Mr. Speaker, oddly enough this debate, this motion, brings me back to why I ran for Parliament in the first place. It was just such a motion in principle, or a move in principle, that the government of the day, the previous government, the Mulroney government, was attempting to bring in as the Charlottetown accord that prompted me to set aside what was at that time a very interesting career as a writer and on impulse to put my name in for the nomination locally, and after that to become a member of Parliament.
I was very fortunate, Mr. Speaker. I was reacting to the Charlottetown accord negatively. I went in and put my name in for the nomination, in the sort of sense that I wanted to become a politician, and a Liberal politician to make sure that the Liberals never supported something like the Charlottetown accord ever again.
The reason, Mr. Speaker, and why it relates to the motion, is that what the Charlottetown accord did is it transferred all kinds of federal powers to the provinces, and in so doing, also undertook to strike agreements with the provinces in these areas of jurisdiction whereby there would be a transfer of tax points and there would be cash subsidies to the provinces.
If you remember, Mr. Speaker, in the Charlottetown accord it proposed to transfer exclusive jurisdiction to the provinces in mining, in forestry, in housing, and in several other areas, tourism was another, recreation, and municipal and urban affairs. The reason why I was upset by that proposal--and I was one of the many, many Canadians who voted against the Charlottetown accord--is I felt that that proposal, had it passed, would have fatally damaged the ability of the central government, the government here in Ottawa, to maintain a sufficiently significant role in Canadian political life that Canada could stay together. I believe then and I believe now that the Charlottetown accord would have devolved so much power to the provinces that 11 years later we would not have a country.
My problem with this motion is it does precisely the same thing as the Charlottetown accord proposed to do with these various sectors that I mentioned. What it proposes to do is to take federal tax revenue in the form of GST and excise taxes on gasoline, and transfer that revenue, that tax collecting privilege shall we say, to the provinces. So instead of the federal government collecting $4.8 billion in excise taxes plus I think it is $1.1 billion in GST, it would allow tax room for the provinces to collect that same tax and then to spend it, along with the municipalities, on municipal infrastructure.
Now, Mr. Speaker, that is not just the thin edge of the wedge. That is giving away the ability of Canada to function, because we have all seen time and time again and have experienced in the last 10 years certainly with very, shall we say, right-wing governments in some key provinces, and rich provinces like Alberta and Ontario, where the governments of the day, in order to exercise an ideology based on tax cuts for personal spending, have taken advantage of the money that was transferred by the Mulroney government, primarily in the form of health care transfers but a lot of money. Instead of investing in health care themselves, they have relied on the federal funding, complained that it is not enough, and used the money that should have been used by the provinces on health care in order to cut personal income taxes. That is precisely the phenomenon that has occurred in Ontario. We get this thing happening all the time, Mr. Speaker.
When the federal government does not control and stipulate how transfers of federal money are to be spent by the provinces, the provinces usually rely either entirely on the federal transfer and back off and use the money that they should be putting in the program in some other way and what happens is the Ottawa government winds up losing control of how federal tax money will be spent. It ceases to have an effective voice in national programs across the country. We see that very much in the phenomenon that occurred in health care where, because so much was transferred in the ability of the provinces to raise their own money to finance health care, we get situations where the quality of health care in the provinces has deteriorated enormously.
Now on the case of roads and municipal infrastructure, this is entirely a provincial jurisdiction. Under the Constitution the provinces are required to spend themselves on roads and municipal infrastructure. What the Charlottetown accord would have done, however, it would have elaborated on the agreements so that there would have been an increased use of federal taxes to be acquired. The right to collect those federal taxes would have been acquired by the provinces to spend how they would.
A country cannot be run like that. A country the size of Canada cannot be run like that. Mr. Speaker, do you know what would happen if this motion were to go forward and the federal tax collected of $5.6 billion were transferred to the provinces to use how they would on roads and municipal infrastructure? I can tell you what would happen. I can tell you what would happen as it occurs right now in Quebec.
The Trans-Canada Highway is a road that was a national project that involved spending in provincial jurisdiction because the provinces are obligated to spend on the roads. But in order to have a single highway that crossed from one end of the land to the other, the federal government of the day put up the money to enable the provinces to build the Trans-Canada Highway.
Mr. Speaker, if you take the Trans-Canada Highway from New Brunswick to Montreal in Quebec, what you will find is that road is in a permanent state of incredible disrepair. I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the reason why it is in a permanent state of disrepair is that the province of Quebec is confident, because it is the Trans-Canada Highway, a federal, national project, that it can count on the federal government to come in and give the province the money to maintain that road.
We hear the Canadian Alliance from time to time in question period, we hear the same theme repeated, where a section of the Trans-Canada Highway in British Columbia--I think it is on the British Columbia side of the border--is narrow and dangerous and a member opposite has repeatedly called upon the federal government to pay for its expansion. The reality is even though it is called the Trans-Canada Highway, it is a provincial road and theoretically the provinces who maintain the care and maintenance of that road should pay for its expansion.
I am not against the federal government investing money in something like the Trans-Canada Highway because it is a national project. It is an important national project because the Trans-Canada Highway not only unites us culturally, it unites us economically. The problem is if the federal government gives away the revenues to the provinces that it would normally spend on the provinces, the $5 billion it has in the kitty as the result of the excise and GST taxes on gasoline, well then the provinces might not invest in a national project like the Trans-Canada Highway. They might consider it more important to pave the streets of Lethbridge or develop country roads.
Those are all important projects but it would be at the sacrifice of a national transportation responsibility that the federal government sees in the interests of all Canadians, because the Trans-Canada Highway crosses borders. It crosses provincial borders and it is one of those things, like the railways, that holds us together.
So I have to reject the motion, Mr. Speaker, because, and this is fundamental with me, I confess to be a Trudeau Liberal in that I believe that the only way we can keep this country together is to have a strong central government. If that strong central government does not have any money because it has passed its tax collecting power off to the provinces, it cannot keep this country together. To me, this motion strikes to the very heart of what we are as a nation.
I have sat here for 10 years in this chamber and I have heard repeatedly the arguments from the Canadian Alliance Party, formerly the Reform Party, and repeatedly from the Bloc Quebecois, who have constantly harped on the idea that more spending power should be directly in the control of the provinces. That is the theme of the Canadian Alliance and the Bloc Quebecois, and it is not a theme that is conducive to national unity. It goes the other way, Mr. Speaker, and marches in the direction of breaking this country up.
We cannot support a motion like this and I point out that Canadians cannot support it either, because this was actually put to the test with the Charlottetown accord in October of 1992. The previous government, the Mulroney government in my view fell over itself to try to give as much as it could to the provinces, and had it been in office for another term and had the Charlottetown accord passed, Mr. Speaker, I think the provinces would have been so powerful that the central government here in Ottawa would have been completely meaningless.
We cannot fool the people. We can have all the rhetoric in the world and say all these things about provincial rights, but in the end Canadians in every province know that it is in their interests to have a strong central government. One never knows when there might be a provincial government that is so foolish in its spending habits and its spending practices that it actually drives that province down economically, and that province may have to come to the federal government for rescue. I cite British Columbia, Mr. Speaker, where we had a New Democratic government for a number of years that managed to drive one of the richest provinces in the country onto its economic knees in a few short years, in a period of economic prosperity for the country.
I do not lay that blame with the Canadian Alliance, they are federal politicians, but I think Canadians want and need a federal government that has sufficient financial resources that when required can reach out to whatever province it is and help them in their hour of need. I cite mad cow disease. I cite SARS. I cite the crisis in agriculture that has occurred. I cite the problems in the Maritimes. All these problems have to do with the need of a particular area or region of the country for cash input. They need to be rescued with money. The problem is, Mr. Speaker, that the more a federal government gives away its ability to raise money to the provinces, the less it has the ability to come to the rescue of those regions and provinces that are in need.
Mr. Speaker, I reject this motion absolutely. I do not think it is a motion that is acceptable to Canadians. I do concede that it is a motion that is very much in keeping with Canadian Alliance philosophy, and that is fine, Mr. Speaker, because of course this is a place where we have differences of opinions. The one thing that I have come to know about the Canadian Alliance and the Bloc Quebecois is that both parties are parties that look more to their provincial responsibilities than their overall federal responsibilities. That, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, is the reason why the Canadian Alliance is in one region of the country, the Bloc Quebecois is in another region of the country, and why in effect we only have three national parties, parties that actually look to the full interests of the country, that look all the way across the country and are concerned about every part of the country.
One of the three parties is the NDP. The NDP especially are very, very aware that we have to have the money in the kitty in the federal government if we are going to bring in social programs that would be the standard across the country.
I would say the Conservatives, sometimes I despair of them because they begin to sound as though they favour provincial rights. There is a disturbing echo of the ideology of both the Bloc Quebecois and the Canadian Alliance in some of the things the Conservatives say, but I still believe they are a national party. However the true national party is this party. The party I represent on this side of the House is the majority, so obviously Canadians feel it is the national party of the land.
In a final note, if I really had my druthers, if I were Prime Minister, which is extremely unlikely and not a possibility at all, and I see there is a certain amount of accord on the opposite side, I would be so tempted to take those tax points back from the provinces, those that were given away under Mulroney, and increase the decision making ability of the federal government, particularly in health care, because it is simply a tragedy, the loss of control that has resulted from giving the tax points that we once had to the provinces.