Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise and speak to this bill, not because I or my party support the principle or the decision to establish this department. Indeed, I wish to indicate what, in my view, is missing in this process of creation and division of existing departments in the field of regional development, of creating things that nobody is asking for.
I must confess my disappointment with a number of laws. I am a newcomer in this House and I am a little disappointed with the parliamentary agenda that looks more like red tape, or, if I may say so, like liberal tape, than substantive debates on bills that are supposed to help Canadians and Quebeckers.
Thus, instead of having laws that allow the government to use its incredibly large surpluses that are hidden in foundations and budget estimates, or in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, departments are being created, then divided and civil servants are moved around. That is always done,and above all, in jurisdictions that do not belong to the federal government, but to the government of Quebec or other provinces. Such is the case with the famous Department of Social Development.
Before getting into politics, I wondered how I would look at the issues and what my perspective would be. I told myself that I would read each piece of legislation presented to us and try to determine if it is good for children and if it can improve their living conditions.
As we know, there are more than one million Canadians, and a similar proportion in Quebec--unfortunately the situation is no different in that respect—of children living in poverty. In fact, this number is growing constantly. At one point, we had some degree of control over child poverty, but it seems this kind of poverty has been increasing in recent years.
Will this bill really help? Will this division, the creation of a new structure within another structure, help in the fight against child poverty? I very much doubt it.
Various programs will come under the responsibility of this new department if it is created. We hope it will not be, because we do not see how it will improve conditions for people.
In another life, I worked a great deal with community organizations. Under the bill before us, the department will be responsible for the volunteer and community sector. I remember the frenzy, when community groups were constantly forced to apply for grants, often for reasons of visibility. This required a lot of energy on the part of volunteers or of those who were somewhat pompously called permanent members of community organizations and volunteers—I was one of them—and whose main feature was in fact that they were not “permanent” and that they were in a precarious situation.
How much energy is spent by these groups in trying to be included in a system of programs to get a few dollars? What these groups need is a clear policy of recognition. The Quebec government is trying to give them such a policy, but it often does not have the means to do that. These groups need a policy that gives them recognition and a permanent status to be able to serve people and provide services to the community.
Instead, they must bend over backwards to comply with the objectives of federal department programs that have more to do with ensuring visibility for the minister than with giving real resources to people.
This is one example among many others that do not directly relate to this department's responsibility. Hon. members will understand that, as the Bloc Québécois critic on housing, I take this issue very seriously.
Therefore, since 1993, the federal government has been talking about giving back full responsibility to the provinces, including Quebec, for housing, so they can set housing policies.
This is 2004, almost 2005—Christmas is approaching—and that transfer has still not been made. This transfer will have very strong consequences, but because it has not happened, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in this case, is no longer investing in the cooperative or non-profit housing sector, since this responsibility will soon be transferred. All this duplication, all these approaches by the federal government have direct consequences on people's lives and we have to admit that the consequences are not good.
We see measures that, on the face of it, may seem interesting. We looked at the child tax benefit. Once again, we have seen that there is a measure, but it is a measure that ensures that a certain group of very poor people will have to pay more. There are many different mechanisms in the income tax legislation.
In the case of people with the lowest incomes, because of Quebec's $5 day care system, now at $7, the government has $70 million in taxes that it can draw on. Normally, those taxes should have been used for the benefit of those families who are losing $70 million because of a measure that supposedly was taken to help them. They are the neediest.
So, we see that this duplication has a direct cost to the poorest members of society. This desire to create departments, to label all assistance, to say that this centralizing government in Ottawa is good and nice to the people, causes major problems for the people it is supposed to serve.
Consequently, the creation of a Department of Economic Development for the Regions of Quebec, a Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and a Department of Social Development does not seem to me to create tangible values for people. All this does not bring one cent more, it only creates confusion, a desire for visibility and a quest for centralizing power.
Do we move ahead in terms of equity, of resource sharing, of relieving the debt of the provinces through adequate transfers? No, we are not going in that direction, we are moving in the opposite direction. This is too bad and it saddens me, so soon before Christmas, to know that there are people who count on a government that would adopt measures on their behalf. They realize that the government helps itself first, serves its visibility, its structures, its public service, its mandarins, but does not serve the people who pay the income tax, people who hope for something better. It makes me sad.
There is a host of examples, and to think that this department will be in charge of national standards in the area of day care centres under the Canadian day care centres program.This program will impose standards on all provinces, and eventually on Quebec, while Quebec has been the leader in this field. It is a leadership that turns out to be very costly for Quebec.
The federal government has saved a billion dollars since the introduction of $5 day care centres, now at a cost of $7. This is a billion dollars that the government does not have to pay out in tax credits to families.
With this amount, if there had been full compensation, would we have been able to better serve patients in hospitals? The answer is yes. Would we have been able to use that money to put books in libraries? Yes, we could have. When Quebec helps its children, it also enables the federal government to save a billion dollars and this government, well aware of that, does nothing to compensate this injustice, does nothing to transfer this money.
During the election, the government promised that an agreement had been signed, but that agreement was not worth the paper on which it was written. This is a scandal. That agreement still has not been put on the table. This is why people sometimes become cynical about politics.
As a new politician, this situation really saddens me.
I am very sad to see so much energy being spent to create new structures, to look for visibility, to make intrusions and to create new departments in areas that are clearly under Quebec's jurisdiction. We put so much energy into playing partisan politics and waving the flag to get more visibility. This energy could be used to provide better government, to better distribute wealth, to work better and more efficiently in our own areas of jurisdiction.
Instead of that, we create communities departments and regional development departments for Quebec and we expand the Health department. In short, we are doing a lot but doing it badly, in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Meanwhile, we are doing very little, and doing it poorly, in our own areas of jurisdiction.
If I may digress for just a moment, today again, I was looking at the evidence given by the sailors of the Chicoutimi who, while looking at the rusted submarines in which they were to sail, said “They will not force us to sail in that.” Until we have our own country, this is an area of federal jurisdiction, and this so-called competence is rather a shameful incompetence on the part of the federal government.
However, the government is eager to create structures, minor visibility programs, interfere in jurisdictions outside its own. It does so right in the throne speech and in legislation before the House.
I would like to support this legislation. I would like to be enthusiastic about various legislative measures supporting it. I would like to consider in the House legislation to protect the environment and ensure sustainable development. It would be interesting, as long as that legislation respects the responsibilities of the provinces and Quebec.
However, I am forced to admit that the most interesting things I have experienced in the political arena to date are the opposition motions. I am talking about the work of the Bloc Québécois and also the NDP, in some instances, particularly the motion limiting trans fats. That is something that directly concerns public health. It would not have come from the government. There have been many bills; I worked on Bill C-15, to protect migratory birds, but I wonder if it is a joke and if we will have the means to implement it.
Once again, an amendment by the opposition was necessary to implement, beyond the appearance of establishing significant fines, minimum fines for those shamelessly dumping petroleum products. For the first time in Canada, we have implemented significant minimum fines in environmental legislation. This did not come for this government. It is not really concerned with reality, but more with appearances.
In closing, I want to say that I will oppose, as will my colleagues, the creation of this Department of Social Development. We believe that the federal government must recognize once and for all that Quebec, although its leeway has been considerably reduced by the fiscal imbalance, has still managed to implement internationally renowned quality programs.
The Bloc Québécois will never agree to the creation of a department that not only has the mandate to duplicate and copy Quebec's avant-garde policies, but that also prevents Quebec from fully developing these policies. It is not about visibility, but about respect for the integrity, security and health of individuals.
We must always ask if this legislation serves the public or the structure. Unfortunately, this government is telling us that it is the latter.