Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on the establishment of this new department, the Department of Social Development. This is a department that could be perceived as a lure for all Canadians, smoke and mirrors, mirrors that can distort. As far as Quebec is concerned, I could elaborate on several important issues it could become a distorting mirror, not constructive and inapplicable.
This department will employ 12,000 civil servants and administer a budget of $53 billion, of which 97% will be spent primarily on meeting the expectations of seniors, either for senior citizens benefits, income security or the guaranteed income supplement.
This means that some 3% of this $53 billion will go to various support programs for the Canadian community, that is to say roughly $2 billion at most.
We are told that the stated goal is to strengthen the social foundations of Canada. Looking at the whole issue of employment insurance, there is much to criticize about the way this government manages the money of those who contribute. We know how the program came to be. During World War II, because of the war effort, it was felt that it would be better for unemployment insurance to be administered by the federal government in order to meet the expectations of the general public. In light of the state of emergency, Quebec and the provinces relinquished part of their jurisdiction, never to regain control over the employment insurance fund.
It is well known that $45 billion was stolen straight out of the pockets of taxpayers, employers and employees. The federal government was well-intentioned in wanting to meet the expectations of the public. It asked to be allowed to manage the EI fund, to take on that responsibility. Later, what happened is that it used the fund as it pleased. It has excluded thousands of workers, who are no longer eligible under the Employment Insurance Act. It has tightened the eligibility criteria and cut the number of benefit weeks workers could count on.
You can understand the Bloc Québécois position. We have been fighting since 1993 and are still fighting today to have this employment insurance fund managed by those who contribute to it. In fact, a bill is currently being considered on the Employment Insurance Commission. They do not want the commission to include more than two people: a commissioner and an assistant commissioner.
How can we trust them? How can we be enthusiastic about this bill? We too have our heart in the right place. We support families, children and the less fortunate in society. I have thought about the thinning of the social safety nets, the federal government's diet program you could say.
It also makes me think of the guaranteed income supplement. It was meant to help people in difficulty. There was a guaranteed income supplement added to the income of seniors. Apparently there were 270,000 people in Canada, including 68,000 people in Quebec, who were entitled to the supplement and never got it.
In other words, the Government of Canada kept $3.2 billion in its pockets. That is $800 million for the people in Quebec who did not receive this benefit.
The Bloc Québécois has carried out a whole operation in order to inform seniors that they might be entitled to it. As a result, we found 25,000 eligible people. Of course we could not get through to everyone eligible, but the Bloc Québécois does deserve a pat on the back for what we did accomplish.
We cannot give the federal government the go-ahead to invade more jurisdictions, rather than attacking the real problem of fiscal imbalance, a problem they are totally in denial about. I hope that it is the same in the rest of Canada, and that each opposition member is doing his or her duty explaining the impact of fiscal imbalance.
We in Quebec are starting to make some progress. Individuals, organizations, social, political and economic leaders are now beginning to understand the game the government is playing here in Ottawa. In the last election, there was the sponsorship scandal, but I can tell you that was not the only issue. There is also the way the government is handling Quebec's expectations.
As far as the creation of this department is concerned, moreover, the National Assembly is unanimous, regardless of party affiliations. When the federal government says it wants to negotiate with the federalist party in Quebec, I can tell them that that party is not in agreement with the department's creation, since it knows very well what pitfalls the government has in mind for us, especially since we did not sign the agreement on the social union.
The federal government's reputation, as far as its intention to respect jurisdictions is concerned, is already made. Let me remind hon. members about the Young Offenders Act, and all the battle that waged around that. I remember the eloquent oratory of our colleague from Berthier—Montcalm when they were trying to pass it here. It ran counter to the way things were being done in Quebec, where we are concerned with rehabilitation of young offenders who have done something society considers unacceptable.
We should not stick our head in the sand. When young persons commit a reprehensible act, we know full well they will eventually be back in society. Instead of putting them in jail with hardened criminals and prosecuting them in adult court, we need the youth tribunal to support them from the time of their arrest to steer them towards rehabilitation. The government wanted to interfere with Quebec's jurisdiction over young offenders support.
The millennium scholarship program is another case in point. We waged a battle of epic proportions to allow Quebec to keep its own system of scholarship and bursaries. As we know the millennium scholarship program works as a loan program. We spent time, money and energy trying to make the federal government understand that it was heading in the wrong direction in Quebec. Again, it was another battle of epic proportions.
I have been asking a lot of questions here in this House of the new social development minister, or the minister in charge of the parental leave file, namely the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. He says Quebec will be respected.
We want more than respect. What we want can be spelled out in a few words. “Opt out with full compensation”, that is what we want. That is what it means to respect the provinces. However, every time I ask him to answer my question, he always finds it difficult to say, “respect with full compensation”. So he says, “Yes, we will respect you”, but at the same time he forgets the principles.
Today, they are trying to hoodwink us again about parental leave and daycare. Soon it will be about the social economy.
So you will understand the position of the Bloc Québécois on this bill that seeks to create a new department that will increase the size of the federal public service to manage its programs. It is all that too.
It is not just a department, but also the monitoring of a number of the federal government's programs and expenditures. The operating expenses of every department have been growing by leaps and bounds.
Social development belongs to the governments of Quebec and the other provinces. The others can do as they wish, but we shall defend our unique character and governance in the various files. Whether it is in the health or education sectors, or in municipal affairs, we know that we have strong institutions. That is why we are fighting to keep them from weakening. We know that the whole problem of fiscal imbalance is weakening those institutions we consider essential.
When the community is not happy with its government in Quebec, it can change it. It can decide to elect different people to power. It does not necessarily have the same opportunity when it does not like the government in Ottawa. We have been rather quiet here since 1993. Where are the huge demonstrations in front of Parliament that will make this government tremble and change course? Perhaps that is why the Liberal government, election after election, never manages to change its tune; it is because the people do not make a fuss.
I can see the parliamentary secretary smiling; she is a member of our Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. She would be well advised to listen to what I have to say. When we in opposition listen to the witnesses who appear before the committee, they very often tell us that our programs are on the wrong track. But what happens is that they are not heard at all. Everyone smiles and thinks what rabble-rousers these witnesses are, and the witnesses feel that no one wants to listen to them.
These structures are new and useless to Quebec. It is another kind of interference. I would call it the social development tentacles—tentacles Quebec does not need in order to continue with its own social development.
The government can simply send Quebec money, since we already have the know-how. In parental leave, child care or the social economy—we could then move ahead with developments much faster than we do now.
The Department of Social Development will coordinate all the activities of the Minister of State--a new Minister of State--whose powers will extend to families and care-givers. Once again, this pertains to the area of health. A large number of the initiatives that will be taken by the government pertain to education, early childhood development and homelessness. For sure, if some goodies are handed out and are needed to finish out the day more agreeably, we will say yes. On the other hand, this does not mean that the problem will be fixed for the rest of the day. To a point, this what is happening with the policies of the federal government.
Turning to the creation of programs, we are told said that this will be citizen-oriented and that it will promote the well-being of people. We note that there is an issue that has been raised by the Auditor General, that is, the whole aboriginal issue. We have an aboriginal affairs critic, and we are in the process of setting up the whole federal follow-up file. This is one of its jurisdictions and powers, and yet it is not even able to satisfy the expectations of the aboriginal community. I say that it must first do its homework in its own jurisdictions, let the other provinces exercise their own jurisdictions and stop creating programs which it costs a lot of money to follow up.
The situation of people with disabilities was also turned into an election issue. As hon. members know, the Bloc Québécois also worked very hard so that disabled people would have a tax credit. We cannot be opposed to any type of tax credit, because it goes directly into the pockets of those who expect concrete measures that are easy to follow.
The government's involvement with community organizations is also another hobby horse of the federal government, which is doling out money and intruding in provincial jurisdictions. I could raise the whole issue of the homeless. The government created a new program in which funds were invested. However, we have yet to hear what it will do in terms of extending that program. We are talking about $56 million for Quebec, when $100 million are needed in the next agreement to meet the needs of the homeless. But we still do not know what will happen.
I am not the one who says that. We also consult social organizations in Quebec. We are told that the federal government sets up programs that last three or for years and then disappear, because it decided to change its priorities. There is no follow-up, no integrated policy that would indicate where the federal government is headed.
It is often very difficult. Quebec, for example, has an integrated family policy. It wants an integrated policy for the whole issue of homelessness, but it needs money to move forward.
The federal government may have decided to also provide some help with its national standards, but these standards are often a burden in the operations of our communities. Organizations have to ask both the federal and provincial governments for help. They often give up during the waiting period to get a subsidy. They are often too late, or else the money is already spent. Also, the amounts are often so small, so minimal, that it is better to direct them to a program that is already in place, than set up a program that is too small and one for which these organizations do not even qualify.
Launching a program may make the government look good and it may make it feel like it is doing the right thing, when in fact it is not from a practical point of view. Indeed, one of the objectives of that department is to ensure better management. I am quite curious to see how this will be achieved. For the time being, we are definitely not seeing better management in the various programs for which the federal government is responsible.
Then there is the New Horizons program for seniors in the community. This is for agencies, which have to submit projects. There will be a round table, along the same lines as the one on homelessness. Then there is the volunteer sector initiative.
Then there are all the other family and child policies. The government is casting a very broad net. Take the matter of parental leave for one thing. What did the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development do immediately after the federal election? Just appointed, he accepted the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada of the Quebec appeal court ruling on parental leave. According to that ruling, this constituted an encroachment on areas of Quebec jurisdiction, an intrusion. According to the Constitution of 1867, parental leave is a Quebec responsibility.
Rather than accepting the Quebec Appeal Court decision and saying that, yes, they would respect it and authorize Quebec to opt out with full compensation, they referred the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. They would like us to buy their expressed desire to respect provincial areas of jurisdiction. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is giving us one very concrete example of federal intentions.
As far as the family and child policy is concerned, we know very well that there is consensus in Quebec. There is talk of a new child care project, but it is still embryonic at this time. Will there be respect this time for Quebec's jurisdiction, and not just on one point. What Quebec needs is the right to opt out, with full compensation. The cost to implement the program in Quebec is $1.7 billion at the present time. That is a lot of money, when their contribution is $5 billion over 5 years. According to the experts, the cost will be $10 billion over 10 years to implement the program Canada-wide.
So there needs to be some realism, knowing what lies ahead. I do not have much hope that this new department will have any concrete ability to change people's day-to-day lives. These are fine principles, I will admit, and I share their fine principles, let me assure you.