Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate and I thank the Bloc for introducing this very constructive motion.
Before I begin my comments, let me say that this is actually my first major speech since the election. I certainly would not want to miss the opportunity to thank my voters in Winnipeg North for their support in re-electing me to my third term in this place. I must say that I am very encouraged by the possibilities that are offered to all Canadians by this 38th Parliament.
The beginning of the 38th Parliament makes us all reflect on why we are here and what we are attempting to change. I take great strength from the people of Winnipeg North who have battled against great adversity to achieve some quality of life, some modicum of decent living in an area that has been hit hard by economic and social systemic barriers. As I know many of those constituents are watching today, I want to thank them. I hope we honour their expression of faith in the democratic process.
I also want to acknowledge, in the context of the debate today on fiscal imbalance, three young men from Winnipeg North who are watching today, my son Nick, who has a major disability and who has just moved out of our home to start a place of his own with two other young men, Eric and George. Those three men have found a place of their own thanks to a government that has tried to overcome the negative impact of a federal government that has downloaded so much responsibility. In fact, it has demonstrated what it means to put people first and the investment in communities first and foremost.
These three young men, Nick, Eric and George, are able to live in the community despite facing many obstacles and challenges because of a commitment by our whole community and a government to invest in places where one can be a part of the community. My hat goes off today to Nick, Eric and George who represent that fighting spirit in Winnipeg North.
The debate today is of critical importance to our whole country, not just the community of Winnipeg North. As the members from the Bloc know, we are certainly in support of this motion and want to join with all members of the House in making this very constructive suggestion a reality. We are talking about nothing more than a motion that describes the fiscal imbalance in the country and calls for a committee, part of the finance standing committee of the House, to address this issue and come up with tangible solutions to the problem of fiscal imbalance.
I have understood from media reports that the Liberals may not support the motion. I am shocked. I cannot understand how something so basic, so accurate in terms of describing reality and so constructive in its purpose would be opposed by the Liberals. In a minority situation, such as the one we have today, one would think that the government would understand by now that it is a minority government and that it requires cooperation and listening to the voices of opposition members who bring positive and constructive suggestions to the House.
Maybe the Liberals will get it eventually. Maybe we need a few more close votes in the House. Maybe they have to understand that Canadians really do not want an election. Maybe they have to realize that there is a real yearning in this place and in the country for a new cooperative spirit to achieve solutions that are long overdue. I hope the Liberals get it soon.
Two recent developments bring into sharp focus the relevancy of the motion and the need for the motion to pass. The first has to do with this acrimonious, strained relationship between the Government of Canada and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a strain that has been caused by an arrogance from the Liberal government that refuses to acknowledge its commitment around recognizing the oil and gas offshore resources of that province and to agree to a reasonable proposition in the context of this equalization debate that we are dealing with.
It is unbelievable that we do not have a government that can even sit down and talk or a Prime Minister who can even pick up the phone to contact a partner in this federation and sort out such a problem. I liken it, in very simple terms, since this equalization debate is so difficult to understand, to the case of a family on social assistance, through no fault of its own, because of economic and social barriers. When a family member does get a job that brings in a bit of money, the social assistance is clawed back so that the family is no further ahead.
That is precisely how the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are feeling. They are working very hard to ensure that the resources in their province are used to benefit the people of that region and not to be used as a disincentive to enhancing the quality of life in that region. That is the first glaring message that must be put in the context of this debate.
The second, interestingly, also has its origins in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is the Supreme Court decision today stating that pay equity does not necessarily have to be adhered to if the jurisdiction in which the case rests is facing fiscal difficulties. We are talking about a bedrock principle in terms of Canadian human rights. We are talking about an ironclad principle, which is part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that has now been thrown into question. Why? It is because of a government that has refused to address the issue of fiscal imbalance to ensure that a province, like Newfoundland and Labrador, can provide for all of its citizens and so that no fundamental principle has to be cast aside because of practical circumstances.
When we signed on to the charter and said that women's rights were fundamental, that respect for people with disabilities had to be entrenched in everything we do, that the needs of aboriginal people had to be considered, and that the fundamental freedoms for all people, regardless of race and religion should be respected, surely that meant something. Surely those rights should not be squandered away because of a government's inability to ensure that wealth is distributed fairly and equally across the land. That is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today, and it is a shameful, shocking situation.
The decision today to put aside pay equity in the face of so-called fiscal realities is a setback to women and sets a dangerous precedent for all people who are vulnerable in Canada today: people living with disabilities, minority populations, aboriginal people and certainly women.
The other reason we need this debate today is that the Liberal government just does not get it. Not too long ago I went to a finance committee meeting where the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance had the audacity to suggest that there was no such thing as a fiscal imbalance.
Members on that committee will recall that we tried hard to advance some wording around questions that we posed to people in the prebudget period to ensure that they were engaged in these consultations. We ended up spending valuable time and money because the government could not just say that yes, there is a fiscal imbalance. Therefore the debate has to take place in this chamber and I thank the Bloc for making it a reality.
We are here today because of a very critical situation in many parts of this country. It is a serious threat to the state of federalism, a serious challenge to the fundamental rights for women and many other critical issues which are growing all around us. The pursuit of solutions to resolve the fiscal imbalance should be done on a regular basis as a matter of course. It should be done on periodically to ensure that we are addressing growing tensions, concerns, issues that happen naturally and are expected because we are a federation that changes and grows and needs that kind of nurturing.
That kind of analysis was done many years ago, in 1981, as referenced earlier by my leader. It was known as the task force on federal-provincial fiscal relations. My colleague from Elmwood—Transcona was part of that task force as the NDP member. It was 24 years ago, shortly after the member had been elected to this House. He has just celebrated his 25th anniversary in this place and is now the most senior statesperson in Parliament.
That episode in our history was valuable. It proved absolutely essential in terms of moving this nation forward, in terms of a universal approach to providing health care for everyone. It was essential for us to be able to move forward in terms of the Canada Health Act and to make many other improvements to programs that cover the ambit of federal-provincial relations.
Here we are 24 years later with a review being proposed not by the government of the day, but by the opposition. Not only that, the members of the government are saying apparently that they are going to oppose it. It does not make sense. I hope that during the course of the debate and over the weekend the Liberals will wake up and will come to this place next Tuesday and decide to vote in favour of this constructive proposition.
There are a couple of things we have to look at in the context of this debate. We have to ask ourselves why we are dealing with this motion today. Why did the Bloc feel it had to bring it forward? Why do we feel so strongly about it?
One only has to listen to the debate to ascertain that all of us are concerned about the way the Liberal government has managed the economy over the past 10 years. We are talking about a history of financial mismanagement and poor budgeting by the Liberals.
Federal-provincial financing has always been an issue and is one which we should revisit on a regular basis. However, the current acrimony and tension have arisen in the wake of the Liberals' severe cuts to transfers when they came to power in 1993 and as reflected in their mid-1990s budgets.
We only have to look at the CHST and the accompanying transfer cuts done by the present Prime Minister's 1995 budget which proved to be a devastating attack on health, education and social assistance. It sent provincial governments reeling. Still to this day the provinces are trying to pick up the pieces. It did not just hurt the provincial governments; it hurt Canadians and the most vulnerable Canadians most of all. Let us look at some statistics.
The Liberals cut education funding by about 17%, driving up student debt. Students are now leaving four year programs with almost $25,000 in debt. Fees have accounted for almost 20% of education costs. Statistics Canada reports that between 1992 and 2002, fees increased by 135%, more than six times the rate of inflation.
If we are not prepared to invest in our young people, if we are not prepared to deal with the need to establish lifelong learning opportunities, if we are not prepared to ensure that in this great country of ours we share our resources so that the provinces can provide for those educational opportunities, we are doomed as a nation. We are cutting our own throats. We are cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Surely the government could understand the importance of at least investing in education, ensuring that every student, every child, every youth in this country has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams, to be whatever he or she wants to be and contribute back to this country.
Let us take it a step further in terms of the beginning of this whole lifelong learning process. Let us look at child care. Here we are dealing with it again. I do not know how many times I have stood in the House to talk about a national day care program.