House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was salaries.


Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to expand on intergovernmental affairs and, more particularly, on so-called “asymmetrical federalism”.

First, I think that the notion of “asymmetrical federalism”, which lately has been used a great deal by federalists, seems instead a kind of asymmetrical interference.

There are numerous examples, in fact, where the federal government interferes in areas of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces.

This is especially true with regard to health. The increase in federal transfer payments for health constitutes a victory of the first federal-provincial first ministers conference this fall, but it has been darkened by the resounding failure of the conference on equalization. This increase is accompanied by federal government oversight and control over these matters.

By establishing action plans, common, well-defined objectives, performance indicators or even so-called national standards, the federal government ensures that it can continue to invade areas of provincial responsibility.

In addition to health, look at municipal affairs or even day care. In terms of intergovernmental affairs, the main strategy of this government is to offer Quebec and the provinces money while it simultaneously imposes its own conditions.

With the arrogance it is known for, this government has even created a federal department of regional development, whose investments will be used to duplicate programs already administered by Quebec.

Regional development is not a federal responsibility, since the Constitution confers upon Quebec and the provinces responsibility for most issues in this sector: natural resources, education and training, municipal affairs, and so forth.

No, the problem that is slowing down regional development is the same one that faces all the other sectors in which the federal government does its best to interfere, the fiscal strangulation of Quebec and the provinces.

The fiscal imbalance, that only our Liberal colleagues refer to as financial pressure, is the key to understanding the intrinsic dynamic of this so-called asymmetrical federalism.

The fiscal imbalance financially weakens Quebec and the provinces and allows the federal government to free up huge budgetary surpluses, which it gladly uses to burst into provincial jurisdictions and to give itself the noble task of solving problems it created in the first place. In passing, it uses its “providential” intervention to dictate the conditions for funding, thereby ensuring it has the visibility it so desperately seeks.

If we can recognize this underhanded strategy called nation-building, then we will have a better understanding of why the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs is celebrating the virtues of “asymmetrical federalism”, since, in doing so, she is also celebrating the federal government's desire for centralization.

And yet, the minister has tried to explain that asymmetrical federalism was not written into the throne speech because that would have been entirely superfluous, and that this concept is the new way the federal government operates in its relations with Quebec and the provinces.

Still, it is pretty obvious. Even though this concept enables the government to hide its hopelessly centralizing aims, asymmetrical federalism has been exposed as a formula that, even on the surface, is much too favourable to Quebec for all the Liberal dinosaurs with ideas from the Trudeau era.

That is why the Speech from the Throne said not one word about this concept that has been introduced as the new method of intergovernmental cooperation. It only took one federal-provincial conference for this ghost ship to crash on the sharp reefs of equalization. Like a mirage that dissolves as we approach it, asymmetrical federalism will fizzle out.

This government will not be able to boast of practising real asymmetrical federalism until it allows Quebec and the provinces to intervene in its own exclusive jurisdictions.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte Newfoundland & Labrador


Gerry Byrne LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be taking part in the discussion on the question raised by the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes on October 6.

During the exchange with the Minister of Intergovernmental affairs, this hon. member chose to deplore the fact that the Speech from the Throne was silent on the notion of asymmetrical federalism. He complained that the speech could have stated:

--that this asymmetry should apply not only to Quebec's jurisdictions, but also and particularly to federal jurisdictions, so as to allow Quebec to pursue its own agenda in the areas of telecommunications and justice, for example, or so that it may speak for itself at international forums.

In reply, the minister responded that the government has been promoting and practising this very type of federalism ever since it came to power. The Speech from the Throne specifically highlights cooperation among the partners in the federation, namely, the provinces and territories. In fact, this seems so obvious that many of us are left wondering whether he actually read the Speech from the Throne.

Specifically, the throne speech centres on such principles as respect for diversity and a consensus driven approach for reaching national objectives. This implies an asymmetrical approach that corresponds to a flexible federalism that respects differences.

Regarding the health agreement, which was raised just a few moments ago, Quebec premier Jean Charest stated on September 17, “Today we are marking a very important step in Canada's history. We have blazed a new trail in Canadian federalism through the recognition of asymmetry by all partners of the federation”. The Prime Minister echoed these very sentiments in his response to the Speech from the Throne on October 6. He said:

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...We see the importance of national will in the health deal.

In the wake of the health agreement, with which all of Canada was delighted, but which the leader of the Bloc Québécois described as “the very least”, it will be possible to resolve other questions while fully respecting those differences. That flexibility will help us pursue common objectives for the well-being of all Canadians and this includes Quebeckers. All will benefit from a consensus driven solution approach.

Similarly, the Speech from the Throne contains other key commitments of our government: the commitment to early learning and child care. It states:

The Government will put the foundations in place with its provincial and territorial partners--

It also states:

Within this national framework, the provinces and territories will have the flexibility to address their own particular needs and circumstances.

What more can one ask for in terms of flexibility and asymmetrical federalism?

Given the hon. member's great interest in the formula, I invite him now to reread the speech delivered in the House by the intergovernmental affairs minister on this very topic on October 7.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I believe I have shown, the Liberal government is using asymmetrical federalism as a camouflage for constitutional interference. When you realize this, it becomes easier to understand the scope of the statement, made in October, by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and I quote:

I do not believe Canadians are interested in reopening constitutional talks.

These words truly reveal her vision of things. This government wants to avoid talking about the constitution, since every day it is fully engaged in asymmetrical meddling. I ask you, why would it bother to restart constitutional talks?

It is disturbing to hear a minister of intergovernmental affairs, worse yet, one representing a riding in Quebec, allege that having a constitutional debate is no longer of interest to anyone. This attitude is all the more troubling given that Quebec did not sign the Constitution Act, 1982.

For Quebec, asymmetrical federalism can lead only to a constitutional step backward, since it and federal interference are one and the same. The only way to put an end to federal interference for good is for Quebec to become a sovereign nation.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, there we have it. I have to admit that I find the Bloc Québécois attitude a little curious. It is a sovereignist party but of course it remains active on the federal scene. It sits in the Canadian Parliament, not, it says, to promote its sovereignist ambitions, but to promote Quebec's higher interests.

How then can it be so honestly enamoured of asymmetrical federalism when it does not believe in this very system to begin with, which it feels will bring insufficient gains to Quebec?

In election campaigns, it consistently hides its true intentions and presents itself to Quebeckers as an unwavering defender of their cause. What is that primary cause? The answer should be quite simple. After all, the majority of Quebeckers want their governments to work together.

This is something that even the Bloc Québécois has embodied in this debate by the hon. member for Verchères--Les Patriotes and he cannot ignore this. The Bloc will not fool anyone by its true intentions. While it claims to defend the notion of asymmetrical federalism, the political logic of the Bloc is just not on the straight and narrow and it is in fact rather disconcerting. This debate provides us with yet another excellent example of that very fact.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Bill Casey Conservative North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and ask another question further to an issue I raised on November 5. There is quite a controversy between the fishermen in New Brunswick and P.E.I. in particular about the herring fishery between the two jurisdictions in the Northumberland Strait.

At the time, I asked if the minister would acknowledge that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans failed to correct a very obvious error in the description of a fishing zone off Prince Edward Island. The minister responded to me and he did acknowledge that it was a very hot issue between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. He said it was important that we act in a responsible way.

He then went on to say that the fact is the herring stocks are very healthy, so healthy that according to the department's science the total allowable catch was increased to 10,000 tonnes. However, I was talking to some very knowledgeable fishermen today, people in the fishing industry in P.E.I., who tell me that there is a problem with the fisheries department science.

Although the scientists are saying it is the biggest biomass in a long time, there was hardly any spring herring fishery off P.E.I., the mid-season was very weak, the inshore did not catch their allowable catch, and the seiners did not catch their total allowable catch either. It hardly matters that they increased the total allowable catch if the fish are not there and they are not catching them.

Basically what I was told today by this very knowledgeable person in the P.E.I. fishing industry is that the people in the fishing industry do not have confidence in this DFO science that is saying the herring fishery is the best it has been in decades. They would like DFO to enlist the services of independent science and independent scientists to analyze this and give an independent assessment of the biomass for the herring. This was a concern of theirs.

They still do not have their answer as to why the correction was not made in the herring fishing zone off P.E.I. originally, but now the answer from the minister indicates that there is all of this herring there and the fishermen say they are not there.

Just between us, Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of faith in the opinion of the fishermen because they have turned out to be right every time.

I would like to ask the very distinguished parliamentary secretary who is going to answer the question why they have not corrected that obvious error they made when they changed the coordinates of the 25-fathom line off P.E.I. It was so obvious. There was one description in English and one description in French.

Instead of having a rectangle off P.E.I. that was a protected area, it was a triangle. It made absolutely no sense and anybody with any common sense would have known that it was not right. Even the parliamentary secretary would know it was not right if he looked at this, so I wonder if he could explain why it was not corrected, and then could he answer to the fishermen of P.E.I. about their request to have independent scientists rather than just DFO scientists?

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I know this is a great day of jubilation and celebration in the member's riding of Cumberland--Colchester because yesterday three calves were born to a single cow, which rarely happens. I read about it in the paper and I know the member will be celebrating that all week.

On behalf of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House this evening to say a few words in this important debate about the herring fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

I appreciate the question from the member about the proximity of the exclusion line to Prince Edward Island and the perceived damage that this causes the fishery.

Let me begin by saying that while I understand that the P.E.I. inshore fishers are concerned about the potential impact of the seiner fishery, current scientific information indicates that there are no major conservation issues with the seiner fishery and seine gear.

However, in the interest of addressing their concerns, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced last month that a three year scientific fishery will be undertaken on the northeast coast of P.E.I., thereby answering one of the member's questions.

This fishery will be monitored independently and will allow detailed sampling to determine the size of the catch, by-catch and any bottom encounters with the gear.

DFO will use these results to determine if further changes need to be made to the exclusion zone. I am pleased that both the herring seiners and the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association have agreed to accept the results of this additional scientific work.

I would like to remind everyone that the state of the herring fishery in 1983, to which my hon. colleague referred, was very different from what it is today.

In the 1980s, more than 80% of the total allowable catch was landed by the large herring seiners, with 20% being landed by the inshore fishers. In recent years, seiners have been allocated only about 20% of the total allowable catch.

Two decades ago there were 65 seiners active in this fishery and now there are only 5 such vessels. That is why the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and I strongly believe that it makes sense today to find a solution that works in the current situation, rather than returning to a closure line that existed in the past under very different circumstances.

DFO will continue to work with the herring industry to develop a more comprehensive approach to managing the herring fishery, including enhanced reporting, analysis and verification of total removals of herring by all fishing sectors.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Bill Casey Conservative North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for telling everybody about the three calves born to a single cow. I suppose if one is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, one would follow these issues very closely.

Again, I am pleased to hear that the three year scientific fishery will be done by an independent organization. If the parliamentary secretary has that information, could he tell us what independent organization will be monitoring this fishery?

Even though the parliamentary secretary says that he does not want to go back, would he go back to the fisheries regulation or designation that was there before on the 25 fathom line and at least acknowledge that DFO did make a mistake and then did not fix it right, which is what caused this rift between P.E.I. and New Brunswick? I am not saying that is the entire issue now, but by not correcting that problem when it happened, it created hard feelings and raised the level of antagonism between the fishermen of P.E.I. and New Brunswick to a high level. Could he just address those two issues for me?

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I regret that I do not have the name of the organization or the scientists who will be doing the independent analysis, but I can tell the hon. member that in similar fisheries, like the Bay of Fundy fisheries, the data is collected by the industry and given to an independent third party that does the collation, puts it together and gives it to both the Department of Fisheries, as well as the fishers.

As far as the line, having known the discussions that a former minister of fisheries would have had on such issues, I can say that sometimes we have the same argument from both sides from the same group. McLeod’s Ledge had a similar line. It was an antiquated line but it was put there for another reason. The minister at the time was asked to remove it and asked to be permitted to fish outside that line. At the same time they asked that former great minister of fisheries that he re-add a line that had been removed, for whatever reason, but no longer had any purpose to be re-established.

What I should tell the member, which very few people recognize, is that the then minister of fisheries, who is an honourable gentleman and great Canadian, in his discussions with the fishermen and the Governments of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, came to the line as it is now, as it was imposed last year, with the agreement of all and with congratulatory notes being sent by that organization. However it then created political difficulties in Prince Edward Island because it was such a contentious issue. The difficulty that these fleets had in catching their herring made it worse and made the thing more political.

I think the current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has done a great job, in working with both organizations, on this independent analysis and a three year test fisheries program that should give the information needed by all to come to a friendly resolution of this matter.

Employment Insurance ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey not being present to raise the matter for which adjournment notice had been given, the notice is deemed withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:40 p.m.)