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House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.

Topics

Parental LeaveOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, last May, just before the election, the government signed an agreement in principle on parental leave with Quebec. Undoubtedly inspired by the imminence of the election, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development used glowing terms and described the agreement as historic.

Since there is no mention whatsoever of this measure in the Speech from the Throne and the election is now behind us, can the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development tell us when he intends to conclude a final agreement on parental leave with the Government of Quebec?

Parental LeaveOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe LiberalMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I talked to my counterpart just three or four days ago. Negotiations continue as planned. I am not yet prepared to discuss results as negotiations are continuing as they should.

Maher Arar InquiryOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The Arar inquiry continues to raise very disturbing questions about the involvement of CSIS and the RCMP in this case. Mr. Arar and his family have now lived under a cloud of suspicion for two years due to unproven allegations and independent innuendo by both agencies.

Will the minister now insist that these agencies, both under her direction, either bring forth evidence and lay charges so Mr. Arar can defend himself or admit they do not have evidence and he is innocent?

Maher Arar InquiryOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the hon. member's long-standing interest in this matter. Indeed, the government has taken this matter very seriously. That is why we established an independent commission of inquiry. Mr. Justice O'Connor is at this time hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence, and I think that as the hon. member is aware it is important to let him finish his work.

Information CommissionerOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, to lay upon the table the report of the Information Commissioner for the period of April 1, 2003 to March 31, 2004.

This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Darrel Stinson Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by residents of Vernon and Coldstream in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap who are concerned about serious violent crimes by repeat offenders living at the Vernon halfway house. The petitioners call upon Parliament to require that Corrections Canada take stronger steps to protect law-abiding citizens.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased on this very first opportunity before the 38th Parliament to table petitions containing over 400 signatures and dealing with a serious matter of the House. The petitioners call on the government to honour the will of Parliament and implement the motion adopted almost unanimously by Parliament three and a half years ago to require labels on all alcoholic beverage containers, labels dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome. For three and a half years the Liberal government of Canada has been in contempt of Parliament. These petitioners want an end to this and labels warning of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy dealt with immediately.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on my first occasion to speak as parliamentary secretary to the House leader, I will say what I think you will hear many times. I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 5 consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:10 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Conservative

Stephen Harper ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, you will bear with me if my first words will be to thank the people of Calgary Southwest, to whom I owe once again the honour of standing in this House today in reply to the Speech from the Throne. As you can imagine, I have been frequently absent from the constituency of Calgary Southwest and therefore I am extremely honoured to have received such a strong mandate, not just for the work I do in the constituency but obviously for the work I am required to do on behalf of my party across the country.

On June 28, electors of Calgary Southwest joined almost four million other Canadians to entrust the new Conservative Party of Canada with the responsibility of forming the official opposition in this Parliament. I am humbled, and I know we are all humbled, by this high mark of confidence and we are fortified by it in our determination to ensure that this Parliament will listen to all those who are demanding better from their national government.

There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that our ultimate objective is to replace this government and give Canadians a government they can finally trust and be proud of.

At the same time, I will reassure the Prime Minister, all members of the House and Canadians and pledge that my party and I, as the official opposition, will always seek in the meantime to respect the results of the election, to uphold the honour and sovereignty of our country, to defend the interests and the ideals of its people, and to respect the rules and traditions of this special place.

Without hesitation or reservation, I would like also to congratulate all members of all parties who earned the confidence of their fellow citizens in the recent election. We are all--and we should never forget it--very honoured and privileged to be here, to have earned this confidence, and to have earned the responsibilities that we have. We have the responsibility individually of living up to the expectations of our constituents and collectively to the history of our country.

Those men and women who unsuccessfully defended the ideals and ideas of their respective parties and their vision of a better Canada also deserve our respect. I would like particularly to say this to our own Conservative candidates who are not with us today, to remind them that in politics, as in war, the heroes are not only those who triumph. On the dawn of a great battle, nobody knows who will prevail at the end of the day. I am reminded that in much graver circumstances, for instance on the morning of August 19, 1942, the sailors who charged the cliffs below Dieppe were every bit as heroic as their comrades who would storm Normandy two years later, and those who fell at Dieppe have the same eternal respect today as those who triumphed on D-Day.

I also offer special wishes, and my collaboration, up to a point, to the Prime Minister, who must discharge the responsibilities of the country's highest elected office under some challenging circumstances. This will be a minority Parliament, but an overwhelming majority of Canadians want Parliament to work better, no matter what the partisan composition of the House.

The party I am so proud to lead, the new Conservative Party of Canada, will demand better in this Parliament, not by being blindly obstructionist, not by toppling the government at the first opportunity and not by paralyzing Parliament. We will continue to demand the changes the country needs by being responsible and responsive to Canadians.

It is not my intention, as Leader of the Opposition, to represent in this House only the position of my party or the interests of those who supported us.

We will be the voice of minorities oppressed by abusive majorities, a bulwark protecting the weak from the strong. We will protect the democratic prerogatives of this House as well as Canadian values against the excesses of executive powers and encroachments by judicial powers.

We will represent and work with all the Canadians who want change and a better way of doing things, who expect integrity and accountability from the government.

I will always bear in mind that the people express their wishes as much through the opposition as through the government.

Our fundamental constitutional role as official opposition is to offer an alternative government to Her Majesty and to the Canadian population.

I have already told members of my party that our goal is not to become a perennial opposition party. Our objective from this day on in this Parliament will be to show Canadians that we are a government in waiting, ready and capable of expressing their values and hopes, and of fulfilling their needs and aspirations.

Our fundamental disagreement with the ruling party on many fundamental issues that affect the lives of Canadians has not been erased or diminished in any way by the results of the last election.

Like the government, we will continue. We have an obligation to defend our core beliefs. We will continue to ask that personal and business taxes be reduced across the board to create jobs and attract more investment to this country.

We will continue to demand that integrity and accountability be restored to the management of public moneys and public finance. We will continue to demand that our health care system be improved through long term innovative solutions, not only by giving money to the provinces.

We will continue to advocate that we defend and protect our men and women in the military who defend and protect us. As the events of the last two days have shown, we must do a much better job.

We will continue to ask that decisive action, not empty rhetoric, guide us in the protection of our environment. We will continue to ask that meaningful democratic reform be applied to our institutions.

We will ask that our criminal justice system be realigned by maintaining tighter supervision of our parole system, by completely eliminating all legal excuses for child pornography, and by scrapping the wasteful gun registry.

We will ask and demand that our relations with the United States be improved, not further jeopardized, in the interests of our workers and our companies.

We will continue our battle to get the government to restore fiscal balance between the federal government and the provinces. We do not believe that the Canadian federation can function efficiently with a central government that is rich while the provinces are poor.

The Prime Minister will soon be discussing adjustments to the equalization formula with his provincial counterparts. Such adjustments are necessary, but they will not be enough. The government must have the courage and the vision to look at the whole issue of tax inequities fostering the federal government's control over the social and economic development of our provinces.

We believe in cooperative federalism where the central government and the provinces work together, sharing common resources equitably and respecting each other's jurisdictions.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, in our parliamentary tradition the Speech from the Throne has always been a solemn and serious occasion. Over the last decade, however, I see that the Speech from the Throne has lost much of its lustre and even some of its credibility.

This is the eighth Speech from the Throne since 1993 and the second one this year alone. Under successful Liberal governments that have been obsessed by their political prospects and their leadership issues, the official opening of a new Parliament has become little more than an attempt to slap a new coat of paint on a shaky building rather than fixing its foundation.

Too often the Speech from the Throne has largely turned the Senate chamber into an echo chamber for Liberal electoral ambitions and spin lines. Too often we have seen partisan posturing replace national purpose and political expediency overshadow the quest for excellence.

Canadians are not interested in the government's plan to garner favour for a few months or maybe just a few days. They want a blueprint for the next few years.

The speech delivered by Her Excellency yesterday is unfortunately not very different than the one I commented on back on October 1, 2002, when I made my first major address in the House as leader of the opposition.

I remember saying then that the Liberal government strategy as laid out in successive, almost identical, throne speeches could be boiled down to five tactics: first, identify a cause that trumps everything else; second, demonize anyone who questions the truth of this instant moral insight; third, proclaim a scheme that would produce the great leap forward; fourth, call upon Canadians to spend heaps of money as a sign of concern; and fifth, forget about looking at any results and move on to other ventures, bigger plans and greater expectations.

Regretfully, under a new general, the Liberal strategy has not changed nor have the old tactics. The victory of the Liberal Party still triumphs the greater good of the country.

I will start with an example from this throne speech. The government has once again indicated that it intends to make health care its priority. Of course, most Canadians, we ourselves, share this view and as a party we support this direction. We support the five principles of the Canada Health Act and we want them to be respected not only in practise but in spirit as well.

The Prime Minister is touting the recent health accord the provinces concluded with him as a major breakthrough. The accord in reality represents only a partial reparation for the damage inflicted by the Liberals on our health care system since 1993.

During more than a decade of Liberal government, our health care system has struggled from crisis to crisis. In 1995 it was the Prime Minister, who was then minister of finance, who inflicted the most grievous cuts to health care funding by ripping some $25 billion out of the system; something that has never been done before or since by any politician in the history of this country.

As a consequence, over the last decade Canadians have seen hospitals closed, services reduced and waiting lists grow longer. Much remains to be fixed. Many critical areas were also left out during last month's negotiations. Some of these became apparent when we compare the contents of the latest accord with the 2003 accord on health renewal, also agreed to by the Prime Minister and all the first ministers.

This was an accord, by the way, which we supported in the official opposition but which the Prime Minister never saw fit to implement. The 2003 accord, for example, already included a commitment to reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage, but the new health accord now only commits to yet another study. We will never accept that people should be forced into debt or poverty in order to afford necessary medications for unforeseen or serious medical conditions.

Given the role of the federal government in testing and regulating drugs, we have always thought it made perfect sense for the federal power to play a lead role in this area. During the recent election campaign we advocated that the federal government assume all costs for catastrophic drug coverage over $5,000 per person per year and that the federal government, in consultation with the provinces, develop a national formula of eligible drugs.

Different reports written by Senator Kirby and another by Roy Romanow, in both cases hardly well known conservatives, recommended some form of federal participation in a national catastrophic drug program.

Here is what the 1997 record said. Its author, I believe, is present with us today. He promised “a timetable and fiscal framework for the implementation of universal public coverage for medically necessary prescription drugs”. That was seven years ago.

Canadians in dire straits, Canadians who need help, their families and their loved ones who want help are still waiting, as they are still waiting on so many things that have been in the throne speech on health care and so many other subjects in edition after edition.

Many other Canadians also continue to face unacceptable delays in getting access to life-saving drugs because of federal red tape. Last year average drug approval time in Canada was 704 days compared to 393 days in the United States, which, by the way, is seeking to actually reduce its own timeframes. Longer review times mean that Canadians wait longer for the benefits of new and improved drugs, and they make the Canadian pharmaceutical industry less competitive internationally.

Furthermore, while Canadians are being denied timely access to new major pharmaceuticals, they are also having difficulty getting access to natural and complementary health products. We hope and strongly recommend that the government will abandon its boastful fix for a generation attitude.

Nobody in this country believes that the government and the agreement signed with the provinces is going to fix health care for a generation in the course of a three day conference. There is still a lot of work to do in the critical area of health care and not all of it can be done simply by cutting a cheque to the provinces to get out of a conference.

In the last election, the Liberals again promised a national day care program. They promised 150,000 spaces. This is a promise they have been making regularly since 1993. Yesterday, the government promised once again to act. At this speed, by the time the government actually does something about child care, the generation of children who hoped to be included in it in 1993 will be raising children of their own.

We believe the government has a role to play in supporting families, helping parents balance work and home life, and that child care is an important component of the challenge that many of us face everyday, but we would go about it differently. We do not think this government or any government should be in charge of raising our children. We see what happens over there when government is in charge of raising children.

We believe that parents generally know what is best for their children. We believe that a deduction or credit given to all parents of young children would best empower them to make their own decisions about how to care for their own children. We also urge the government to respect the fact that social services, such as child care, are an area of provincial jurisdiction. To their credit, during the health talks, members of the government recognized that Canadian federalism need not be a one size fits all framework, particularly when it comes to provincial jurisdictions.

However, the principle of asymmetrical federalism, as it has been called, is not new. Our successive constitutions and our history include several examples of formulas that take into consideration the different realities of the various regions of our country.

Quebec in particular, through its elected representatives, has chosen to help create the Canadian federation, precisely because its distinctiveness would be respected and protected there.

The new Conservative Party which I have the honour of leading is a young party: it will turn one later this month. However, we are very proud to be the heirs of John A. Macdonald and George Étienne Cartier, two Conservatives who managed to unite English and French Canadians in a federal system that became one of the major achievements of the 21st century.

I therefore urge the Prime Minister and all his ministers to respect the will of the provinces that want to sign specific agreements with the federal government when they decide to cooperate with it in jurisdictions granted to them under the Constitution.

The Liberals like to say that they want to conclude a new deal with municipalities. However, the final document does not really deliver the promise in the slogan. For the past few months, the government has desperately been trying to come to termswith the expectations of municipalities, but still does not have a specific plan for sharing revenues generated by gasoline taxes.

The government is also committed to recognizing that municipal governments are partners regarding numerous items on the national agenda. That is fine, but one of the government's primary responsibilities to its partners is to tell the truth. In other words, the government must give them specific dates and data on the funding promised.

We in this party have long and realistically advocated a transfer of at least 3¢ of the federal fuel excise tax to municipalities through a national infrastructure agreement that would have to be concluded with the provinces.

While we are on the subject of gas taxes I should add, since Canadian consumers still face record high gas prices, that it is time the federal government did something about the GST on top of the excise tax on gasoline. It is time we axed the tax on tax. We would also eliminate the GST portion on gas prices that go above 85¢ per litre to prevent the government from reaping windfall profits on top of high gas prices.

I have to mention that it is a little ironic that it was not too long ago the Liberals claimed that they would eliminate the GST completely. Now they will not even cap it to help control runaway gasoline prices.

One area where the government does deserve a lot of credit for being faithful to its promises is in the area of environmental policy. We have to recognize that the government, in doing its throne speeches, has been faithful to the principle of recycling; recycling the same old promises for a decade.

We all agree that clean air, clean water and clean land are important parts of the legacy we must leave to future generations of Canadians. Currently the federal government and nine provinces have agreed on voluntary Canada-wide standards for particulate matter and ozone which are the most urgent threats facing our air quality. We believe that these standards are a good benchmark but we are concerned that present ozone and particulate matter targets may prove to be yet more empty rhetoric, just like the Liberals' Kyoto greenhouse gas reductions which they have no realistic plan to achieve in spite of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to publicize.

Now it is time for the federal government to ensure that the targets for smog causing pollutants are reached by the 2010 deadline. We suggested that this could be achieved by enacting Canada's first clean air act. We do not need more environmental talks. We do not need more hot air on global warming. We do not need more grandiose schemes. We simply need some action. We need practical measures to improve our air, land and water, and the way we should start is by dealing head on with the problem of smog in this country.

I have also been reading 10 years of throne speeches on aboriginal affairs. In fact, over the past 10 years the Liberals have done very little to improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians. All they have done really is raised expectations while doing little to meet those expectations.

Yesterday's Speech from the Throne actually went backwards. We are now down to devoting just six paragraphs to aboriginal issues. There is nothing to indicate that federal money designated for aboriginal programs will actually get to the people who need it most, rather than being consumed by federal bureaucracy or inefficient governance.

As Conservatives we believe in the importance of self-government, in devolving taxing authority, land ownership and economic decision making to aboriginal communities. We also believe that the government should pursue other matters to enhance individual freedom and opportunity for all aboriginal Canadians on and off reserve.

Our critic for aboriginal affairs, the new member for Calgary Centre-North, will be making suggestions for improving living conditions and prospects for aboriginal Canadians over the course of the throne speech today.

In yesterday's speech the government almost completely ignored Canada's farmers and rural Canada generally. The BSE crisis is one of the greatest crises ever faced by our agricultural sector but BSE is not the only problem faced by our agricultural sector. We have an avian flu crisis that is devastating much of the poultry industry. Our grain and oilseed farmers are being crippled by foreign subsidies. Federal income support and relief programs do not seem to be working.

The government has not designed farm support programs that actually stabilize farm incomes under stress from international subsidization, unfair trade practices, drought and all the other factors that are beyond the control of producers.

We believe, for example, that we can do some things. We believe the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on grain marketing should be abolished. Farmers should have options. They should be able to market their own grain when they decide and take advantage of market conditions to maximize profits not image.

The Conservative Party of Canada believes strongly that it is in the best interests of Canada and Canadian agriculture that industries under the protection of supply management remain viable but we still have no indication that the government will fight at the WTO to preserve our supply management system and to ensure it continues to provide a reasonable rate of return for producers who supply high quality food at a fair price to consumers.

When it comes to agriculture it would be remiss if I did not discuss trade. Again and again, election after election, throne speech after throne speech the Liberals have promised to defend and expand Canadian trade. They have promised but they have not produced. In fact they have seriously jeopardized our commercial relations with our most important trading partner, the United States. Nowhere is this more cruelly evident than in the ongoing border closure which is severely punishing our beef producers and many related sectors.

The government put off helping this vital industry until the crisis reached the tipping point. It assured producers and all Canadians this summer that the border would be open by the end of the summer. It turns out that the only strategy it had was to hope that it might just come true. Now it is October, the border remains closed and there are no signs of it opening again. We have no idea when it will reopen.

Producers are getting more desperate every day. The crisis in the livestock industry is ongoing and it is worsening across the country. This is a huge industry. Members know that cattle farmers are not the only ones affected. The dairy farmers and producers of other ruminants, such as sheep, elk and bison, are also affected. This is strictly a political problem. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality or safety of Canadian beef.

While the government has not been up to this task in this national emergency, we will continue, led by our new agricultural critic, to press for action in the House and across the country and make sure producers' voices are heard. However, to be fair to the actions or inactions of Canadian government officials, I should add that they are not the only ones to blame for this situation.

The United States government and Congress are far from blameless. Once again Canada has been caught in the crossfire of American elections where protectionist posturing is often at a premium for both candidates and commentators. However we cannot sit idly by and hope the Americans will come around. We must press our case with greater vigour and greater tact, not with an ongoing string of anti-American outbursts.

Those outbursts have just compounded the situation just as they have with the critical problems we face in the softwood lumber dispute. A NAFTA panel ruled at the end of August that Canadian lumber was not a threat to American producers and that the 27% duties levied since May 2002 could not be justified. The panel said that it would be an exercise in futility to pursue further review of this case but the US is still not accepting this ruling and it is likely to file yet another extraordinary challenge.

We have not heard from the government a clear strategy on how to deal with these ongoing trade disputes with the United States. However I will say that if the United States continues to ignore the spirit of our trade arrangement and, by doing so, continues to undermine it, it will ultimately affect all our trading relations and be to the detriment of the United States as well as this country.

For the sake of Canada's farmers, lumber producers and countless other industries, I do hope that the Prime Minister will develop some much needed backbone and, frankly, that some of his members will better control their jawbones on this issue. We have to understand that good relations with our best friend and most important customer is not a sign of weakness and bad relations with the United States is not a badge of honour.

The Prime Minister might remind some of his members that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. We may not have the same priorities as policies as the United States or even the same view of the world, but we do share a continent and we need to be able to work effectively together to achieve common goals and common prosperity.

I would like to speak on national defence for a second. Other than vague commitments on peacekeeping, we did not really hear much about national defence in the Speech from the Throne. As a matter of fact we have not heard much about national defence from the government since 1993.

Over the past 10 years the Liberals have in fact cut $20 billion in purchasing power from the Department of National Defence. As a percentage of our economy, our defence spending is lower than every other NATO country except for Luxembourg. As a result, we have fewer personnel, older equipment and are excessively dependent on our allies, principally the United States. The government is still not even capable of actually going out and finding a replacement for a helicopter that should be in an aviation museum, and I understand there are yet more delays. Defence is simply not a priority for the Liberal Party. Canadians must understand this. It has not been a priority for 30 years.

As in health care, the Liberal government should have the foresight and the fortitude of repairing what it has undone. It should have gradually increased the strength of the regular force over the long term to 80,000, the strength it was at when the Liberals took office in 1993, and targeted the strengthening of existing units, not go out and create a costly new peacekeeping brigade.

The Liberal government should also focus on equipment priorities that strengthen the protection of our sovereignty, global transport capabilities and the safety of overseas missions. The events of 9/11 showed us how threats can migrate to North America with devastating effect. It would be naive and irresponsible in the extreme to assume that Canada is somehow immune from the threats that other free nations face.

Like all Canadians we are extremely proud of Canada's peacekeeping tradition. We believe it should be continued whenever and wherever it is possible and advisable. However, armies do not exist only to intervene before or after a conflict.

We also would do well to remember that the name of the government department charged with our security is national defence, not international peacekeeping. Its mission is three-fold: protecting Canada; defending North American cooperation with the United States; and contributing to peace and international security. All three are equally important. Let us never forget that we cannot keep the peace with terrorists and rogue states. They already consider themselves to be at war with our very civilization.

However, there is no need to be unduly pessimistic. It was reassuring to me to find out that our colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord recently took part in a deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina for six days with the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada. If members of the Bloc Quebecois are prepared to serve in the Canadian Forces overseas, then anything is possible.

In the next few days the Prime Minister will embark on the first of a wide-ranging series of international trips. I said yesterday that the Prime Minister was so excited about his government's agenda that his first act was to leave the country. In all seriousness, I do not have any problem with the Prime Minister travelling abroad. In fact I would encourage him to take about 35 Liberal members with him whenever he leaves the country. They would make a tremendous delegation.

As I told the Prime Minister in other circumstances, we cannot confuse movement with momentum. Important decisions do need to be taken here at home and a clear vision of our role in the world needs to be expressed if we are to regain the influence we have lost on the international stage during what has been a decade of drift.

What we have seen so far is hardly encouraging. Even the Toronto Star has taken a dim view of the Prime Minister's debut on the world stage. Let me quote a Toronto Star columnist who wrote:

[The Prime Minister's] maiden speech to the United Nations last week was a triumph of political recycling. It essentially amounted to a repeat of Chretien's final address to the same body pronounced at this time last year

In terms of international cooperation, the Liberals are responsible for the greatest decrease in international aid in the history of Canada. Cut to half of what it was under the Mulroney government, Canada's aid is now well below the OECD average.

The Liberals the party of Wilfrid Laurier, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau no longer perceive Canada as a leader among nations. The Prime Minister was recently advised by members of the United Nations General Assembly on how to handle global crises. When the crisis erupted in Haiti, instead of sending the disaster assistance response team, which was created specifically for this type of emergency situation, the government only sent Denis Coderre.

We would strengthen the government's commitment to national defence, to foreign aid--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Leader of the Opposition will want to set a very good example in his remarks. He knows that referring to members by name is out of order. Even reading something with a member's name in it is out of order. We cannot do that to get around the rule that we have in place. He will want to speak respectfully and refer to the member by his constituency name or other title.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will apologize and I will say respectfully that it is necessary from time to time for me to make sure you are paying attention.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

The Speaker

The Leader of the Opposition knows that if I were not, there are lots of other members who would help me out.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have noticed that as well.

We would of course strengthen the government's commitment to national defence, to foreign aid and to vigorous diplomacy. We believe also as well, and this is important, that Parliament should have a voice on crucial foreign policy issues of the day.

For example, the Conservative Party has always supported Canada's continued cooperation with the United States in our shared continental defence. We believe Norad is a key strategic alliance that allows us to be fully involved in the defence of North American security and also the defence of our own sovereignty.

At the same time, we believe there are many issues which the government must openly address before we would support full Canadian participation in a continental missile defence system. We need to know clearly the objective of this initiative, whether it is technically feasible, exactly what role Canada would play, as well as the potential costs and benefits, the nature and length of any Canadian commitments.

We believe, and I know all opposition parties believe and I am quite certain many government members believe, that the final decision on whether to participate in the continental missile defence shield should be a decision supported in this House. We urge the government to call for a full debate and vote before the government signs on to any treaties in this area.

Ensuring such a parliamentary vote on missile defence is simply one small step in ensuring greater respect for parliamentary democracy. The Conservative Party, in conjunction with the other opposition parties, will use this minority Parliament to demand true reform in this place.

The Prime Minister has talked effusively about eliminating the democratic deficit for several years now. However, in his first few months of office we saw precious little difference from his predecessor's style of management or mismanagement as we call it over here.

There is an old saying that nothing focuses the mind like a hanging in the morning. We are hopeful that the precarious position of this government will lead them to dust off their fine promises on democratic reform and actually implement some of them.

On this side make no mistake, we stand for free votes in this Parliament. We cannot have a free vote unless we can first vote. We should be able to vote on the definition of marriage. It should be voted on by the representatives elected by the people, not the judges appointed by the government.

The Supreme Court of Canada should not be asked to do the work that we were elected to do. It is not proper to ask Supreme Court judges, because they have enough on their plate already, to approve in principle laws that have not yet even been proposed to Parliament just because the government of the day is too confused, too divided and too timid to face the issue head on.

All of us are representatives of the people. We are charged with adopting legislation according to the wishes and beliefs of those who have elected us and according to the oath which successive generations of MPs have sworn upon their election to this place. The court should determine only whether the laws that we adopt after study, debate, amendment and a majority vote are constitutional in theory and how they should be applied in practice. Their role is not to rule on political, social and moral issues on behalf of the Canadian population in the place of their elected people.

The fundamental separation and balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches that make up the democratic system must be protected at all times in the interest of its citizens. In the interest of democracy we will also press this government to end the appointment of senators. We believe very strongly that anyone who wants to sit in the Parliament of Canada in the 21st century should be elected by the people of Canada.

We will continue to advocate for elections to be held on a fixed date every four years, as has been enacted successfully by the Liberal government--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Okay, let's do it right now.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have to tell the member opposite that it is not four years from the last election already, but I see he does want an election.

This has already been enacted by a Liberal government in British Columbia, which understands that the next election should not be called just in the interests of the Prime Minister and his party but in the interests of all Canadians.

We need to closely evaluate the fairness and efficiency of our electoral system and compare it with more modern preferential and proportional systems that are used in other advanced countries.

I want to thank both the leader of the Bloc Québécois and the leader of the New Democratic Party for working with us on a series of changes to our Standing Orders, which we believe will make the House more effective and more democratic. These were not advanced to favour our partisan interests or to stymie the government but to make this minority Parliament work. I have said that if I were Prime Minister, I would sustain and live by these rules.

The fundamental responsibility in this area lies with the government. I have to say in the area of democratic reform we are so far not impressed. It is simply not true, for example, that we were consulted in any meaningful way about the contents of yesterday's Speech from the Throne. It is certainly not true that any input was sought. I, on the other hand, worked closely with my opposition colleagues to find common ground for our response, and I would have engaged in these consultations myself were I prime minister in a minority Parliament.

Let me address one last subject and that is public finances and accountability. We all realize that the throne speech is not a budget speech but we are all very concerned about the orgy of costly promises that the government indulged in during the last election campaign and has now continued in the Speech from the Throne. According to the figures, if one believes the figures in the Liberals' 2004 election platform, its recent promises have already exceeded the amount available to fund new initiatives between now and 2009-10. In fact, at the conclusion of the recent health summit the Prime Minister doubled his entire health care promises overnight.

There is virtually nothing in the throne speech about tax relief. All Canadians, individuals and businesses, are paying too much tax compared to our major competitors. We need tax cuts across the board on investment, on consumption, on high marginal earners, on everyone. However, in the Liberal tax and spend world, the tax burden does fall far too heavily on lower and modest income Canadians and their families. Surely all parties in the House could agree that we should begin, with all the surpluses the government has had, with some tax cuts for those who are in the lowest income brackets.

Not only in the campaign, not only in the throne speech, has the government been blind to the crushing tax burden it has placed on hardworking Canadians; it has compounded that over the past decade by shamelessly diverting employment insurance premiums to its general revenues. This has been a $50 billion theft of revenues from workers and businesses to general revenue that frankly has been used to fund not just the programs but also the scandals of the government. This must stop and it must never be allowed to happen again. What we believe we need--

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Shame, shame.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition has the floor and perhaps we could have a little order so we can hear his words.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 6th, 2004 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, occasionally I need to know if they are listening as well.

What we need at this point to avoid what has occurred in the past decade is an independent tripartite commission of business, labour and government to ensure that every dollar in EI contributions is used for the benefit of workers and not for the surpluses and scandals of the government.

We also know that the government has been wildly inaccurate in its forecasts and spending projections over the past five or six years. In recent budgets the Liberals have lowballed surplus numbers by an average of $6.5 billion per year. In the U.S. they do not have this kind of debate. There is a congressional budget office. People there, like here, may disagree on fiscal policy, but they should not have to guess if the numbers they are using are accurate.

We believe that an independent, non-partisan parliamentary budget office should produce forecasts of revenues and spending which are universally available and accepted by all parties and experts of all stripes. Such a body would ensure that the government is genuinely accountable for taxpayers' dollars and that we maintain fiscal discipline at the federal level.

Finally, in the last election Canadians clearly demonstrated that they did not approve of Liberal waste, mismanagement and corruption. It is frankly galling to us that a government that has dragged and is still dragging the country through the worst scandal in our history had not one word to say yesterday on integrity and accountability in government. It is as if nothing has happened at all, no sponsorship scandal, no police investigations, no judicial inquiry, no missing millions. It is business as usual for the Liberal government. However, it is our business, it is the business of the House and it is the business of the people.

We will remind the government at every turn that the money of Canadians is not the government's money to squander, to divert and to hide. What it did before the election, what it did during the election and what it has done since the election will be exposed by the official opposition because that is our job and responsibility.

In conclusion, let me return to where I began, which is to reiterate my party's commitment to ensure that this Parliament will serve Canadians effectively. We will support the government or other opposition parties every time we feel it is in the interests of the country that we do so. When we do not, we will oppose and we will offer concrete and constructive suggestions, conservative suggestions. But collaboration is a two way street and all opposition parties expect the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now.

I believe that even when a government holds a majority it is not relieved of its obligation to consult with the opposition, with the House and with the people on important matters. That obligation is surely even more imperative when a minority government situation exists. It is the government's obligation to craft a working majority to advance its agenda by taking into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House.

We all remember what happened in 1979 when Joe Clark decided to govern as if he had a majority when he did not. The Liberals then pulled out all the stops to defeat the Clark government after only six months. We have no plans or intentions at this time to use procedures or politics to interrupt the life of this Parliament, but ultimately the government's attitudes and actions will determine whether this Parliament will be able to serve Canadians effectively and give them the kind of government they expect and deserve.

The first thing the government must do is actively find common ground with the opposition parties to better serve the Canadian population. I have tried to do precisely that by discussing with my opposition colleagues certain measures that could greatly benefit the population.

It is in the spirit of collaboration and democratic reform that I will offer today some sensible and useful proposals to amend the motion that is before us. These amendments do not require the House or the government to swallow the Conservative election platform whole. They are reasonable, moderate proposals that reflect the viewpoints of several parties, and frankly, of the vast majority of Canadians. They are not inconsistent with the throne speech, the kind of amendments the government House leader said he would consider, but they do put some meat on the bare bones of the government's very vague promises.

I urge members of all parties represented in the House, including the governing Liberal Party, to support the amendment. Voting for the amendment does not imperil the support of the government, far from it. We may well disagree later on with many individual items in the throne speech, but I can assure the Prime Minister that if the amendment is adopted, I pledge that my supporters will then support the approval of the throne speech as a whole.

Therefore, I move:

That the motion to adopt the Speech from the Throne be amended by adding:

“And we urge Your Excellency's advisors, when implementing the details of their proposals,

to review the employment insurance program to ensure it remains well suited to the needs of Canada's workforce,

to reduce and improve the fairness of taxes,

to be unwavering in the application of fiscal discipline,

to examine the need and options for reform of our democratic institutions, including electoral reform,

and to rise above partisanship to address the public interest;

That Your Excellency's advisors consider the inclusion of the following:

  1. The establishment of an arm's length, but not privatized, tri-party commission to ensure employment insurance premiums are used only for workers' benefit;

  2. The reduction of taxes for low and modest income families;

  3. The creation of an independent parliamentary budget office to give regular advice on fiscal forecasts of the Government of Canada;

  4. The establishment of a non-partisan, independent citizens' assembly to examine changes to the electoral system, including proportional representation; and

  5. Measures to ensure that there be a vote in the House of Commons on any proposed continental missile defence treaty”.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The question is on the amendment.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:05 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, let me congratulate the member for Davenport and the member for Gatineau, the mover and the seconder of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.

I want to begin this afternoon by expressing my appreciation, on behalf of all Parliamentarians and indeed all Canadians, to those members who have not returned to the House with us. We thank them for their service to their constituents and to their country.

I want also to offer a special welcome to all the incoming members of Parliament, the strong new voices that will sound in this place. We have been entrusted by the people to serve them, to represent them, to debate here and vote on their behalf. I say to you today let us make them proud.

I consider it a tribute to the diverse, multicultural nature of Canada that 34 members who sit in this House were not born in this nation but chose Canada and came to live here from a total of 20 countries. Our Parliament is richer for their presence.

The work of the 38th Parliament has begun. The elected representatives of this great land have again gathered in this Chamber, where Lester Pearson announced the creation of medicare, where John Diefenbaker rose on Dominion Day to introduce the Bill of Rights, and where Tommy Douglas told us it was not too late to build a better world.

As we stand and speak here today, as we engage in this ceremony of renewal, we are adhering to a tradition older than our country itself. On this day, Parliament is at the centre of the national conversation and it must remain there.

The achievements we forge in this place and in our nation will not be those of one person or one party. We act here and speak on behalf of the people of Canada, almost 32 million strong. Our accomplishments, our triumphs and so too our failings will become part of the collective legacy of our time.

What are we as Canadians to pass on to those who one day will work where we do and live where we do? What kind of Canada will it be? Will we honour the sacrifices of the past by handing over an even better country for the future?

If the answer to that question is to be yes, and it must be yes, then we in this minority Parliament have a critical role to play in building a 21st century economy, in protecting and strengthening our social foundation and securing for Canada a role of pride and influence in the world.

I know a lot of people are wondering, in this Chamber and across the country, if we can make this Parliament work for Canadians; if we can make cooperation not just rhetoric but reality.

In the House, we feel strongly about our beliefs and we express them with vigour. This is a place of passion and partisanship. That will not change, nor should it.

However, in a minority Commons we all have a responsibility to make Parliament work for the people. We will fulfill that responsibility if we embrace and build on the democratic reforms initiated during the last session, and if we are prepared to allow the partisan to give way to progress.

The Governor General spoke yesterday to the values we share across this country. She also spoke to the government's commitment to uniting Canadians in common purpose and building a better future for all.

As we pursue these goals, let us understand that nothing we want to do in our country, nothing we want to help do in the world, can be accomplished if we allow ourselves once again to be caught up in the vicious circle of fiscal irresponsibility.

Keeping the budget in balance is about providing opportunity for Canadians. It is about government doing all it can to create the conditions for Canadians to prosper.

I am part of a generation that for decades borrowed against tomorrow to pay for the needs and desires of its day. For 27 consecutive years our national government was unwilling or unable to make ends meet. The result was an ever-rising national debt and an underachieving economy. For Canadians, it grew harder to find and keep a job, harder to afford a house, and more difficult to pay the bills.

We were caught in a trap of our own making, a vicious circle in which chronic deficits contributed to economic lethargy, which in turn contributed to even higher deficits and then to greater malaise. We could not let that stand and we did not let that stand.

Ten years ago we stamped an expiry date on the federal deficit. We said we would eliminate it and we did. As the budget returned to balance, as Canadians began to grow more secure in the finances of their nation, the economy too began to thrive. Today, interest rates are low. Inflation is low. The rate of unemployment is almost 40% lower than it was a decade ago.

Our growth and living standards are first among the countries of the G-7. Our job growth is the fastest among the countries of the G-7. Our budgetary surplus is alone among the countries of the G-7.

There is today a new confidence among Canadians. We are focused on possibility. We are ready to compete, to excel, to showcase what we have to offer.

The vicious circle has been shattered. Canadians now enjoy the benefits of the virtuous circle. Our balanced budget helps foster a strong economy, which in turn increases business and consumer confidence, which further fortifies our economic success.

The virtuous circle has enabled us to lower taxes in an equitable way and to invest in social programs. We will continue in this vein. But we must remember that the virtuous circle is not a birthright. To protect the collective future of Canadians, we will continue to budget a contingency reserve, a practice that has kept us out of deficit even as many other countries have returned. We will provide transparent, accountable management, treating every tax dollar with respect. And we will continue to bring down our national debt, to 25 % of our GDP within the next decade.

We will do this not to thrill the economists of the world but to ensure that future generations of Canadians have even greater freedom to make their own decisions.

To that same end, we will as a government work to ensure Canada and Canadians remain competitive in the global economy. We will help workers to upgrade their skills and provide small business with venture capital. We will make it easier for new immigrants to quickly find their way into the workforce. We will introduce the learning bond to better enable low income families to save for post-secondary education. We will continue our government's successful efforts to fund innovation and research and development so that Canada is at the cutting edge of new technologies.

For that reason, I am announcing today that the Government of Canada will mandate the Canadian Academies of Science. We seek to create a national alliance of leading scientific and engineering societies, one that will operate at arm's length from government and receive operational funding of $35 million over the next 10 years.

The new Academies of Science will be a source of expert advice on scientific aspects of important domestic and international issues, and will give our country a prestigious voice among the choir of international science groups.

Canada has had two speeches from the throne this year. It has had an election campaign. Canadians know what this government stands for and what we have pledged to accomplish for them: on health care, on aboriginal issues, on early learning and child care, on cities and communities, the environment, and the international stage. Our focus as a government now is exclusively on the work ahead.

We began in the summer by addressing the top priority of Canadians and working with the provinces and territories to secure a 10-year agreement for better health care. The accord will kickstart a reduction in waiting times for key medical procedures, such as heart and cancer care, hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery and diagnostic imaging.

The accord also mandates robust reporting requirements, requirements that include science-based benchmarks and targets that will be made public, driving change, enhancing accountability to Canadians and shifting the focus to the needs of the patient.

It will improve access to health care professionals, launch the expansion of home care and pharmacare, and address the unique health needs of Aboriginal Canadians and the far north.

The health accord sets out common objectives, but recognizes the different needs and circumstances that exist among the provinces and territories. By recognizing these, by pursuing an asymmetrical approach, we find strength in our diversity.

This 10-year agreement will initiate tangible change. It was signed by all the first ministers. And it enjoys the support of health care stakeholders across the country.Over the next decade, the federal contribution to health care will increase by $41 billion. That is a lot of money, but we believe as a government that our investment must be sufficient to bolster medicare and bring real reform to the number one priority of the people who sent us to serve here.

Furthermore, I set out during the first ministers' meeting a proposal to address the concerns of premiers about the funding and the predictability of equalization on territorial formula financing, programs whose volatility make it difficult for the provinces and territories to plan and budget for health, education and other public priorities.

On October 26, I will meet with the first ministers to put in place some of the most meaningful reforms to equalization since it was introduced almost 50 years ago. These reforms will lead to improved public services for Canadians. In essence, what will happen is that the federal government will make the most of its sound management and fiscal health and will take on the challenge of assuming more risk in managing the country's swings in economic fortune.

Prior to our meeting on health care, the premiers and I sat down with aboriginal leaders and agreed to work together to develop a blueprint to improve the health status of aboriginals. The Government of Canada announced a new program, a new investment of $700 million, money that will be used for health protection, promotion, disease prevention and better health results for aboriginals.

Better health is just part of what is required to ensure that for aboriginal Canadians the future is more likely to be one of prosperity than poverty. Our government will continue to focus on the areas that will hold the most promise to improve living conditions: lifelong learning, better and more affordable housing, good jobs, clean water. We will continue to ensure step by step, day by day, that the gaps in life chances between aboriginals and other Canadians are reduced. We look forward to a second meeting of aboriginal leaders and first ministers to pursue agreement on a comprehensive agenda of action for the benefit of all aboriginal people.

During the election campaign, we talked to Canadians about the need for a new deal for our cities and communities, the places where we live, where we work and raise our families, where our cultural industries thrive, where new Canadians enrich our perspective, where national policies touch individual lives.

This is an issue that needed to be brought to the national table. Canada's communities, large and urban, small and rural, face very different challenges and require very different solutions. However, both are key if we are to achieve our social goals and ensure our economic competitiveness. Both are facing enormous financial pressures. They are having trouble finding the money they need to build good roads, to maintain clean parks, to provide better transit. They are struggling with the challenge of coming to grips with the need for affordable housing. Our government understands this and we are doing something about it.

Our new deal for cities and communities is about making the lives of Canadians better by making the places they live better. It began in our first budget with a rebate for municipalities on the GST, which translates into a federal investment in communities of some $7 billion over 10 years. It will continue this fall as we work with provinces, cities and communities on the mechanism and ramp-up for our transfer of a portion of the gas tax, which will mean an additional federal investment of $2 billion a year when fully implemented.

The GST rebate and the gas tax transfer amount to a permanent source of new revenue for municipalities. Our goal is to ensure these funds are predictable and reliable enough for every community, should they wish, to go to a financial market and use this ongoing federal contribution of new money to access funds more immediately. The choice and the freedom will be theirs.

We will also be working with the other orders of government on infrastructure and regional development. We are committed to strengthening our regional resource economies, to ensuring our resource sectors benefit from modern technologies, to building on our core strengths in agriculture, fishing and the range of our natural resources. Because we believe that Canada is strongest when all its parts are strong.

Let me speak here of a region of particular challenge and remarkable opportunity, our far north. As a young man I worked on a tug barge riding the Mackenzie River into the Beaufort Sea. Like anyone who spent time in the north, I was enthralled by the majesty of the land and by the very idea of its vastness. I touched the Beaufort again this summer while spending several days in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon. I spoke with the elders and I walked again out on the tundra. In Whitehorse I was presented with a gumball by an eight year old boy whose uncle had as a child presented a gumball to Pierre Trudeau. I did not know whether to turn it over to the National Archives or eat it. Let the record show I ate it, and I will declare it.

The north is a land of mystic grandeur, of mountains rising through the clouds, of valleys carved deep by glaciers, of icebergs shaped by wind and wave. It is also a part of the world that is on the ecological front lines, a fragile place where we can see the unsettling effects of pollution and global warming.

The modern north retains the echo of the ancient but it is still a place of great promise for the future. As a government, we will work with the territories, their governments and aboriginal groups to further develop the economy of the north. We will do so in a way that will sustain the environment and benefit the people.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting science and research in the north, both on our own and in collaboration with our circumpolar partners. Let there be no doubt, we will protect Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

As we look more broadly to the future, we understand that our success and our quality of life are increasingly tied to our relationship with our environment. The decisions we make now have profound implications for the future. For instance, we need to align our policies and incentives to advance Canada to a position of leadership in the fields of renewable energy, efficiency and conservation.

Environmental stewardship reflects a key element of our heritage. It is both a shared value and a fundamental imperative. For it is vital not only to our health and well-being but to our economy and our competitiveness. Vital to the ability of our cities to attract talent and investment.

That is why, for instance, the Kyoto accord on climate change, a treaty that is now more significant because of the Russian decision to ratify, is important for Canada.

And that is why we will devote a significant portion of the net proceeds from our sale of Petro-Canada, at least $1 billion, to support, develop and commercialize new environmental technologies, -technologies that will help not only Canada but other nations achieve a healthier environment.

During the campaign we spoke to Canadians of our plan to create a nationwide program of early learning and child care, a high quality system open and available to all, affordable, and geared to development. This represents a major initiative. It is going to take some time, but it is worth the effort and it is worth the investment because of the potential benefits, to our economy, yes, but most important, to the lives and the future of our youngest Canadians.

Let me say that one of the accomplishments of the Liberal government of which I am most proud is the introduction in 1997 of the Canada child tax benefit. That too was a program that started small, but look at how it has grown. Look at how it has made a difference in the lives of families and children. By the year 2007, the government's annual contribution through the credit will be more than $10 billion, money that directly helps the children who need it most.

Our plan for early learning and child care will follow that pattern. Once established, it will grow. It will help more families and it will teach more children.

Because the program will be focused on early learning and development, it will help children to be ready to learn when they start school. It will give them a tangible head start and set them on the path to lifelong achievement. Because the program will be open to all, it will level the playing field for children who are disadvantaged by birth or background.

Because the program will be affordable and of high quality, parents who choose to participate more fully in the paid workforce will be able to do so, with the comfort and the security of knowing that their children are in a nurturing, stimulating environment.

We are dedicated to working with our provincial and territorial partners to make this program a reality. We are dedicated because we believe that a strong Canada-wide program of early learning and care for our children is the single best investment that we can make in their future and in ours.

It is my belief that like those who were in this place at the creation of medicare, and who decades later look back with such pride at that defining moment in Canadian social policy, so too will members of this House recall the forging of this important social achievement.

The government cannot do everything, nor should it try. Let us understand that when we face challenges as a society we prevail because citizens in every part of the country take responsibility and take action.

We see this in the flourishing volunteer sector. In the expanding and exciting social economy where Canadians young and old are joining together in new forms of public enterprise to fight poverty and promote social responsibility.

It is in this spirit that we will work with the provinces, the territories and stakeholder groups to increase support for family caregivers – Canadian women and men of dedicated volunteerism, who have made the choice to care for aged relatives or adult relatives with disabilities.

And that is why we will increase payments to seniors under the Guaranteed Income Supplement—to reflect the fact that wages are growing at a rate greater than inflation, to ensure our least wealthy seniors are able to live better and with dignity.

In our current age, the changes to the world's economic security and political landscapes are increasingly seismic and global fault lines more unstable and more numerous. We see it in the headlines of our day and we feel the anxiety of a world on edge. As Canadians, we must be active beyond our borders to protect our values and our interests: security in the face of terrorism, the increasing threat of nuclear proliferation, and our trade relationships with the United States, with Mexico and throughout the world.

In all that we do it will be Canadian interests that will prevail, and that will be the case with ballistic missile defence. As we have said before, that is why we will have a debate in the House prior to a government decision.

We must also seek to advance the concerns of embattled peoples who seek freedom, stability, democracy and, above all, a better life. Canada has answered the call in the international fight against AIDS, leading the way in the efforts to combat the disease in the developing world. Canada has answered the call in Afghanistan. Canada has answered the call in Haiti. Brave members of our military and our police force are helping to secure the peace and build the institutions that are crucial to thriving states.

We as a government will expand Canada's ability to play this kind of essential role by increasing by 8,000 personnel the Canadian Forces and Reserves.

We will continue to urge the world to act collectively on the basis of our common humanity. Specifically, we will speak out for reform of the United Nations. We will speak out for the establishment of guidelines to enable the international community to intervene more swiftly and more effectively inside sovereign states that perpetrate or fail to stop massive human suffering such as the ongoing tragedy in Darfur.

During the late 1990s, at meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Canada took an important lead in working to reduce the debts of the world's poorest nations. Many of these are in Africa, and we will continue to help them.

At the G-8 summit in Kananaskis, Prime Minister Chrétien urged the world's richest governments to focus compassionately on the needs of Africa and its people. We will continue this work. We stand ready to build on both our commitment to Africa and our tradition of peacekeeping. For instance, I am proud to be able to tell the House that we are offering to train African military specialists in how best to secure and preserve the peace so that they can in turn build and train an effective homegrown force that is attuned to the cultural, the geographic and the historic realities of conflicts on that continent.

Quite simply, there are so many instruments of war in our world. Let Canada continue to be the instrument for peace.

Our priorities as a government serve our goals as a nation: prosperity, opportunity and security for the Canada of now, for the Canada to come. A system of early support so kids get the best possible start in life. Vibrant cities and communities that are great places to live. And better health care so Canadians have the confidence that the system will be there whenever and wherever they may need it.

These are the issues that today rank among the highest priorities of Canadians. And they fall within areas where the provinces and territories have frontline responsibilities and are accountable to their own citizens. As a government, we have no desire and no intention of infringing in these domains.

But neither do we believe that Canadians want the federal government to be absent on the issues that matter most to us collectively.

There is nothing we cannot achieve if we come together in common purpose, if a strong national government articulates and defends our shared interests and each of us rallies to national objectives.

When the first ministers met in Ottawa to discuss health care we found common ground in the needs and desires of Canadians. The people around that table stood up for medicare, stood up for our country, and signed their names to a deal for better health care, a deal for a decade.

When the Government of Canada brings together its 13 territorial and provincial partners, when it agrees with them on a 10 year plan that will mean shorter waiting times and improved access to health professionals, that is a testament to the strength of our federation.

Canada is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. True national leadership recognizes the diversity among our provinces and embraces it as an asset, a source of creativity and innovation. But at the same time, true national leadership is about naming a destination down the road and helping to forge the national will and the consensus to ensure that we get there together.

We see the importance of national will in the health deal. Because of our agreement, there will be greater accountability. Data on waiting times will be published. Benchmarks and targets will be set, marking progress and unlocking and unleashing ingenuity.

We see the importance of national will in defining Canada's place in the world. More than ever, our prosperity and security, the quality of life in our communities, and the strength of our families depend on our ability to access markets, to compete with determination and resourcefulness, to attract talent and investment, and to build multilateral approaches to peace, security, human rights and environmental stewardship.

We see the importance of national will in protecting the values that define and inspire us. Let us understand that within our charter of rights are enshrined our basic freedoms. We as a nation of minorities must never allow these fundamental rights to be compromised if we are to protect our national character and our individual freedoms.

Let us understand that the pride we take in our diversity, in our linguistic duality and our rich multicultural society, the satisfaction with which we present ourselves to the world as a country of inclusion, will ultimately erode and be lost if we are not vigilant, if we do not vigorously combat racism and exclusion, if we do not all together stare into the face of hate and declare, “That is not our Canada”.

In conclusion, let me say, on June 28, each of us earned the privilege of a seat in this chamber and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Canadians and the life of Canada. The message of the election is clear: Canadians want us to do better as a government. We have heard that message and we carry it with us. The demand going forward is equally clear: Our government and all parties must make this minority Parliament work for Canadians.

For me, the election campaign ended with a 24-hour sprint across Canada and back, a race to the finish that started in Halifax and ended in Montreal, with eight stops, two oceans, 10,000 kilometres and about 30 cups of coffee in between.

We started in the early morning. We crossed Nova Scotia by bus. We boarded our campaign plane and stopped in Gatineau. We touched down in Toronto and Winnipeg. As darkness fell, we went on to Vancouver. We had dinner at midnight.

As we flew back east, the plane was silent for the first time in 36 days. Yes, Mr. Speaker, even the media had finally succumbed. We arrived in a beautiful summer dawn in Montreal. I had a chance in the quiet hours of that morning to reflect on all I had seen and heard during the five weeks of the campaign, during my seven months as prime minister, during my 16 years as a member of Parliament.

And I remember thinking: What an incredible country this is. What a vast and diverse and magnificent land. And how privileged we all are to live here, to feel our bold national spirit, to contribute to our nation’s rise to excellence. That feeling never left me, not during the long night of election returns, not in the weeks that followed. That feeling has never left me.

Our goal in this Parliament, in all our pursuits, must be to ensure that future generations of Canadians have every reason to feel the same way about their country. To feel the way we do. To experience that surge of pride, that jolt of confidence, that intangible but unmistakable feeling that we are all part of something special.

The work of building an even better country begins today. Let us get to it.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier, QC

Mr. Speaker, during the most recent federal election, Quebeckers chose once again to put their trust in the sovereignist members of the Bloc Quebecois to defend their interests in Ottawa for the fourth consecutive federal election. This is a mandate that was legitimately obtained. We have a mandate just like all the other members of Parliament who sit here.

Consequently, with its 54 members of Parliament, the Bloc Quebecois will continue to dog the federal government tirelessly so that it responds to the concerns of Quebeckers. This is the mandate that was given to us and this is the challenge that the Bloc Quebecois team intends to meet, with all the respect and the sense of responsibilities due Quebec electors, and with the most profound respect for Canadians.

The Bloc Quebecois believes that only sovereignty will allow Quebec to freely make all the collective choices that are appropriate for it. Because we are not proponents of the politics of the worst case scenario, which is the worst kind of politics, we will tackle the issues that affect Quebeckers one by one. We will do so with all the necessary openness, with rigour, with realism, by taking fully our responsibilities, without ever losing sight of one thing: at all times, the interests of Quebec will guide the Bloc Quebecois.

Let us fact facts. In its present form, the Speech from the Throne does not meet the needs of Quebeckers, in many respects.

I take employment insurance as one example. The government is merely promising to continue to review the employment insurance program. It has been examining, studying, investigating this for ages. Even with unanimous recommendations from House committees, the government has ignored what all parties were unanimous on. There has been no specific commitment to any move to improve the situation of seasonal workers, older workers, young people or women, and this has a terrible impact on all regions of Quebec, and of Canada as well.

In our opinion, an independent commission needs to be struck and given the mandate of determining contribution rates and administering the assets of the independent employment insurance fund in the best interests of contributors and recipients. There is nothing on this in the Speech from the Throne. It is high time that the government stopped stealing from the employment insurance fund.

There is no mention of the softwood lumber issue. Of course the government wants to see Canadian and American businesses have access to the American market, but that's it. Of course that is desirable; everyone wants it. The federal government ought to realize that an assistance plan for workers and businesses is required in the meantime. The American strategy is obvious: drag out the legal proceedings as long as possible, since they know the U.S. will lose. In so doing, they tell themselves, by the time they are finally defeated the victors will no longer be around.

We have to support our businesses by complying with the rules of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA. This can be done, but the government is not doing it. We have been waiting three years for Phase 2. We were told that it would be forthcoming when things became urgent. Well, the situation has now become extremely urgent.

There is not much on agriculture either. Here again, the government preaches access to markets but with no firm or clear commitment on protecting supply management. There is nothing concrete. The farmers of Quebec and of Canada are worried. There is nothing concrete in this Speech from the Throne.

There is no mention of the missile defence shield. Unless when the Prime Minister talked about the need to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Canada he meant that Canada needs to take part in the missile defence plan. If that is what he meant, then there is cause for concern.

The House needs to vote on this matter, not just talk about it. We are not in a Parliament where we just talk for the sake of it. A decision on this issue has to be made here, in this House, whether the government agrees or not. No issue is more important than war or peace or issues of national defence and foreign policy.

We have to be able to express our point of view on this, as they do in the British parliamentary system, and in Australia and New Zealand. This can be done here, by someone concerned about the democratic deficit. If it is just words, I understand why he does not mention it. I had hoped for more from this Prime Minister regarding the democratic deficit. Here is an opportunity for him to improve the situation on democratic debate.

Furthermore, the intentions of the Liberal government, as expressed in the Speech from the Throne—because we have to read what is written and not what is between the lines—once again undermines Quebec's ability to make its own decisions.

The federal government talks about cooperation. I have been hearing that since 1993 and even earlier, because I have been here since 1990. Yet in reality, the Liberals' centralist intentions remain. Encroachments on Quebec's jurisdictions have increased in this Speech from the Throne.

I am referring to the problem of the workforce. We have heard that the government intends to reinvest in occupational training, through a new workplace skills strategy.

I thought that the manpower issue had been settled in 1997 in an agreement with Quebec. I thought that when we were talking about training, it was part of either labour or education, both in Quebec's jurisdiction. But no, they are going to interfere in this area. That is encroachment.

Regarding day care, we have heard that they will handle the matter with a beautiful national program. I expected that they would say this issue is in the domain of the provinces and Quebec and that there would be a right to opt out without conditions and with full compensation. That is what would be offered to Quebec; that is what the people of Quebec wanted to hear. But no—that was not in the speech. There is another fine wall-to-wall, pan-Canadian program, with its pan-Canadian standards.

Within its own areas of jurisdiction, the federal government could have provided assistance to parents and day cares by making changes in taxation. Parents in Quebec lose $250 million a year because of the deductions for day care costs. It contrasts with the reduction in day care costs in Quebec. We have lowered the costs and we give more to Ottawa, and all the time we are losing money. It is that simple. It amounts to $250 million, which adds up to $1 billion in four years. That is a lot of money. They could have done something about this problem. It would have helped the day cares and the parents of Quebec.

As for the municipalities, they said it was important. Many people live there. We knew that. There are many problems. That is the urban condition; that is development. We all know that.

Having made this observation, they decided to meddle. It is as if Quebec said that because national defence is important, it would buy helicopters or submarines, which might help out the federal government. But the jurisdictions have been defined. Municipalities are not a federal responsibility.

I would have liked to read in the Speech from the Throne that the money would be provided to the provinces, to Quebec, which would decide for themselves the priorities and conditions and work with the municipalities, without needing big brother Ottawa , with its Ottawa knows best attitude. It is always the same.

It is the same in the environment sector. This time the government talks about a unified environmental assessment process. Yet, the BAPE has existed for 25 years in Quebec. The government tells us that it will present us with something. This will not be imposed to us, it will be proposed to us. There will be some money with the proposals. They will not be conditions, but if the provinces want this money, perhaps they could adopt this unique process, with full respect for jurisdictions, with full cooperation. We know it. I think the Prime Minister has some expertise in this sort of things.

Manpower training, day care, municipalities, environment, all these priorities have as a common denominator the fact that Ottawa wants to use its huge financial means—our money—in jurisdictions that are not federal.

There is another clear sign. Following the euphoric statement on September 15 on asymmetrical federalism, I thought that the government would talk about it in the Speech from the Throne, that it was the discovery of the century and that the problem had just been solved.

We read the Speech from the Throne. We looked everywhere. We were prepared to talk about asymmetry. It was not there once. I know that some people in the Liberal Party are annoyed about this issue. There are documents in English Canada in which this concept is less popular. There is not one word on the subject. Yet, this was the evidence, as the Prime Minister told us, that it was the way to go in an area of jurisdiction that, let us not forget, belongs to Quebec.

As I said before, it is not so much asymmetrical federalism as asymmetrical meddling. However, the federal government has gone even further than that. It is no longer talking about asymmetry, especially in the area of health, where it now refers to the September 15 agreement in terms rather different from those it used the day after this historical find.

It is now talking about Canada-wide objectives and accountability. We are back to the same old “Ottawa knows best” approach, to meddling, centralization and Canada-wide standards. Asymmetry in areas of federal jurisdiction is not even an option.

I welcomed the health agreement when it was reached and I said I was happy about it. At the very least we should be able to do things in our own areas of jurisdiction, with our own money. It is a good thing when Quebec makes gains. But the fact is that Quebec is going nowhere when it is only treading water. The focus is more on protection and resistance than anything else.

For Quebec to go forward, we need asymmetry in federal jurisdictions, just what Jean Charest is asking for in areas like telecommunications, appointments to the Supreme Court and international relations for instance. These are areas where asymmetrical federalism is to be found. No need to be a partisan to recognize it. They make their own choices. They will defend them. In my mind, these are gains, and every time Quebec gains something, it is getting a step closer to becoming a country. This is how we see things.

When Lesage managed to patriate his programs, it was a good thing for Quebec. Sovereignty has not suffered a setback. Support for sovereignty jumped from 8% to 49% in the last referendum and 49% in the last federal election. When Lévesque signed the Cullen-Couture agreement, he did not turn into a federalist. He stood up for Quebec and made some gains. So much the better if an agreement was reached!

However, could we contemplate having the same kind of agreement in international relations, for example, with bilateral arrangements in areas where Quebec is involved in international forums? Could we agree on the doctrine put forward by Paul Gérin-Lajoie? That was a long time ago. It goes back to the 1960s. Paul Gérin-Lajoie told us then that Quebec had to be able to express its own views worldwide and to do so in all areas under its jurisdiction in Canada.

I would have liked to hear what the government had to say in this regard. Then we could talk about asymmetry.

As for parental leave, this is a fine program. We were told in May that a historic agreement had been reached. We often fool ourselves around here thinking that we make history. This is something different. We were told that a historic agreement had been reached. Everything was settled and things were going forward. However, there is nothing about it in this throne speech. On the subject of asymmetrical federalism, I would have thought that the federal government would agree that it came under the jurisdiction of Quebec. I would also have thought that it would have recognized that, with respect to Quebec social programs and policies, no appeal would be made to the Supreme Court . We settle all that, we give the money and we agree on this fantastic child care system that exists in Quebec. Its praises are sung everywhere, and it might be a good idea to recognize it.

There are other areas where we could use this concept of asymmetrical federalism, for example in the case of young offenders. In Quebec, we have a system for young offenders. Everybody agreed: the defence lawyers, the social workers, the police officers, the judges, everybody, all the political parties, all the stakeholders.

Here the law has been changed. The asymmetrical federalism could mean that even if the Criminal Code comes under federal jurisdiction, Quebec could be allowed to exercise its own jurisdiction, according to its own orientation, the one that best suits the province, in this area of federal jurisdiction. We are not saying that it is better that what is done elsewhere. We are simply saying that it is good for us.

We do not want to impose it on others, but neither do we want the opposite to happen. This is what we want and this is what asymmetrical federalism would be.

I am thinking of the antiscab legislation we have proposed three times here. The Liberals voted in favour the first time, when they were in opposition. Once in power, of course, they changed their minds, and not for the first time. We want to see this legislation extended to all of Canada. But, if the rest of the Canada does not want it, what would there be to prevent the federal government from saying that, even in areas of employment governed by the Canada Labour Code, there would be no recourse to strike breakers in Quebec, in order to speed up negotiations and reduce violence? What is there to prevent that? This would be true asymmetrical federalism. I saw nothing on that in the throne speech.

The same thing goes for the Kyoto protocol. In Quebec, we have made progress on environmental issues, while between 1970 and the present, Ottawa invested $72 billion in coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power. We in Quebec paid one-quarter of that. The $329 million for clean energies, we paid to Hydro-Québec on our own, one-quarter of what Ontario Hydro, which is nuclear-powered, cost. And now, we are supposed to pay for one-quarter of the harm done?

We want a bilateral agreement on the environment that will take into consideration what Quebec has already done. This is what we want. We do not want the federal government to impose on us the effects of policies that have had a disastrous impact on the environment and that, moreover, we helped fund. To get taken—to put it mildly—once is bad enough. We do not want to get taken a second time. This is not like the advertisement for milk.

The fact is that even if we were to settle all these issues, until we have the means to put in place our own policies in our own jurisdictions, a major democratic deficit will continue to exist, namely the fiscal imbalance. This is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

The Prime Minister told us “We are the model country that eliminated its deficit”. He should have said “We are the country that made others, namely its unemployed and the provinces, pay for the deficit”. This is what he should have said, because it is the truth.

But there is nothing in the throne speech on fiscal imbalance. They talk about equalization, but that is not enough. The government must go further. The next conference should not deal strictly with equalization. Moreover, the formula should be thoroughly reviewed.

Let me conclude by saying that a throne speech is a statement of intentions. It contains some intentions we will support and others we will oppose. But it happens that the government is not the only one with intentions. Some 70% of Canadians and Quebeckers voted against the Liberal Party and also expressed certain intentions. That should be taken into consideration.

When the Prime Minister tells us that he wants to work in a consensual way, if that means we should think the same way he does, this is not what we call a consensus. When he tells us we should rise above partisanship, if being non-partisan means being a Liberal, we will get nowhere. We should all work together. We are ready to do that. We are willing to take our responsibilities, but not at all costs.

Our amendment to the throne speech does not call for the whole speech to be discarded, something which has been done in the past. We simply want to amend it by including a number of realistic measures to meet the demands and needs of Canadians and Quebeckers. That is why I move an amendment to the amendment by the Conservative Party.

I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding after the word “treaty” the following:

“and we ask Your Excellency’s advisors to ensure that all measures brought forward to implement the Speech from the Throne, including those referred to above, fully respect the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction and that the financial pressures the provinces are suffering as a consequence of the fiscal imbalance be alleviated, as demanded by the Premier of Quebec.”