Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today as part of the debate on Bill C-284, which proposes to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.
Education is the cornerstone of the development of societies throughout the world, and the Quebec nation is no exception. The evidence of this is that a number of years ago, Quebec implemented a very successful education policy.
I would like to remind this House that just 40 years ago, Quebec had the lowest enrolment rate in North America. In 1960, only 63% of students entering elementary school finished grade 7. Just 13% of francophones finished grade 11, and only 3% went on to university. During my childhood in Waterville, despite the creation of the Université de Sherbrooke in 1954 and the presence of Bishop's University in a neighbouring city, it was rare to come across a university graduate. Now, my younger colleagues and my daughters have had the opportunity to go to CEGEP or university, and it is common practice in many places.
This fall in Sherbrooke, nearly 22,000 students were enrolled at our two universities, not to mention another 8,000 students at our post-secondary training centres. To achieve this level of education in our region and everywhere in Quebec, Jean Lesage's government and those that followed made a radical policy shift to improve access to education. Thanks to its three-pronged approach—increasing funding for post-secondary studies, maintaining low tuition rates and instituting an effective loans and bursaries program—Quebec's government made extraordinary progress in a short period of time. Today, enrolment rates in Quebec are on par with Canada's in some fields and higher in others.
For example, recent statistics show that 69% of young people in Quebec who have completed high school also have a post-secondary diploma or a university degree, compared to 63% in Ontario, 61% in the Atlantic provinces and 54% in western Canada. Despite such impressive efforts, Quebec is still trying to do even better. The only things missing now are the financial and governmental tools currently under Ottawa's control. These include control over income taxes, research funding programs, training programs and access to international forums. Someday, these tools will be in the hands of a sovereign Quebec, but in the context of today's debate, the main problem is that the federal government keeps trying to encroach on jurisdictions where it does not belong without giving full, unconditional compensation to Quebec and the other provinces that want it.
While Quebec is still trying to outdo itself, the federal government, be it Conservative or Liberal, prefers to create its own specific programs, ignoring the unique features of Quebec's education system. Today's motion by the Liberal Party to increase federal student financial assistance is yet another example of this centralizing vision. In fact, this is a typically Liberal debate, just like the debates we became accustomed to during the 13 years the Liberals were in power.
The solution is simple, though. The federal government should stay away from education and, by extension, from investments in access to post-secondary education, especially if it wants to limit the federal spending power. As I said earlier, Quebec has made great strides in education in the past 40 years, and our loan and bursary system is now recognized the world over. As in many other areas, Quebec is leading the pack in student financial assistance. During the debate in committee, the Bloc Québécois proposed amendments that would have recognized the difference between Quebec's loan and bursary system and the system Canada wants to introduce.
We proposed that Quebec be allowed to opt out of the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act with full compensation and no strings attached, but the committee chair ruled that these amendments were out of order. This is the same chair who, along with his government, has talked about open federalism, respect for Quebec's jurisdictions and limiting the federal spending power. I question his sincerity.
We in the Bloc Québécois recognize that most of the provinces have not developed the sort of services and programs Quebec offers. That is why we proposed to include a clause in the bill that would have recognized Quebec's efforts and allowed it to opt out unconditionally and with full compensation.
Because our amendments were rejected, Quebec will not be compensated for the excellent initiatives it has put in place. We are getting used to that. Previously, the issue was child care centres, and now, it is the loan and bursary system. It is easy to conclude that the Conservative and Liberal governments are using every means possible to try to standardize all the programs and services for Canadians, despite obvious interference in areas of jurisdiction that do not concern them.
The other reality is that the Quebec nation is distinct and has made its own choices. If the other provinces would like to follow the example of certain programs and services developed by Quebec, they are entitled to do so. It comes under their areas of jurisdiction. We would even encourage them do so, for it is true: we have very effective programs.
At the risk of repeating myself, in Quebec, we are always striving to outdo ourselves. We believe that, in order to broaden the Quebec loans and bursaries system even further, the easiest and most effective solution, apart from sovereignty, does not involve further interference on the part of the federal government. The easiest solution remains, for now, a substantial increase in transfers to Quebec and the provinces in the areas of education and social services.
Because of the fiscal imbalance, which was created by Ottawa, the federal government now thinks it has to help students financially, so they can access post-secondary education. However, by restoring transfers to the provinces for education, the federal government would never again have to introduce an initiative such as the one before us here today.
Despite the increased transfers in budget 2007, there is still a $3.5 billion shortfall in education for the provinces for 2008-09, and more than $834 million for Quebec alone. Unfortunately, it seems that Ottawa is ignoring our proposed solution of significantly increasing transfers, even though it has achieved consensus, not only in Quebec, but also amongst the provincial governments.
For the Bloc Québécois, when it comes to social services and education, we believe that Quebec and the provinces must determine their priorities themselves. In short, under the circumstances, the Bloc Québécois will not support the motion tabled here today by the Liberal Party.