Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to participate in this debate on the Speech from the Throne, not because of what was in the speech—in our opinion it is so acceptable that later this afternoon, the Bloc Québécois will vote against this Speech from the Throne—but because it gives me the opportunity, along with my Bloc Québécois colleagues, to give a voice to Quebeckers in this House. Their voice was not heard before the creation of the Bloc Québécois.
For example, five conditions were known and were the result of the work the Bloc Québécois has been doing for years, in some cases, or at the very least, months or weeks. These conditions were not pulled out of a hat. It is not a shopping list, unlike what I heard from the government.
The Bloc believes that these are responses to some of Quebec's issues and concerns. Furthermore, these issues and concerns correspond to the concerns of Quebeckers.
The first condition was federal spending power. I will delve into that later. The second was assistance and support for the embattled forestry industry. I will also discuss that in greater detail later. Our third very important condition related to the withdrawal of Canadian troops from combat zones, specifically Kandahar. I will not discuss this condition now because I will be sharing my 20 minutes with my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île, who will do a much better job of talking about it than I could. This condition was not fulfilled in the Speech from the Throne. On the contrary, the government has announced that it plans to extend the mission until 2011, which flies in the face of what we and Quebeckers want. I would even venture to suggest that most Canadians agree with us on this issue.
As to fulfilling the Kyoto commitments, my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie clearly explained our position, which a majority of Quebeckers also support. My colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry did the same with respect to Quebec's need to reduce its dependency on oil in order to escape the Conservative federal government's decision to promote oil-based development, which is making Quebec poorer. Quebec produces neither oil nor natural gas. It is in our best interest to escape the oil economy and move toward new energy sources, as demonstrated by my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry. Canada's plan, however, is to develop the oil sector by exploiting the oil sands. The Kyoto accord is not in the best interest of the oil industry, nor is it in the best interest of the Conservatives' economic development strategy, which is not even remotely sustainable.
Lastly, the issue of supply management was also raised. The Bloc is pleased to see this in the throne speech. However, since this condition is the only one met by this government, we cannot vote in favour of the Speech from the Throne. We were not surprised to see the Conservatives defend supply management, given that, since December 2005, the Bloc Québécois has had this government cornered, just like the previous government, with a unanimous vote in this House to pass a motion stating that Canadian negotiators at the World Trade Organization can never agree to any compromise that would undermine or prevent the development of the supply management system.
In summary, there is very little in the Speech from the Throne to satisfy Quebec and Quebeckers.
I would like to come back to the issue of the federal spending power and its elimination, which is the traditional position not only of the Bloc Québécois, but of all successive governments in Quebec. It is interesting to note that we are the only party to be clear on this matter. The Liberals and the leader of the Liberal Party immediately warned the Prime Minister about his very vague proposal to limit use of the federal spending power. As for the NDP, that party is always keen on principles and is very much in favour of coast-to-coast programs, that is, standardized, Canada-wide programs that ultimately make the provinces into branches of the federal government. This is something that Quebec, Quebeckers and all successive governments in Quebec have always rejected.
I want to come back to what the Conservative government and the Prime Minister are proposing with regard to spending power. I will read what the throne speech says:
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.
As we can see, this in no way meets Quebec's demands. What is more, it is practically a virtual proposal. First, the government is saying it will limit spending power, not eliminate it, but place limits on it. The Minister of Transport was very clear on this: this government does not intend to reduce or even limit federal spending power to the point of eliminating it in Quebec's areas of exclusive jurisdiction. He said so last Friday.
The worst part of this whole thing is that the government is saying that it will limit federal spending power for new shared-cost programs. This means that it does not intend to do anything about existing shared-cost programs. There are not many of them, but there are some. The government is announcing that in future, it will limit federal spending power in Quebec's areas of exclusive jurisdiction. Alain Noël, a professor in the political science department of Université de Montréal, said the following in the October 20, 2007 issue of La Presse:
By agreeing to such a reform, the Government of Quebec would be recognizing the legitimacy of federal spending power only to obtain virtual restrictions applicable to programs that have ceased to exist.
As I mentioned, only two such programs remain, to our knowledge: the infrastructure program and the agricultural policy framework program. These sorts of programs have ceased to exist. Mr. Noël goes on to say:
It is a little as though Ottawa were offering to give the provinces full control over producing black and white TVs.
This professor, who is a shrewd observer, has seen through the Conservative government's proposal. This is pseudo-open federalism, a facade, window dressing, a veneer, a purely symbolic gesture. We can see that here, during oral question period, nearly every day the House sits.
This even shocked André Pratte, editorial writer for La Presse, who merely skimmed through the Speech from the Throne. We know he always tends to side with the party in power. I sometimes says that if he had been a journalist or editorial writer for Pravda under the Soviets, he would have been a communist. But we live in a capitalist system in North America.
I was saying that Mr. Pratte always takes the side of the party in power. He read the Speech from the Throne quickly and was immediately delighted, saying that after 40 years of debate on the federal spending power we finally had an answer. However, after reading the piece by Mr. Noël, he was forced, in the same issue of La Presse, to take another hard look and admit that, indeed, there was nothing substantive in the federal Conservatives' proposal.
If even an observer as biased as André Pratte is forced to acknowledge that Alain Noël's analysis is right, then it is maybe high time this government woke up and truly met the expectations of Quebeckers. It has to stop putting on a show and suggesting that it is different from the previous governments. The Conservatives are just as centralist, the only difference being that they speak from both sides of their mouths. The Speech from the Throne is indisputable proof that they are not open to limiting or restricting the federal spending power.
For that reason alone, the Speech from the Throne is totally unacceptable. Once again, by refusing to eliminate the federal spending power, the government and the Prime Minister are not keeping their promise to get rid of the fiscal imbalance, which is essential according to the Séguin commission. We are looking at yet another broken promise.
Unfortunately I do not have enough time to come back to the crisis in the forestry. I would like to close by talking about the urgent need for support measures for that industry.
In my riding, in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, two plants have closed. The entire community is in crisis. Not only should the employment insurance rules be changed, but the government should stop falling for the ideology of laissez-faire. It should intervene together with the Government of Quebec and support this community in crisis. The community will remember this in the next election and it will re-elect the Bloc member for Joliette.