That, in the opinion of the House, given that the Prime Minister has promised to eliminate the fiscal imbalance and that this imbalance cannot be eliminated without the elimination of the federal spending power in areas that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, the bill on federal spending power that the government will introduce should, at a minimum, provide for Quebec to have the right to opt out with no strings attached and with full financial compensation from any federal program, whether existing or not and cost-shared or not, which invades Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
Mr. Speaker, the wording of this motion may seem complicated but the basic message is quite straightforward.
Is it normal for the federal government to spend in any area, without regard for the division of powers in Canada?
Is it normal for Quebec to be forced to accept federal priorities and requirements, even in those areas where it is supposed to be completely autonomous and sovereign?
Is it normal for Ottawa to collect 50% more taxes than needed to carry out its own responsibilities and for Canada to use this money to dictate to Quebec how to organize its own society?
Is it normal for Ottawa to take up so much space that the Quebec nation does not even have the capacity to tax in order to carry out projects that it chooses, simply because the glutton next door takes up the entire tax base?
Well, no, none of that is normal.
As Robert Bourassa said in 1970:
Quebec continues to believe that this federal spending power in areas that come under exclusive provincial jurisdiction ought quite simply not to exist, and the federal government would do well to quite simply renounce it totally.
Today's debate goes to the heart of a historic and longstanding dispute between Quebec and Canada. In 1867, English Canadians wanted a centralized Canada where the central government could dictate the priorities for the entire country—including Quebec—and in all areas. John A. Macdonald's speeches in this regard are eloquent.
Today we find the same discourse among those defending the federal government's spending power and its authority to set priorities in all areas. However, in 1867, Quebeckers did not wish to be controlled by the neighbouring country. They would never have accepted that Canada dictate how to organize their society, nor will they do so today. For that reason, the Constitution of 1867 provides for a distinct separation of powers and Ottawa does not have the right to legislate in Quebec's jurisdictions.
Like all nations, we have the right to control the development of our own society. Otherwise, Quebec would never have joined the Canadian federation. At that time, Quebec nationalists sincerely believed that they had obtained all of the autonomy that was needed for Quebec to be in charge of its own development.
In its editorial on July 1, 1867, the newspaper La Minerve wrote: “As a distinct and separate nationality, we form a state within a state, with full enjoyment of our rights and a formal recognition of our national independence.”
And yet the promise that was made to Quebec is constantly being broken. Ottawa cannot legislate in areas under Quebec’s jurisdiction? No matter, it will do it by the back door.
By occupying the tax field as it has done, Ottawa has acquired far too much financial latitude. And with money comes the power of money, let us not forget. And so, because the National Assembly of Quebec is the only body with the power to legislate in certain areas, Ottawa need only hire it, with the money from the fiscal imbalance, and it can then insinuate Canada’s priorities into Quebec.
Quebec’s legislative autonomy is just some minor problem that it can easily circumvent. It is simple, it is logical, it is even brilliant, when you think about it, but it is unacceptable. The Quebec nation will never agree to be relegated to the status of a subcontractor for the nation next door, never!
“I, for my part, have a great deal of difficulty in reconciling the values underlying the Canadian federation with the idea of a federal spending power that is in no way subject to the division of powers.” I am not the one who said that; it was Benoît Pelletier, the Quebec Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, who said it on March 24, 2004. He is a true blue federalist, let us not forget.
What I am talking about is not some abstract idea, it is a question of dignity. Imagine a couple in which one spouse has a higher income than he or she needs to cover his or her share of the family responsibilities, and the other spouse does not have enough income to cover his or her share, even the essential needs. That is what the fiscal imbalance is. Imagine that the first spouse, being a fine fellow, says to the other: “Listen, it is not such a bad thing if your income is not enough for you to cover your responsibilities. I am going to transfer money to you. Of course, because it is my money, I am going to decide what you will do with it.” And that is what the transfers for health care, education and social programs are.
And as if that were not enough, imagine that the richer member of the couple decides to interfere directly in the other spouse’s affairs, to go to the store to buy that spouse’s clothes according to his or her own taste, to order directly for the other spouse at restaurants and go over that spouse’s head to speak on his or her behalf to the spouse’s friends. Ultimately, the less fortunate spouse has no decision-making power left, has no authority over his or her own life, because it is the other spouse who is using that spouse’s money to control him or her completely. That is what the spending power is.
It is transfers that reduce Quebec’s autonomy and multiple instances of federal interference in its affairs. It is its scholarships or research grants, or its inappropriate involvement in health care. It is transfers to families, whether in the form of the child tax credit or the Conservatives’ $1,200. It is the Mental Health Commission announced this fall.
The fiscal imbalance and the power to spend in areas under Quebec’s jurisdiction are two sides of the same coin; they prop each other up and they prevent the Quebec nation from controlling and organizing its own society based on its own needs and its own priorities.
So long as Ottawa has enough money to intrude into jurisdictions that are not its responsibility there is still a fiscal imbalance. When I hear Conservative members say that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved, I can only think that they do not understand it at all. If the controlling spouse I just mentioned decided to give his or her partner more money, would that mean that the imbalance in the couple’s incomes had been resolved? No. In fact, the spouse with more money would have even more power over the other spouse, while the spouse with less money would have even less decision-making ability over his or her own life.
In the last election, the Prime Minister said that the fiscal imbalance had to do with more than just money. I think he was right. He also said that the federal government’s excessive spending power had given rise to a paternalistic, domineering federalism. I agree with that too. Ultimately, the fiscal imbalance and the spending power are about power.
Will it be Quebeckers or Canadians who have the power to steer the way in which Quebec develops? That is what we are discussing today because we are giving the Prime Minister an opportunity right now to show that his words actually mean something, that open federalism is more than just an election slogan, and that his promises to Quebec are not just a fraud.
I am pretty skeptical though. It is obvious that the Prime Minister loves power and does not like to share it. He has picked fights since the election with all the checks and balances in society: journalists, judges and various organized groups—through the elimination of the court challenges program—the parliamentary committees, whose work he has tried to sabotage, and the Senate, which he has been criticizing.
This fall it is the representatives of the people whom he is trying to dragoon: either the hon. members agree with everything he says or else he will order the dissolution of the House.
This Prime Minister has picked fights with all the checks and balances. All of them. Within his own party, he exerts total control, reducing his members to silence and forbidding his ministers to spend anything on programs that his office has not approved.
Ever since he was elected, he has not shared a gram of his power with Quebec. He guards it jealously, including the most important power of them all: the spending power. We will see when the time comes for a vote whether open federalism is more than an empty slogan.
The spending power is more than just a symbolic issue. It hampers the development of Quebec. For example, as everyone knows, I used to head up the Fédération des femmes du Québec in the early 2000s. Twenty-four years ago, the Fédération des femmes du Québec asked that a real family policy be instituted with real parental leave. Five years later, the Government of Quebec bought into the idea but Ottawa had already intruded into this jurisdiction through employment insurance.
When Quebec asked the federal government to transfer money so that the province could set up a real parental insurance plan, Ottawa said no.
A few years later, Quebec took another stab at receiving approval for a socio-economic summit of all sectors of Quebec society. Ottawa again said no.
Then there was a unanimous resolution at the National Assembly. Ottawa again said no.
Quebec then went ahead and legislated its own parental insurance plan, which would come into effect as soon as Ottawa transferred the money. Ottawa again said no. There was consensus in Quebec in an area exclusively under its own jurisdiction, but the answer was no.
It took having a minority government in Ottawa being hounded by a strong group of Bloc Québécois MPs for Ottawa to finally say yes.
Anyone who wanted parental leave to have children in the early 1990s had to wait until their child finished university before seeing this program implemented. That is another aspect of spending power.
I could provide more examples of this ad nauseam. For 42 years now Quebec has been hoping for Ottawa to stay out of regional development and implement a real policy.
The same is true for culture or university research where Ottawa invests more than Quebec, and for the promotion of French, which has to compete with federal spending that would make Quebec bilingual.
Is it any wonder that a wave of cultural insecurity and identity crisis is currently going through Quebec? There is not a single area left where the people of Quebec can decide what is best without any interference from Canadians.
Three years ago, Canada controlled 18% of the Quebec government's budget. With the increases in transfers, Canada now has control over 22% of Quebec's budget. In three years, it will be 25%. And the fiscal imbalance is being corrected? No, it is getting worse.
This brings me to the Speech from the Throne. What did the Speech from the Throne say about the spending power? There are words, but they are devoid of meaning.
The government's commitment is limited only to new programs. It is already spending $55 billion in areas not under its jurisdiction. Ottawa is spending almost the equivalent of Quebec's entire budget in areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
It says, “Just forget about all that, would you?” Well no, we will not forget about it.
As if this was not inane enough, the Speech from the Throne does not even limit the federal spending power in all new programs in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. Instead, it deals only with new cost-shared programs.
There are no cost-shared programs left to speak of. There is the agricultural policy framework, but agriculture being a shared jurisdiction, the commitment made in the throne speech does not apply to that program.
There is also the infrastructure program, but Quebec has already obtained the right to choose projects. Since Quebec already has control over these, what will the Speech from the Throne change? Nothing.
Apart from that, there are no cost-shared programs left.
There are conditional transfers, but without any real cost sharing. In addition, there are instances of direct interference where costs are not shared. Had such a commitment been made in the 1940s, it would have been meaningful, Today, however, it comes three generations too late. This Speech from the Throne is empty, completely empty.
Last year, the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation. It was about time. But what does Canada do now that it has recognized that we exist? That is what we are addressing today. Nation is a fine word. Recognizing a nation is like recognizing a person: there are rights that come with that recognition.
Like people, nations have fundamental rights, the most fundamental of which is the right for a nation to have control over the social, economic and cultural development of its society. That is called self-determination, a right that every nation may exercise from within or, if that is impossible, by achieving independence.
This is a fundamental and inalienable right because it answers a natural and irrepressible impulse. The Quebec nation exists. It has a culture, values, concerns, plans, aspirations and interests which are its own. It think there is agreement on this, since the House recognized it last year.
However you cannot, on the one hand, recognize that the Quebec nation has the right to make choices different from those of Canada, and on the other deny that right to Quebec by maintaining the federal spending power. That power is the negation of my nation.
I realize that today, as in 1867, Canadians want the central government to be able to set the directions and priorities for the entire country in all fields. After all, the provinces recognized Ottawa as having the role of leader on social development by signing—without Quebec, I would emphasize—the social union framework agreement. Somewhat like the night of the long knives, but in broad daylight.
I know very well that the chances are slim that Canadians will agree to put a total stop to federal spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction. That would be in keeping with the promise made to Quebec 140 years ago, but not in keeping with their vision of Canada.
It is for that reason that today’s motion proposes a compromise, in saying that Ottawa should, at a minimum, grant Quebec the full right to opt out from any federal spending in a field which invades provincial areas of jurisdiction. Canadians can continue to deny the spirit of the pact creating the federation as much as they want in their own particular province, but not in Quebec. All they are losing is the power to keep Quebec under their tutelage. Is it all that dramatic? In spite of everything, I know that we are clashing with the centralizing visions of the Liberal Party and the NDP. I know that we are clashing with the Prime Minister’s desire to keep his power for himself alone.
That is why I am now issuing an appeal to Quebec MPs from all parties. Today’s motion is consistent with what has been demanded by every Quebec government since Duplessis, on the left and the right, sovereignist as well as federalist. It is consistent with the unanimous resolutions adopted by the National Assembly of Quebec for decades, calling for the full right to opt out from every instance of federal interference.
Whether those hon. members here in this House be federalist or sovereignist, red, blue, yellow or green, native or adopted, it matters little to me: they are Quebeckers, and their first duty is to represent and defend the people who elected them to speak on their behalf. There is a consensus that, in Quebec, Quebec comes first.
Today I am asking these hon. members to move beyond partisan quarrelling. Taking action to put a stop to Canadian interference in the internal affairs of Quebec by use of the federal spending power can return the power to control the development of Quebec to Quebeckers, at least in part.
I can imagine what it is to be imprisoned in a pan-Canadian party where Quebeckers are a minority. I presume that their boss is counting on them to defend the interests of Canada in Quebec, rather than vice versa—