloc. It rejected young people without member cards. It refused to let one young person run in a convention in 2000. It decided, arbitrarily, to have the reeve run against me in the 2000 election. I was quite happy when, despite all odds, I still managed to win hands down.

In short, the Bloc motions are always vague and meaningless. Upon closer examination, this motion does not hold water. I am convinced that the Bloc members did not even read their own motion. I know perfectly well that they do not want an election to be called right away. They are well aware of the polls. They know all too well that Quebeckers want more for their money from the Canadian federation. That is what members try to do, as I am trying to do to the best of my knowledge and abilities.

It is a pleasure for me to share these comments with the House. It will always be a pleasure to talk about our government's record and our efforts to improve all our programs.

The Bloc's favourite topic is employment insurance. It will never mention that premiums have been lowered by 30%. It will never mention that parental leave has increased from six to twelve months. It will never talk about the elimination of the intensity rule. In short, it is not interested in solutions. It is only interested in problems. The Bloc is not interested in talking about jobs, it prefers to talk about unemployment.

The best thing we could do is vote against this motion and think about what is in the Bloc's best interests, because it is in its best interests that this motion be defeated.

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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are a great many questions that could be asked of my colleague, but I will limit myself to a couple of ideas.

My colleague spoke of the fear of losing the next election. I would like to pick him up on two flip-flops on his part since yesterday. In connection with the anti-scab legislation, he spoke out against it over the past few months, but now, realizing how many unionized workers there are in Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, he has been forced to admit that he must support the workers. Yet the Bloc Quebecois has introduced such a bill on more than one occasion.

As for moving up the effective date for the electoral map, at first reading my colleague sided with the government. Now, in response to the pressure from the people of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, who understand our demands—there is a problem, we have just lost a riding—my colleague has been forced to face the fact that he ought to side with the Bloc.

At any rate, I would invite the hon. member to reflect about all these positions, which in some ways are closer to those of the Bloc Quebecois than to those of the Liberals. He is, however, constrained by the party line and its potential advantages. He is always torn between the values of the people of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay and those of the Liberal Party, and in some ways there is a huge gap between the two.

My colleague spoke about employment insurance. Employment insurance is something of huge importance. Yes, indeed, and just how important for the region? It has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Quebec.

If the federal government he defends had a record as good as all that, there would not be high unemployment. How then does he explain that the CEGEPs in Chicoutimi and Jonquière are training tourism students who will not be able to work in their own regions? Why not? Because of the EI criteria.

Eligibility for benefits requires 900 hours. A student could very easily be involved during the tourist season, develop the tourist season over a year or two, benefit from the EI program to create a self-sufficient tourist industry. But no, the Liberal government sets a requirement of 900 hours, thus doing away with all opportunities.

Now for the softwood lumber crisis. My colleague could have pressured for the elimination of the two-week waiting period. What happened here? When it came to SARS in Toronto, the two weeks were done away with—

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3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. I am a patient man. When speeches last 20 minutes and members split their time, they have 10 minutes each. That leaves only five minutes for questions and comments. We are already three minutes into that five-minute period. So, if the member has a question, he might want to put it now.

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, here is my question. I would urge the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord to think about this whole mess. I would like him to comment on the fact—

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3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation can answer all of these questions in the two minutes he has left.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Liberal Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will not be easy. It is a huge challenge. It will show that their reputation is well deserved. They make statements that have nothing to do with reality. They compare people who were quarantined because of the SARS outbreak in Toronto with unemployed people who have access to the normal benefits available through the plan.

Do you see that? Bloc members are here to exaggerate instead of analyzing the facts objectively.

With regard to Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries readjustment bill, I too complained. I attended, with my colleagues, the meetings of the subcommittee that studied this issue. Beyond that, I even wrote a letter to the subcommittee asking that the legislation be amended, next time it is reviewed, so that factors other than numbers can be taken into account in defining new ridings. That was in the legislation.

The commissioners work at arm's length from politicians. However, I told myself that we could ask the government, particularly the subcommittee, to change certain aspects of the current legislation so that the commissioners would have to take into account other parameters, not just numbers.

Regarding tourism in my region, my reputation is made. With all the work that I have done to put the Saguenay Fjord in the spotlight and in all the other files on which I have had the opportunity to work with my constituents, I trust them for the next election campaign. I too am anxious to face my colleagues from the Bloc—

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3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Everybody is so anxious. In the meantime, we will give the floor to someone else.

The member for Champlain.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Jonquière.

Today, we are discussing an important issue. I will not have the time to respond to the Liberal member who just spoke, because I have some things to say on this issue. However, I think it is somewhat deplorable to hear that a lot of employment insurance benefits have been paid out in a region. It is sad news when EI benefits are paid out in a region.

When the government says it has reduced EI premiums I do not know how many times, the important thing is not the number of times I have robbed you, but the amount of money that I have robbed you of, if I did rob you.

The government has a surplus of $3 billion. It has almost $50 billion in the employment insurance fund. This money comes in part from taxpayers, that is workers and employers. This money is used to reimburse the debts of everyone and particularly the debts of those who have found a way to pay their taxes outside the country, in tax havens. They are the ones who put the government into debt, not the unemployed that the government refuses to pay EI benefits to because it wants to build up a surplus.

It is quite painful to listen to someone actually saying things like that. I think that a billion dollars too much in the employment insurance fund is a billion dollars too much, however many times they have been able to reduce the amount of premiums. If a thief breaks into my house and says he was a good guy to only have stolen $10, when he could have stolen $15, that does not change the fact that he did steal $10. Come on now, that is nonsense.

At the same time, they boast about their great results. Everyone is scandalized about how much money the federal government can waste. Michel Vastel made a list of the unbelievable sums that have been wasted. Federal government spending has increased by 35%. Money is being thrown everywhere.

Do not talk to me about good management. The surpluses have not come from good management, but from the fact that taxes are too high and transfer payments to the provinces, including Quebec, for health, education and the municipal sector, have been cut severely. It is painful to listen to what they are saying this house.

There is something I think is even sadder. The Prime Minister is the member for Saint-Maurice, which is a riding in the Mauricie region. Even though not everyone in Mauricie shares all the opinions of the hon. member for Saint-Maurice, he is still the one we call, affectionately, “the little guy from Shawinigan”. He is the one who started life in Baie de Shawinigan and worked very hard all his life before becoming Prime Minister of this country.

I do not agree with the Prime Minister's opinions, but I recognize that this man has devoted 40 years of his life to his country. He comes from back home, just a “little guy from Shawinigan”. Although he has done things I do not agree with, I think it is sad that, as his reward for a 40-year career in political life, he is being stabbed in the back by a colleague who wants to take over as fast as possible. I think that is sad.

I can tell you that at home we feel sad. Recently, two or three weeks ago, the Prime Minister's wife attended the same ceremony I did. The master of ceremonies said, “You must feel hurt, let us dress your wounds. We thank you for being here and we are proud of you”. I thought it was nice that the people of Mauricie would dress the wounds of a man who, after all, has been very committed.

It does not matter whether or not we agree with what he has done, the past cannot be undone. He followed his convictions. Nonetheless, I find it painful and sad to watch this man being crucified the way he has been for the past few months. It is immoral and unacceptable.

I am not the only one to think so.

A major retailer in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, who is a close friend of the Prime Minister's and whom I see often, asked me when the Prime Minister was going to step down and stop allowing himself to be crucified.

It is painful to see him stuck with responsibility for the country, while decisions are being made by someone else behind the scenes. That someone has good reason to lay low. He does not want be questioned on the awkward position he has put the Prime Minister in time and again. This former minister is the one who stole the EI fund. It is because of him that roughly $3 billion was stolen from the seniors I defend. He arranged things in such a way that they could not get guaranteed income supplements. They are the poor and the least fortunate in society. This member, who is running the show as interim prime minister, who is the prime minister in waiting, is hiding behind the curtain. He will not be here to vote on this motion. We are often ashamed of what he does.

He used to tell this House that we had no reason to criticize him for the EI situation because he had just reduced the EI premiums. He had good news for the unemployed. The government would be continuing to rob them, but not as much. It is a rather sad thing to hear. If he had any honour, he would stop stabbing the Prime Minister in the back.

We would like him to show up here as soon as possible, to answer our questions. We are asking the little guy from Shawinigan, the member for Saint-Maurice and Prime Minister of this country, to step aside. We are telling him, “You deserve better than this backstabbing. You have done enough for the country. You deserve better. Let him take your place, so that we can question him and get answers once and for all”.

We keep hearing that he cannot answer. We would like him to answer our questions. We would like him to account for his actions, for what he is doing with his ships while doing business with tax havens. We want him to question him about the shores of the St. Lawrence River and the pollution in Lake Saint-Pierre. He must account for his actions. This way, when the time comes to vote for or against him, we will know who this man is and what his plans are for the future.

This is a sad day, one of many since we have had this two-headed government, one where the Prime Minister is constantly being contradicted by a man who does not have the courage to show up here.

In my riding of Champlain alone, I note that the shores of the St. Lawrence River have suffered damages to the tune of $4.5 million, and this man's ships are partly to blame for that. Still, he refuses to repair the damage.

I would have many questions for him. I cannot wait. He should stop stabbing his colleague, the Prime Minister, the little guy from Shawinigan and member for Saint-Maurice in the back and take the steps to officially replace him. Then, we will put our questions to him.

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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Champlain. What he says is true. In bringing forward this motion, members of the Bloc Quebecois never meant to hurt the current Prime Minister. On the contrary, this motion is meant to help him. Right now, his credibility is being undermined by his colleagues within his own party.

I would like to ask a question of my colleague, who comes from the same region as the current Prime Minister of Canada. Could the member for Champlain tell me if he has ever been in a similar situation? He sat as MP in the Quebec National Assembly. Has he ever experienced such ambiguity? Also, is what is happening now in Canada healthy for democracy and are taxpayers getting their money's worth with this situation?

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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Jonquière for her question.

I was indeed elected to the National Assembly under Premier René Lévesque. There is no doubt that any leader goes through some rough times. In 1984, when René Lévesque felt it was time for him to quit politics, he naturally waited for the right time to go.

I remember that, because he made his last official visit in my riding. I heard some of his opponents tell him, “Premier Lévesque, you have done too much for us to go this way. We need to thank you before you leave. Don't let them get you down”.

When there is a leadership convention, things can get complicated. However, when Mr. Lévesque left, he made way for his successor, and that is what the current Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice should do. That is all we are asking for in our motion.

The Prime Minister has decided that he would be leaving in February 2004 and he is being stabbed in the back not only by the future prime minister, but by all those who want to be in the good books of the future prime minister or want the keys to a limousine. Members opposite are putting on a very sad show, indeed.

They think nobody is noticing. But we only have to read the papers and listen to the people. Every weekend, our constituents tell us that it must be hard to work in Parliament with everything that is going on. They are making life miserable for the current Prime Minister. Basically, our motion is a friendly gesture. We are asking the Prime Minister to make way for his successor. We will thank him for his hard work and then address our questions to the future prime minister.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be briefer than during the previous period.

At home, we now feel the effects of this whole mess. The question I would like to ask my colleague is this: in his riding, at various events, does he really feel this internal crisis in the Liberal Party? Could he tell the House about it?

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay.

I mentioned something to that effect earlier. It is the case every time I stop at a gas station and I meet people. Last Monday, people were celebrating a 100th birthday in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade. I was a bit late, I had had quite a busy day and the first question I was asked when I arrived was, “Do you think that the Prime Minister will go? How can he stand all this?” I told them that was not my party, my man and my policy.

However, I find this spectacle thard to take. This is inhumane, it makes no sense to do this to a man who has given 40 years of his life, to the best of his knowledge, to this country. This makes no sense, this is unacceptable.

Also, this must stop as soon as possible, so that we can get on with the business of the House. We are wasting our time here. Just think of how much it costs Parliament for every hour, every day of sitting. It is horrible to see how little has been accomplished since we came back to the House, and even in the last year.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, before beginning, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Champlain. What we heard from him is just common sense.

That is what Bloc Quebecois members are all about. They have common sense and they understand the reality that voters in their ridings have to face every day. They are the ones who defend the interests of all Quebeckers and Canadians.

I am pleased to speak to this motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois. Finally, one political party in this Parliament has decided to expose what has been going on behind closed doors within this government and within the Liberal Party.

The situation that currently exists in the Parliament of Canada is very troubling. It is almost like total paralysis. Nothing is happening. What do we see when we ask questions during question period? Ministers contradict one another, as we saw again today. The Minister of Transport was contradicted by the Minister of the Environment.

That is what we witness every day. Canadians and Quebeckers have the right, through opposition members, to obtain answers regarding issues of real concern to them.

I was listening earlier to what several government members were saying. I realized that they were totally out of touch with reality. Is it normal that the Liberal majority, which runs the country, has two leaders? There is a democratically elected Prime Minister. In August 2002, he decided that he was going to leave office in February 2004. And behind the curtain stands the man whom I call the Phantom of the Opera.

Is it normal that behind the curtain stands a man who has not yet been elected leader of his party but who is already exercising the powers that his colleagues in the Liberal Party have decided to confer upon him? And most of the time, in exercizing these powers, he is going against the broad objectives set by the Prime Minister. The Kyoto protocol is one thing that comes to mind.

I will talk about highway 175 in my region. In August 2002, the Prime Minister of Canada came to my region. You know how many times I talked about this issue during oral question period. I asked many questions about this highway, which is called the route du parc des Laurentides. It had become an urban legend. After nearly a year, the Prime Minister came to our region to announce that his government would pay 50% of the cost of this highway.

No one can convince me that it is because of the former Parti Quebecois government that no agreement was reached. This is sad. All the ministers I was able to talk to never said that the PQ government had done something to delay the agreement. Nearly a year later, there is still no agreement on this issue. Is it bad faith?

Who is making the real decisions? The current Prime Minister, whom I trusted, made a commitment on this. However, does the member for LaSalle—Émard really want to reach an agreement that was signed in Quebec when Bernard Landry was the premier? This highway is very important for the development of my region.

People in my region are asking this question. They tell me that I should hurry up and ask the Liberals to sign the agreement, because they fear that, with the member of LaSalle—Émard, there will be no agreement.

This is a source of considerable concern. The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was just talking about EI benefits and saying that they are being improved. Ours is an industrial region that was a model for the aluminum and pulp and paper industries, but there are no longer any jobs being created. We know that it is not good for one's self-esteem to have to go on EI, particularly when one gets 55% of what one used to earn, not good at all. So let us not exaggerate here. People do not want to be on benefits, people in our regions want to work.

What did the government do about the softwood lumber crisis? Three million workers in my region have lost jobs because of it. Two years later, the Minister for International Trade is standing up to pat himself on the back and announce that we are going to win out. In the meantime, most workers in my region are no longer even on EI. This is being unrealistic.

When we see the way this government is deteriorating, I think that all Liberal members ought to be congratulating the Bloc Quebecois and ought to be voting as a block themselves in favour of this motion. Not because it is against the present PM, but because it will get this Parliament back up to speed, get things settled and force the future PM to come out from behind the curtain and provide some answers to the real questions we are asking democratically.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are elected by people who wanted us to be sitting here in this Parliament to play the watchdog role they wanted over this government, and wanted the opposition to ask the real questions. Ordinary citizens cannot come to this House and question ministers and the rest of the government themselves. We have to speak for them.

I sometimes wonder whether those members actually go to see their constituents from time to time. If they do, do they listen to them or is it just a matter of popping in, delivering a fancy speech, and popping out again?

As the hon. member for Champlain has said, our constituents are constantly asking us when the situation in Ottawa is going to be settled. We do not know any more than they do, we are not able to solve our own problems. We are well aware of what is going on. Only the hon. members across the way do not realize that everyone knows. People are not blind. The press is constantly reporting on what is going on with this government, particularly the arm twisting and backstabbing that is going on.

With this motion we merely want to get out of this mess. The present situation is really quite detrimental to democracy.

The government House leader argues that this is a non-confidence motion that would bring the government down if it is carried. The government House leader is using that argument because he is scared; he does not know if the future PM will let him keep the keys to his limousine. That is what he and his colleagues on the front benches are afraid of.

Several of the partisans of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard are getting ready to take their places. They want to keep enjoying their perks for a few more months. We are not here to enjoy perks but to ask real questions and get real answers. We pay taxes.

The finance minister has been bragging now for two days about the budget surplus he just announced. The Bloc Quebecois had predicted an even greater surplus. The minister is bragging when he knows full well that he had to take $3 billion out of the EI account to get this surplus.

We are entitled to put real questions to the real PM, that is the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. We are told it is not a done deal. Come on. We know it was settled a long time ago. Do you take us for fools, do you take the people for fools? Do you think they believe that this might not happen on November 15?

We are entitled to get answers to our questions and to address our questions to the real PM. This motion would ensure that, as is done in any great democracy, the real PM, who is hiding behind the curtain, will answer real questions.

When you have someone who owns boats and does not pay taxes in his own country, you have a serious situation on your hands. If you did not pay your taxes, Mr. Speaker, you would be prosecuted. The member has not paid his taxes, so we want to ask him some tough questions.

I hope that members will all vote in favour of the motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois.

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the hon. member for Jonquière. I would like to direct a comment to her and ask for her opinion on the matter.

Just now, we heard an hon. member from the other side of the House telling us about the fiscal imbalance, the famous fiscal imbalance. The hon. member let it be understood that all the finance ministers of all the provinces of Canada, including the Liberal finance minister of Quebec, Mr. Séguin, are a bunch of fools, zeros, or are just careless, because all of them agreed there is a fiscal imbalance, except the member opposite.

Who is right and who is wrong?

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member opposite got his figures because it is the first time that the premiers and finance ministers from all the provinces agreed that there is a fiscal imbalance in Ottawa.

Indeed, the federal government taxes Canadians too heavily for the services it provides them. Everybody agrees on that. However, all of a sudden, the government is the only one saying that there is no fiscal imbalance. We were able to see that again yesterday. If there were no fiscal imbalance, the government would not be in a position to announce such a huge surplus.

Let us not forget that, under the Constitution, health care, education and social welfare are provincial jurisdictions. These services are provided by the provincial governments.

Even in the area of health care, we know that, since this government took office in 1993, all the provinces were affected by cuts to the Canada Health and Social Transfer. Even with the commitment that the current Prime Minister made to his colleagues, the provincial health ministers, when he told them that the federal government would give them an additional $2 billion, that would not even make up for the cuts made to the CHST since 1993.

The fiscal imbalance is so large that the government is being asked to give the excess revenues to the provinces right away. It has to give them money for health care. This is no secret. I am not a chartered accountant, but one plus one always makes two. If the current Minister of Finances denies that, then he should go back to school to brush up on his arithmetic.

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my hon. colleague for her speech and the issues she raised. She shares the same administrative region as the member opposite.

Since he mentioned employment, can my hon. colleague describe to the House the impact the softwood lumber crisis has had on employment? What negative impact has it had on her region? That is my question to my hon. colleague.

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay for his question.

As we all know, my region is primarily engaged in forestry and is the leading lumber producer in Quebec. We do rank first in that industry, my region and that of the member. We were hard hit. In fact, we lost 3,000 jobs. Forestry jobs are specialized and very well paid work. Three thousand workers have lost their jobs so far.

My colleague opposite, the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, said that these workers got EI benefits. That is not what they want. First, these workers paid EI contributions, but the government is not investing anything in the EI account. The member says it is charity. The government is not giving these people all they are entitled to, since there is still an EI surplus.

We do not want to hear any more bull from this member, who is totally disconnected from the concerns of my constituents. We must deal with the softwood lumber crisis. We must get these workers back to work. We told them to go to phase 2 and allow the businesses to resume their operations.

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4:05 p.m.

Bras D'Or—Cape Breton Nova Scotia

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to join in the debate today on this opposition motion. May I note off the top that I will be splitting my time with my very capable colleague from York West.

Certainly I will never pretend to have a vast or deep technical appreciation for the complexities of the procedures of the House. However, I assure members that any light that I would shed would be pale in comparison to the comments in the intervention that was made earlier in the debate from the government leader of the House.

I will not be quoting from Marleau and Montpetit or citing passages from Beauchesne's. I believe as far as the technical aspects of the motion, they were very much addressed during the presentation by the government House leader.

I would like to make comments about the current Prime Minister, but I will not reach back too far and try to celebrate the 40 year career of our current Prime Minister and his commitment to public life. I will leave that to the pundits and the biographers and let him take his rightful place in history, which I am sure will be smiled upon by all.

I would like to talk about events that have occurred recently and more, the recent initiatives shown by this Prime Minister, including some of the brave, decisive decisions that have been made while he has been on his watch. He has presented legislation, rendered opinions on everything in our day to day activities in the House that have really made Canada a better place to be and one of which all Canadians can be proud.

I must make note first of some of the comments that have been made on the other side of the House during the course of this debate. They would like to think of late that things have slowed down in the House and that the work of the government is not being done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since 2002, over 55 pieces of legislation have come forward. Of those, 22 have been passed by the House, the Senate and have received royal assent. We really should celebrate some of this significant legislation.

I look at Bill C-2, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act, Bill C-5, the act respecting the protection of wildlife species and species at risk in Canada and Bill C-12, an act to promote physical activity in sport. That is the first piece of sport legislation that has cleared this House since the late 1960s. Bill C-44, an act to compensate military members injured during service is legislation that addresses some obvious inequities in how we deal with members of the military who have sustained serious injury and debilitating injury.

Of late we have had a tough time as a country. We have to look at some of the things we have experienced over the last 12 months such as SARS, mad cow and the forest fires and floods in western Canada. My home province of Nova Scotia just suffered the effects of hurricane Juan. We have had our own array of difficulties and none through any cause of our own. We have been very fortunate. Because of our financial situation, we have been able to offer assistance. We have been able to move in and make decisive, benevolent moves to help in each of those areas.

The pain is far-reaching on several of those issues, but certainly the federal government has been there. Had we not been in good financial stead, then perhaps we would not have been able to assist as well as we did.

Obviously, on our financial house, everything comes back to the economy and what has gone on with it. Sometimes as Canadians we suffer from a short memory. It is convenient not to remember back to 1995 or not look back and remember when this country operated with a $48 billion deficit. The state of the books as of the mid-1990s was deplorable. We were close to being recognized as a third world nation. We just could not continue as a country.

Under the leadership of our Prime Minister, a vision was set. If we could get our financial house in order, then we could to reinvest in the social programs, those programs that Canadians hold so dear. That is what in fact took place. Cuts were made, and, yes, every Canadian shared in the pain of those cuts. However they were imperative. We had to lasso the deficit and gain control of our financial well-being. That was done in the mid-1990s.

Since then we have been able to reinvest. Our economy continues to grow and continues to strengthen.

Since 2002, 612,000 jobs have been created under the Prime Minister, two-thirds of them full time. While other members of the G-7 continue to experience huge difficulties with their national budgets, we are firm on the controls of the budgets here with the Government of Canada.

From 1997 to 1998, Canada became a deficit free country for the first time in 30 years. In the year 2000 the recorded surplus was $12.3 billion. In 2003 the government under, the Prime Minister's leadership, recorded its sixth consecutive surplus budget. In doing so we have applied $52 billion to the national debt. That alone this year will save the people of Canada $3 billion in interest payments on that national debt, which is significant and that has to be noted.

It is great to talk about the big numbers and about the national picture in terms of our financial position. Let us bring it down and let us talk about what has been accomplished at the grassroots for the average Canadian. How have they benefited from the leadership and the stewardship of the Prime Minister?

I remember that it was not that long ago, two or three years, when we all talked about the brain drain and the loss of our best and our brightest as they moved across the border to seek employment in the States. The government saw this as a problem and the Prime Minister saw this as a problem and part of his vision was to invest in innovation and research.

By doing so we were able to keep those students and professors in Canada, to have them study here and perform their research here. What we have seen is really a shift, where now the drain is coming from the States. These people are coming back to Canada or they are staying in Canada and we are attracting some of the best and brightest minds from other countries.

I can take that down to a personal level. I see the investments that have been made in the universities in my area, St. Francis Xavier and the University College of Cape Breton. They are benefiting from programs such as the national research chairs, the Atlantic innovation fund, those types of investments. We are keeping those kids here.

I see the reinvestment in health care of $34.8 billion following the Romanow commission. We have an MRI machine in Sydney. We have digital x-ray machines in Inverness and in Richmond County. People can get x-rays which can be digitized, then sent and read by specialists anywhere in the world. That was not available two years ago.

I see improvements in infrastructure in my home communities, in Birch Grove and in St. Peter's through the Canada-Nova Scotia infrastructure program. Tomorrow I will attend tomorrow the opening of a water treatment plant in Glace Bay, where a $10 million investment by all three levels of government will provide clean water to the residents of Glace Bay. I am very happy to be part of that announcement.

I could talk about species at risk legislation that is important to the people and Kyoto that will secure a healthy environment as we go forward to the future.

What I would like to finish on is the Prime Minister's guidance and leadership through the Iraqi crisis. He took a brave, strong and principled position throughout the Iraqi crisis, identifying that Canada stood as a sovereign nation, much to the criticism of the official opposition. When we look at the polls now, well over 70% of Canadians know that he did the right thing.

Our Prime Minister has provided great leadership in this country, and well beyond this motion today, he will continue to provide that leadership to the people of Canada.