Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to give my maiden speech in the House of Commons. Naturally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible for me to be here: my family, friends, colleagues, organizers and, most of all, the citizens of the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jeanwho placed their trust in me.
I am pleased to take part today in this debate on the throne speech. Our speech lays out for Canadians the intentions of our government with regard to the future of the country and the legislative agenda that will make them reality. Our Conservative government kept its promises with respect to the five priorities established in the 2006 election campaign, and I feel very proud of it and of the man who perfectly embodies the leadership sought by Canadians, our Prime Minister. I feel this same sense of pride in reading the Speech from the Throne, which mirrors the expectations of Canadians who voted for change in 2006.
I have chosen to focus on one aspect of the speech that was a promise in the 2005-2006 election campaign, and that our government has reiterated, restricting the federal spending power. This issue represents a challenge to be faced in order to strengthen our federation, one of the five themes of the throne speech. Our government will introduce a bill to impose specific restrictions on the federal spending power in new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This legislation will allow provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
It is important to observe and recognize the advantages of the federal spending power, which has played a role as a factor of social development over the course of our history. It led to the creation, in cooperation with provincial and territorial provinces, of national social programs such as medicare. It also played a leading role in promoting equal opportunity for all Canadians. Finally, it helped guarantee that all citizens would have access to basic social services and programs of comparable quality no matter where they live.
By acting to limit federal spending power, our Conservative government has done something that illustrates the benefits of the type of federalism we practise, open federalism, as opposed to the centralist vision of power embraced by the previous government, which preferred conflict to solutions. Open federalism respects the provincial and territorial jurisdictions while taking Canadians' aspirations into account.
I am proud of the open federalism practised by our government, because it avoids the old dynamic of conflict that characterized the former Liberal government of the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, the Leader of the Opposition. Canadians have had enough of scandals and bickering. They are fed up with the quarrels between centralists and separatists. That is why they chose our Conservative government, to bring real change to Ottawa.
Canadians want governments that get along and work together. Our Prime Minister wants the future to be marked by optimism, trust and respect. The throne speech given on October 16 paints a promising and inspiring picture of that future for Canadians. The direction in which our government wants to take Canada reflects families' priorities and hopes and what they expect of us.
What we want for Canada is in direct contrast to the vision of isolation and perpetual conflict that the official opposition embraced when it was on this side of the House. Our open federalism is a federalism that all Canadians can identify with, no matter where they live. They can all share this vision of the future.
This has long been an important issue in the evolution of the Canadian federation. Until the 1960s, most provinces, aside from Quebec, accepted this federal influence. After a new government was elected in 1960, Quebec's objections grew even stronger. In the years that followed, other provinces began to object to the federal government's presence by way of its spending power. In subsequent decades, there was a great deal of public debate over the political and legal ramifications of federal spending power.
Our government has already demonstrated that it advocates openness and fairness toward the provinces, especially when it comes to the fiscal balance. Our government can boast that it was the first to recognize the need to restore the fiscal balance in Canada. The federal Liberals always denied that there was a fiscal imbalance, and the Bloc was powerless to correct it. We have taken real steps to do so, thanks to the Prime Minister's leadership.
Let us not forget that our government is the one which, in budget 2007, introduced historic measures to restore fiscal balance in Canada by investing $39 billion over the next seven years; by ensuring that our financial relationship with the provinces and territories are based on principles; and by increasing equalization payments and transfers to the provinces.
Naturally, general agreement for this approach of openness to foster Canadian unity cannot be found in this House. One of the five conditions for the Bloc leader's support for the Speech from the Throne is the elimination of the federal spending power, and what elimination means to us is separation.
There is one aspect of the current political debate which some members of this place tend to overlook, and that is the fact that this government delivers on its commitments to its provincial partners, and this is true for Quebec as for any other province.
Our government promised Quebeckers that Quebec would be invited to participate fully and formally in UNESCO so as to reflect Quebec's tremendous contribution to our collective heritage. Our government has delivered.
Our government is the only one in Canadian history to have recognized the Quebec nation. The Liberals form the party of centralization, and the Bloc members, the party of separation, while the Conservatives form the party of the nation.
Our government has already done a lot to reconcile the legitimate aspirations of Quebec with our objective of strengthening the Canadian federation. These two realities are not incompatible. In fact, they are mutually beneficial. We have upheld our commitments to Quebeckers, since we are truly defending their interests and will continue to do so. Honouring these commitments is a good example of a principle at the heart of our approach to governing. Once again, we will do what we promised.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, the objective of a Speech from the Throne is to establish the overall objectives for the government in a new session of Parliament. It is neither the time nor the forum for introducing a bill or discussing, in minute detail, each bill that will soon be debated. At this stage, I will simply say that our policy on the spending power will reflect our desire to strengthen our federation and increase its effectiveness, and to respect our partners, while still respecting their fields of jurisdiction.
Quebeckers, like all other Canadians, want to see their governments work together to encourage progress and prosperity in the community. With this in mind, our government is pursuing the mission Canadians entrusted us with in January 2006. Our government, under the leadership of our Prime Minister will not deviate from this course.