Mr. Speaker, my intention today is not to repeat verbatim all the initiatives and goals mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. Rather, I want to focus on the proposed limits on the federal spending power, which take on a special meaning in Quebec.
The spending power, which is not mentioned anywhere in the Canadian Constitution, has been haunting federal-provincial relations for generations. As for us, ever since we were elected, we have made it clear that we want to restrict the use of the spending power, based on the criteria in the social union framework agreement, and in the 2006 and 2007 budgets.
The Speech from the Throne said:
Our Government believes that the constitutional jurisdiction of each order of government should be respected. To this end, guided by our federalism of openness, our government will introduce legislation to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for 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 [with the national objectives].
Therefore, our will to restrict the spending power is the direct result of a concern that has been strongly expressed by all Quebec governments from Duplessis to Charest.
I should also point out that respecting the constitutional jurisdictions of each order of government has been a fundamental principle of the Conservative Party since its creation.
However, as we have seen, the root cause of the problem, of this abuse of the federal spending power, will always be the fiscal imbalance. In other words, if the federal government did not have disproportionate revenues compared to those of the provinces, it would probably be less inclined and, more importantly, less able to get involved in areas other than exclusive federal jurisdictions.
This is precisely why we wanted to restore fiscal balance within the federation, as early as in the 2006 budget.
First, we restored fiscal balance with Canadian taxpayers, thanks to tax cuts totalling $26 billion. Then, we reiterated our support to long term and predictable funding for health care. We also made new, major investments in infrastructure. Moreover, we provided funding, to the tune of $3.3 billion, to the provinces and territories to alleviate short term pressures in the post-secondary education, affordable housing and public transit sectors. We also put in place measures to increase the federal government's fiscal accountability and budgetary transparency and we clarified the governments' roles and responsibilities by targeting spending in areas that clearly come under federal jurisdiction, such as defence and security.
Budget 2007 also included a renewed and strengthened equalization program, a renewed and strengthened territorial formula financing program, a new approach to long-term funding support for post-secondary education, a new approach to long-term funding support for training, a new long-term plan for infrastructure, and a new approach to allocating unplanned federal surpluses.
I think it is appropriate to point out that before a major problem can be resolved, it has to be acknowledged. The previous government thought otherwise, and the Bloc has shown, as it has done countless times before, that it can raise major issues but cannot do a whole lot about them.
We are very pleased that provincial governments, especially the Government of Quebec, have welcomed the measures we have taken to ensure fiscal balance. However, I should point out that this initiative was not a unilateral concession to the Government of Quebec. It was not a political favour.
We wanted to ensure fiscal balance and limit federal spending power because we believe that this will improve the federal system.
We all know why Quebec's governments—of all political stripes—have always been more concerned about fiscal imbalance and federal spending power than other provincial governments. It is because, since Confederation, Quebec's governments have been responsible for protecting and developing a society with unique historical, cultural and social characteristics within this country.
Recognizing the distinct nature of Quebec society has repeatedly created difficulties during recent and not-so-recent federal-provincial negotiations.
At the Prime Minister's urging, Canada's Parliament recently made a historic decision to recognize that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. To my mind, that is the crowning glory of our policy of open federalism toward Quebec.
That being said, clear recognition of Quebec's uniqueness must not result in abdication of our responsibilities to the entire Canadian federation. We want to strengthen the country's economic unity by clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each government. Over the coming months, we will follow up on this commitment set out in the Speech from the Throne, just as we are doing with the federal spending power.