Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this motion by the New Democratic Party.
For many years, the New Democratic Party has made a point of making similar proposals designed to centralize decision making in Ottawa, whereas all social programs come under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. This is a commendable motion. Unfortunately, though, with this motion, the NDP is recommending interfering in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.
I would remind this House, as I said earlier and as I am wont to repeat, that health, education, social programs and income security are responsibilities of Quebec and the provinces. Since the early 1970s, Quebec has been asking that income security be managed by the Government of Quebec itself. In December 1995, the former Quebec finance minister said as follows:
Quebec considers the current federal funding framework for social programs unacceptable. It calls on the federal government to withdraw from funding social programs and to transfer to Quebec the tax points it uses to fund its initiatives in this area. This request is a concrete response to the problem of ongoing cuts in federal transfers.
All governments in Quebec, sovereignists or not, have always fought to preserve these jurisdictions, because we in Quebec are quite capable of making our own collective choices based on priorities which are different from the other provinces.
The Conservatives are great defenders of the industry knows best principle, while Liberals and the NDP defend the Ottawa knows best principle. We in the Bloc Québécois believe that Quebec and the provinces can do better, provided that they have the necessary resources.
I should point out that I will be sharing my speaking time with the distinguished member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
In fact, I think that, before going down the road of invading the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, the NDP should deal with problems that fall under federal jurisdiction, as the Bloc Québécois does. A case in point is the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.
The federal government has unfairly deprived, and still does, many Quebeckers among the most vulnerable of our society of substantial income that is owed to them.
In December 2001, the report on the guaranteed income supplement was published by the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons. It stated that more than 270,000 Canadians, 68,000 Quebeckers, and nearly 1,100 people in my riding of Gatineau were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement, but were not receiving anything from the federal government.
During the 38th Parliament, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-301 to ensure full retroactivity for those who had been fleeced out of the guaranteed income supplement, instead of the retroactive payments currently limited to 11 months by the federal government.
I personally made this issue a priority in the last election campaign, but my Liberal, Conservative and NDP opponents in Gatineau never agreed to debate this issue with the Bloc. In fact, I made a commitment to the people of my riding to facilitate access for seniors eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.
The very next day—I made this announcement just recently—several people from the Outaouais region contacted either my constituency office or my office on the Hill. These were people from Gatineau, as well as from the ridings of Hull—Aylmer and Pontiac.
They were surprised that a member of Parliament was trying to help them. This speaks volumes about what they were used to, and still are used to, unfortunately, from the federalist MPs from the Outaouais.
At the Bloc Québécois, we know full well that it is the role of the member of Parliament to take steps on behalf of the public. We are elected by people in order to help them improve their living conditions and that includes seniors, as hon. members will agree.
I want to acknowledge the excellent work of an intern in my constituency office who helped us a great deal on this issue. I am talking about Marie-Pierre Baron-Courcy, a young political science student. She helped out by contacting all the players who work with or for seniors in the Gatineau riding, for example, senior citizens clubs, the regional Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec group in my riding, soup kitchens. The purpose of this initiative was to find low-income seniors who were unfortunately unfamiliar with the program because the federal government had not done its job, which is to ensure that every senior, especially the least fortunate, knows about this program. I want to thank her because her efforts and her youthful enthusiasm showed us that this service to the people who built Quebec, to these people who paid taxes to Quebec and Canada their entire lives, could provide them with the help they are entitled to.
I will vote against this motion. As I said, overall it is worthy. However, it does not meet certain criteria that apply in this country. I reject the NDP motion on the grounds that it interferes with Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I am surprised by the NDP's approach, which yet again, despite honourable intentions, fails to recognize the existence of distinct areas of jurisdiction.
We would have rather seen the NDP address an issue that came up in debates in this House: the guaranteed income supplement. We did mention that.
Members of our party also talked about POWA, the program for older worker adjustment, which is a focal point of the Bloc Québécois' demands. Established in 1988, this program enabled eligible workers between the ages of 55 and 64 who lost their jobs because of major permanent layoffs to receive benefits. The program ended on March 31, 1997, under the Liberals, and has not been reintroduced since.
Since the program for older worker adjustment disappeared in March 1997, there has been no income support program specifically for older workers who lose their jobs because of mass layoffs or business closures. This often happens in single-industry areas. Often, both parents in one family work in these factories and suddenly find themselves with no income and no help for either one of them. That is shameful.
I hope that my statement will be seen as a message that the Bloc Québécois wants to help older people and does help them. If the NDP also wants to send a good message, it will join the Bloc Québécois in demanding increased federal transfer payments and the resolution of the fiscal imbalance. That would enable the provinces to make their own choices and, if they wish, set up a social system like Quebec's, which is a world-class model.