Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's decision to divide the Department of Human Resources Development into two distinct departments, Human Resources and Skills Development , and Social Development, ignores the realities and needs of Quebec and of the other provinces and territories.
I must say that I am really impressed by the ingenuity and creativity of this government in coming up with ways to interfere in areas that came under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Imagine just for a moment all that energy being focussed on ensuring that each province received its fair share in order to meet its responsibilities toward its citizens.
Unfortunately, this department is just one more example of the astronomical amounts being sunk into a whole series of federal administrative duplications, rather than being redistributed to the provinces to put an end to fiscal imbalance.
I worked for years in the community sector and I have sat on many boards of organizations in Laval. In particular, I was on a committee called the Comité permanent des aînés du secteur 2, whose mission was to end isolation among seniors and help them to a better life through meetings, leisure activities, training and information. I also sat on the Conseil des médias communautaires, a community media council providing an Internet portal and newsletter for community groups in Laval. I was involved in the Centre d'aide et d'accompagnement aux plaintes, which offers support in making claims and getting results to people having problems with the health or social services systems.
I was also active with a program called 1,2,3 GO! which helps infants and their parents get a good start in life, and with the Maison des grand-parents de Laval,which gives seniors a chance to pass on their knowledge to young people, through intergenerational activities such as letter-writing, knitting courses, homework help and many other things, so that they can continue to share what they have learned and what they have become. In addition, I was a member of the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et pré-retraitées, which is Quebec's leading advocate for seniors' rights.
In addition, I was active in the Carrefour d'interculture de Laval, an organization that welcomes new immigrants and refugees, helps them get established and helps them deal with the tragedies they may have experienced. I was active in the Coopérative de développement régional Montréal-Laval, which does cooperative development,and in the Forum de la population de la Régie régionale de Laval, a public forum to ensure that health and social services decisions reflect the true needs of the people of Laval. Finally, I sat on the Comité consultatif du poste de police communautaire du secteur 2, which works with all social and economic partners to provide a better quality of life to residents of the Laval-des-Rapides, Pont-Viau and Renaud areas.
Therefore, I am very familiar with the serious situation in Quebec caused by the fiscal imbalance.
It might be thought that even I, as a dedicated and committed sovereignist, was tempted by some of these new programs that are being proposed. Happily, even though I come from a poor environment, and though I may engage in poor politics, if one believes the campaign speeches by the Quebec lieutenant, unlike him, I do not engage in petty politics. When the federal government takes advantage of the fiscal imbalance it has itself created to grab jurisdictions that never belonged to it, that is petty politics.
Unfortunately, on November 1, the Quebec lieutenant made the following statement to La Presse , “We are talking about addressing the priorities identified during the last campaign but, when that is done, we will move on to other challenges which, this time, will be more within our jurisdiction”.
With statements like these, the situation is not about to be resolved. A person has to be totally ignorant of the problems facing real people and the needs of Quebeckers to strut about like that.
When I took a closer look, I realized how pernicious the implementation of these programs was. A case in point is the social development partnerships program, designed to provide grants and contributions to non-profit organizations working to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, children and their families, and other vulnerable or excluded populations, and to address their social development needs.
Then, there is the voluntary sector initiative, designed to enhance relations with the voluntary sector. For the duration of the initiative, both sectors would work together to facilitate access by these organizations to federal programs, technology and more.
Finally, there is the new horizons for seniors program, to support a range of community-based projects intended to enable seniors to participate in social activities, pursue an active life and contribute to society.
Such direct federal interventions with community organizations are a blatant invasion of the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, which maintain a relationship with these organizations through the health and social services network. Their sole purpose is to create dependency on programs which are not sustainable and which makes beggars out of the organizations.
These organizations deserve better. On a daily basis, by conviction, and often calling—it is fair to talk about a calling when we see the salaries paid in the community sector—thousands of people are busy helping, supporting, informing, training and caring for thousands of others, who would be on their own otherwise.
I worked in community services for over ten years and I know a thing or two about it. I know that people worked 70, 80 or 90 hours a week and got paid for only 30 or 35 hours. They work these hours because they believe they can help people get through their problems.
The fiscal imbalance often has tragic effects, and people who work in this field can detect them. They can see the effects and understand them. They work with seniors, some of whom unfortunately have not received the guaranteed income supplement, because it was not made available to them or they were not given the full retroactive payment to which they were entitled. When you go to the homes of people like that you see that they have nothing in their fridge. They have to choose between buying medication or food. It is appalling and outrageous.
The Government of Quebec is in the best position to assess the real needs. It does not just hand out money. It intervenes through a stable, structured and long-term policy.
The Bloc Québécois cannot therefore support the creation of a department that, by definition, interferes in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the other provinces. This government keeps promising to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec, but, in fact, the opposite occurs.
This government has a reputation for interfering, and we simply do not believe its promises any more. Although I believe the minister has good intentions, I do not believe that his government has good intentions.
Despite the inclusion of the Bloc Québécois amendment to the amendment in the Speech from the Throne requiring the government to fully respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, we must remain vigilant.
If this government would keep to its own responsibilities and honour the agreements and promises it has made with people in areas under its responsibility, I think this would go over better.
Look at assistance for veterans. I know all about this. My father is a veteran. He fought in World War II. He spent six years on the front lines. He fought in every campaign: Italy, Poland, Holland and North Africa. He was a scout, which meant he slept in the trenches.
When he came home from the front, a broken and exhausted man, he was suffering from various conditions for which the authorities would do nothing, or claimed nothing could be done. We spend 20 years fighting to get him hearing aids. We spent 20 years trying to prove that his deafness was due to having to sleep in the trenches and in close proximity to exploding shells and bombs for the whole length of the war. It was a dreadful experience.
Unfortunately, my father is no longer with us, and so has not been able to profit from this new generosity toward veterans. There are, however, others who are still suffering and are not yet covered, not yet compensated for their contribution and their courage.
Now they dare bring up the idea of a new department in charge of social affairs. I cannot get over it.
Clearly, despite the addition of the Bloc Québécois amendment to the amendment in connection with the Speech from the Throne obliging the government to respect the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, we need to remain very much on guard. The only thing the government wants is to weaken the provinces still further, to interfere even more in areas of jurisdiction that do not belong to it, by trying to fool the public.
For 2002-03 alone, these intrusions represent $81 billion, which is 44% of federal expenditures and 55% of the government's operating expenses. This is a disgrace. The question we would be entitled to ask is this. Would this by chance be a new department created in order to give this government the high profile it used to get from the sponsorship program? Or is it viewed as a replacement for the Canadian unity fund?
I would invite all parties in this House to listen to reason and vote against this bill.