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House of Commons Hansard #10 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

I read this motion very closely. It speaks as much of eliminating the fiscal imbalance as of eliminating the federal spending power in Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction. I read it but there is a distinction to be made. The French language has some special definitions in Quebec but that is not to say, as the leader of the Bloc Québécois has done, that in Quebec “place limits” means to “eliminate” the federal spending power completely. I think that anyone can see there is a difference and that “eliminate” and “place limits” are not synonyms. When one believes in this country and wants to continue to live in partnership in this country, we talk about limiting federal spending power and not about eliminating it.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague in the Liberal party. She says that she read the motion, but clearly she does not understand it. She may laugh but it is sad that she is laughing at her own mistakes. It states that the Bloc Québécois wants to eliminate “the federal spending power in areas that fall under the jurisdiction”. At that point, we are restricting the word “eliminate” and that becomes like “place limits”. I believe the logic is clear. Everyone who is listening now can understand it.

I would also like her to comment on the promise made by the current Conservative Prime Minister, who said in Quebec City, on December 19, 2005, “We are going to limit the federal spending power that was so abused by the federal Liberals.” I would like her to comment on the phrase, “that was so abused by the federal Liberals”.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

I am extremely pleased to comment this, because we signed the health accord. The premier of Quebec was delighted to see asymmetrical federalism recognized in a Canada-wide agreement.

Then, we signed an agreement on infrastructure. I heard the premier of Quebec, when this was announced in 2005, talk about a historic agreement with the Canadian government. We signed the child care agreement. Once again, the Quebec government, on behalf of Quebeckers, praised the flexibility of this agreement. We even signed the agreement on parental leave with my colleague at the time, Michelle Courchesne. Once again, the Quebec government applauded this. This is part of what Liberals did when they were in office.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today with my fellow Liberals who have opposed this Bloc motion.

In the Liberal view, there are two crucial principles in regard to the spending power. First, it must be used to further social progress or social justice across the country. That is principle number one. As our history shows, at least since the Second World War, that is what we have done with the spending power. The other principle concerns the partnership among the governments of the federation.

It is very clear how crucial these two principles are for our party. These are the two principles at the core of the social union framework agreement. And who negotiated this agreement? Who was the father, the founder or at least the co-founder of this agreement? It was the current Leader of the Opposition, who did it on the basis of these two principles.

The House can rest assured, therefore, that a Liberal government with the current opposition leader as Prime Minister would use the federal spending power in accordance with these two principles. It would want, first, to promote social progress and social justice—one of the three pillars of the Liberal Party. That is objective number one. Second, a Liberal government would always act in partnership with the provinces.

I had the privilege of being a member of Mr. Chrétien’s cabinet for two years. I saw then which minister was always there to defend the provincial jurisdictions, which minister around the table was always the first to defend the rights of the provinces and their jurisdictions.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Yes, it was the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. I am sure that my friend agrees with me.

It is rather strange, therefore, that he should have the opposite reputation in certain separatist circles in Quebec, that of a centralizing, domineering federalist. The truth is quite the opposite. I was in a position to see it in cabinet. He was always there to defend the jurisdictions of the provinces. That is a fact.

We on this side of the House have a lot of credibility, therefore, when we say that we believe in these two principles: the use of the spending power to foster social progress and unwavering respect for the partnership with the other governments in the federation.

I would like to give two examples of the successful implementation of these principles. The first one goes back many years to Saskatchewan, as will be seen in a minute, and the second one comes from Quebec.

The first one has to do with the introduction of medicare. It was in Saskatchewan that medicare originated. I would agree that it was under an NDP government, but before the NDP starts boasting about this, which it often does, let me just say that the provincial NDP is a very different species from the federal NDP.

The provincial NDP has to govern. The provincial NDP has to meet a payroll. The provincial NDP has to deal with the realities of the world and the trade-offs that a government has to face. The provincial NDP, after years of experience, decided that it would not run deficits because it did not want to have trouble with the banks. All those features of the provincial NDP are the diametric opposite of its federal cousins here in Ottawa, so I would ask the New Democrats here not to take too much credit for the accomplishments of their provincial cousins.

In any event, I would give full credit to the Saskatchewan NDP that introduced that concept. It is one of the great virtues of our country that where innovations and achievements come first from one province, the federal government can then use the spending power to spread those benefits across the country to all Canadians. That is what happened.

Medicare started in Saskatchewan, and the federal government, I believe under Lester Pearson, implemented medicare nationwide so that all Canadians, no matter what province they lived in, had the benefits of medicare, which I believe all Canadians, certainly including Quebeckers, hold dear to this day. That was an earlier example.

I would like to mention another example. Quebec was the first to start day care programs. Quebec was the leader. It was the first province to take very positive action in this regard and was a model for the rest of the country. It was more recently that the government of—

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

An hon. member

The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

The government of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard—I do not want to say his name—as well as other Liberal members saw what a great success it was in Quebec. We decided that it would be good for the entire country. This time, Quebec was the first. Then the federal government created a program so that all Canadians in all provinces could benefit from this good idea from Quebec. The federal government acted with great respect for Quebec. As a matter of fact, if I am not mistaken, Quebec received full financial compensation and was not required to spend the money in this specific area because it already had a program.

These two examples indicate that both for medicare a generation or more ago and for early childhood learning and child care, the federal spending power was exercised to promote social justice for all Canadians across the whole country and it was done in a manner that was very respectful of the provincial jurisdictions.

I will conclude by asking this. What did the Conservative government with respect to early childhood learning and child care? It simply ripped up the agreements. The government wishes to build firewalls around provinces. It has no desire to produce pan-Canadian social programs to promote social justice and well-being for all Canadians.

However, it is not the government we are principally talking about today; it is the Bloc motion. Therefore, for all the reasons I have given, I am very pleased to join with my colleagues in opposing the motion.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of the Liberal member, extolling the virtues of the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, his leader, who is apparently a staunch defender of provincial jurisdictions. There has never been more federal spending in provincial jurisdictions than under the Liberals. I would like him to tell me what the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville was doing. If he was speaking out, his fellow Liberals were obviously not listening to him. Today, they have made him their leader.

That is what the Liberal Party is all about. I can see that the Liberals have no intention of changing. I would like the hon. member to tell me what influence the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville had in his caucus because, under the Liberals, spending in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction was at its highest.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is complaining about the magnitude of our social spending. Are Quebeckers that different from Canadians? Do they not want social programs?

What matters is not the amount of spending. I think that most Canadians want strong social programs. What matters is that, when he was a minister, my leader always acted in a way that was respectful of provincial jurisdictions. He acted with the approval of the provinces with which he worked. That is what really matters.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, would my hon. colleague from Markham—Unionville, a neighbour of mine, by the way, comment on this entire debate in reference to a few points relating to the access to revenue bases by both the provincial and federal governments, the debt of provincial governments versus the federal government and the fact that internationally Canada is fairly well known as a decentralized country?

Could he please expand on those three points?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague, friend and neighbour has asked a very perceptive question. Yes, it is true. Thanks to Liberal economic stewardship, our debt has been coming down very nicely for 10 years in a row. It is also the case that we start out with a much higher level of debt than provincial governments due to history.

As he points out, Canada is one of the most decentralized countries in the world by any measure. Perhaps Switzerland might be more decentralized than us, but next to Switzerland, by just about any measure, Canada is extremely decentralized. Therefore, Quebec within Canada has far more autonomy and powers than the provinces or states of virtually any other country in the world.

I would certainly subscribe to those opinions my colleague has put forward to the House.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would note, before beginning, that I am sharing the time available to me with the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

I would like to congratulate the member for Papineau on the motion she has introduced for public debate today. I would also congratulate my colleagues in the Bloc. Listening to them since this morning, we might well conclude that the case is almost closed and the masks keep falling away. I will therefore avoid lapsing into condescension and redundancy.

However, I would like to recognize the decision by the Conservative government and the two other opposition parties to participate in this debate in spite of the difficulties it apparently causes them in terms of Quebec. I say difficulties, because they must be aware of the unanimous opinion of the National Assembly of Quebec on the subject we are discussing here today.

By their positions, in fact by their past and present posturing, as confirmed by their votes right here in this House, they crystallize a tried and true tradition in federal politics. They could not care less about the unanimous opinions of the National Assembly of Quebec. The most unfortunate thing is that they have among them sons and daughters of Quebec who claim to speak for Quebec.

While they may be the elected representatives of the Quebec people, they do not dare to explain to their party, in government or in opposition, that it is unwise, to say the least, to scorn the National Assembly of Quebec. Yesterday, today, and time after time, the Quebec nation is cheated by its federalist members, who are intoxicated by the simple fact that they help to provide alibis for the government team.

They sacrifice the interests of the Quebec nation to those of the Canadian nation. What words can we use for that kind of behaviour? We must recognize that Quebeckers place enormous trust in representatives who are totally loyal to them, who demand respect for their rights in a parliament where a majority represents another nation. They are worthy, and they speak the truth. We are those people. That is why I am proud to be one of those representatives.

For more than a half-century, the National Assembly of Quebec has been disputing the existence of the federal spending power. Regardless of political allegiance, all Quebec governments, without exception, have stated their intention of defending the integrity of Quebec’s legislative jurisdiction and its ability to decide its own policies, policies that suit its own needs, that are made to fit it, policies that reflect its uniqueness and its difference, policies that reflect its own unique talent, its own unique identity.

The federal government has repeatedly interfered in matters under Quebec’s jurisdiction, and every time it had not even been invited. In the recent throne speech, the government said that it was open to fair compensation, provided that the programs of both levels of government are compatible. The Conservative government has to understand that Quebec’s historic demand calls for full and unconditional compensation. Any interference, any conditions placed on Quebec, will always be rejected by the worthy representatives of the Quebec nation.

Given the present conflicted relationship between Quebec and Canada, and particularly in relation to the issue before us today, given the repeated deadlocks in which we have often found ourselves, sovereignty is the only viable insurance policy. Day after day, this is what the people of Quebec are preparing for.

When our home is threatened, it is our duty and our responsibility to defend it. All the same, let us not be narrow-minded about it, as some might say. The adoption of the Bloc Québécois motion in this House would be the most sincere signal that the Conservative government could send to Quebeckers, assuming that the famous speech by the Prime Minister on December 19, 2005 to the Quebec City chamber of commerce was not just sounds coming from his mouth for the sole purpose of seduction, of getting Quebeckers to swallow the noxious mixture of his party’s values.

Voting in favour of this motion would also restore to politics its letters patent of nobility, which have been much damaged in the Canadian Parliament with its many breaches of promises made, its misrepresentations and its shams of all kinds. It would be an act respectful of the truth and of democracy.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke will know that I have a tremendously high regard for him as an individual; we worked on committees together. Perhaps to people who would read this debate or see us on television, they might find it a little unusual for a totally devoted nationalist, myself, I am a Canadian first, last and always, to have a high regard for him as an individual, however, I do.

What I do not have a high regard for are his ideas. His ideas are an anachronism. His ideas are done. They are toast. It is over.

What we are looking at with the Government of Canada and the current Prime Minister is a man who understands Canada, a man who can understand the dreams and aspirations of the people of the province of Quebec. He understands those aspirations. He moved the motion that would recognize the Québécois as a nation. We are moving forward to a united Canada, and I invite my friend to join us.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that the sentiments just expressed by my colleague are shared. It is also obvious that, on the plane of ideas, we are at diametrically opposite poles.

My colleague said that my ideas were an anachronism, that they were obsolete. It was only last year, as he himself mentioned, that the House of Commons finally recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. Recognizing the existence of a nation is more than a symbolic act. Nations, like individuals, have fundamental rights. The most fundamental of them is the right of a nation to itself control the social, economic and cultural development of its own society, that is, the right of self-determination.

One cannot, on the one hand, recognize that the Quebec nation exists and has the right to make choices different from those of Canada, and on the other, deny to it that right by maintaining the federal spending power of which we have been speaking since this morning. The spending power in areas of Quebec jurisdiction is a denial of our integrity, a denial of the Quebec nation.

I repeat: my colleague considered my comments to be an anachronism and obsolete. I do not think there us anything obsolete about the recognition of Quebec as a nation. It is something that took place just a few months ago.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to comment at great length. I think he has a chance to clarify his role in relationship to the fiscal imbalance.

I would like to point out a few things before he does that. Both orders of government, the federal and federal, have access to the same major revenue bases, such as personal income taxes and corporate income taxes, as well as sales tax and payroll taxes.

The provinces have also exclusive access to some rapidly growing tax bases, including revenues from natural resources, gaming and property taxes.

I am sure he is also well aware that international comparisons show that Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the world, with provinces that have complete autonomy in setting their tax policies to address spending pressures related to their responsibility.

As well, the current federal debt is about $467 billion, whereas the total of all provincial debt is $274 billion. The government cannot be accused of maintaining a fiscal imbalance when the provincial collective debt is much lower.

I want him to state an opinion on these undeniable facts.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 29th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that an hon. member from a party that denied the existence of the fiscal imbalance for years, from the height of his arrogance, condescension even, should ask me such a question.

I am no expert at accounting, but I would bring my colleague back to the debate before us today: it is a question of principle. Quebec was recognized as a nation. And as such, Quebec, through this motion presented by the Bloc Québécois—which is the embodiment of the aspirations, the needs and the grievances of all of Quebec society and of the National Assembly of Quebec—is entitled to demand the elimination of the federal spending power. That is the subject.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the motion. I would like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Lambert on his excellent speech and thank him for sharing his time with me.

I would like to read the motion introduced by our excellent member for Papineau.

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.

I felt it was important to reread the motion for all of our federalist colleagues in this House, and especially for our colleagues from Quebec who belong to federalist parties. I want to make it perfectly clear that the motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois today is based on the traditional demands of all parties in Quebec's National Assembly. There is nothing new in it.

In its throne speech, the Conservative government told us about placing limits on the use of the federal spending power in shared-cost programs. The Conservative government decided to put restrictions on what Quebec has traditionally asked for. That is why we, the members of the Bloc Québécois, are working hard to defend the interests of Quebeckers. All parties have been making this demand for a long time now.

As far as I know, the Liberal Party in Quebec's National Assembly is a federalist party. It is hard to tell where the ADQ stands on this issue, but the Liberal Party in Quebec is a federalist party. This motion contains one of Quebec's traditional demands. Our colleagues must understand this. This is important because in this House, members too often fail to understand Quebec's demands.

Three Canadian provinces and three territories all have fewer inhabitants than the former city of Montreal. I am not talking about the new amalgamated city. Those provinces and territories may not have enough inhabitants to support programs, social or otherwise. Quebec does. Of all North American jurisdictions, Quebec does the best job of distributing wealth among its citizens.

Quebec is different when it comes to spending powers and provincial areas of jurisdiction. We did not invent them; they are in the Constitution of Canada. The areas of jurisdiction are in there. It was the federal government, in its Constitution, that decided on the division of powers, which would go to the provinces, and which would remain with federal government. The federal government's determination to invade provincial areas of jurisdiction simply means that there is too much money in Ottawa and not enough in the provinces. That is the hard reality.

We in the Bloc Québécois can understand Quebec's traditional claim. We have social programs and we lead the other Canadian provinces in wealth sharing. That is why we want to have as much control as possible over all the taxes collected in Quebec. Otherwise, let the federal government give Quebec its fair share. Let the federal government give Quebec full compensation, with no strings attached, for whatever Ottawa might decide to spend in other Canadian provinces for whatever programs it chooses. We have no problem with that. The problem is that we want Quebec to receive full, fair compensation with no strings attached. This is not hard. It is a traditional demand by Quebec's National Assembly.

All we are asking is that the federal government stop interfering in jurisdictions it does not have, as defined by the Canadian Constitution. If it does so in other provinces or territories, then it must give Quebec full financial compensation. That is all we are asking.

I do not understand why the federalist parties' MPs from Quebec are not supporting this motion today. It is the traditional demand by Quebec's National Assembly, which simply says to Ottawa that if Ottawa needs to create programs in other Canadian provinces because they need federal assistance, it should go ahead and create them. We have no problem with that. But it must give Quebec full financial compensation so that it can spend its own money where it wants, in accordance with the Canadian Constitution. There is nothing wrong with that.

Year after year, regardless of the party in power, both the Liberals and the Conservatives interfere in provincial areas of jurisdiction and create new programs trying get re-elected. This results in new programs and expectations, but in the end there is not enough money.

It should never be forgotten that more than half of our taxes go to the federal government. I heard colleagues saying that we had the same tax base. That is not true. More taxes are paid to Ottawa than Quebec, for once reason because federal corporate taxes are higher than provincial ones.

I have trouble understanding that today, in this House, there is no support for Quebec's traditional demand to eliminate the federal spending power in provincial areas of jurisdiction, when it is in line with the Canadian Constitution. I have a lot of trouble understanding that.

Furthermore, asymmetrical federalism, or the way it has been interpreted by the federalist parties here in Ottawa, has created this unfairness towards Quebec, which has never wanted this federalism. The province of Quebec never wanted it. Nevertheless, the federalist parties in Ottawa, and sometimes even members from Quebec, have continued to interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction in order to get elected, to win elections with promises that try to solve problems by throwing a little money around.

In the end, what Quebec wants when it is experiencing a crisis—such as the forestry crisis—is for the federal government to withdraw from regional development issues and give the envelope to Quebec so that it can organize its budgets to solve the forestry crisis, the manufacturing crisis or any other crisis that may arise.

As we all know, there is no will here in Ottawa. Quite simply, the government has decided that it does not have enough money to solve the problems or crises. The government should therefore withdraw from these areas of jurisdiction and allow the provinces to act. When regional development, health care or education programs are offered in other provinces, such as Quebec, the money should simply be given to that province.

There is nothing to worry about. Quebec has already proven that it is the best place in North America for sharing the wealth. We do so in the interest of our citizens, as we have always done, and done well. The federal government should never be afraid to give Quebec its envelope, its share for programs it creates in other parts of Canada. We know how to look after our citizens in Quebec.

As we all know, Quebeckers have shown unquestionable logic since 1993. They have been sending Bloc Québécois members here to defend only the interests of Quebeckers. One of those interests includes calling on the federal government to stop its use of the federal spending power in jurisdictions that belong to the provinces and to take care of its own business, particularly, national security.

We all know what happened in that case. During the 1990s, the federal government pulled out of national security, including security at ports and airports. It entrusted this responsibility to private companies, resulting in the security problems we have been having since 2001. Huge amounts of money now have to be reinvested. Why did the government do what it did? To turn around and spend money in areas of jurisdiction that belong to the provinces. That is what the federal government did.

Since the very beginning, if it had listened to Quebec, Canada would never have known these problems. It would have spent money on its own areas of jurisdiction. It would have taken care of its own affairs, rather than trying to meddle in the affairs of others.

That is the difficult reality of our situation. In the meantime, Quebec must manage crises that are different than those affecting other areas. Manufacturing is more important to our province than to others. We have been hit hard by the crisis resulting from the increase in the Canadian dollar, ushered in by the booming western economy where oil activity is doing well. This is spurring the Canadian dollar, which obviously hurts the manufacturing and forestry sectors, among others. It has hit us harder than others.

If we had full control over our money, our taxes, we could try to deal with the crises in our own way, in the Quebec way, as we have always done—by sharing the wealth and trying to help one another. That is our way—I am not making it up. With regard to sharing wealth, any economist will tell you that, in North America, Quebec does it the best. We have set the standard and we are proud to defend this interest. However, we do so without having complete control of our taxes.

In addition, the federal government appropriates more than half of Quebeckers' taxes and reinvests the money in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own. It does not return the money as we would hope. It attempts to create programs in order to be elected. They are all just as guilty—the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP would do the same thing. It would probably be worse if the NDP, a more centralizing party, were in power.

They try to be elected on the backs of Quebeckers, to take our taxes and to create structures and election platforms. That all goes against the interests of Quebeckers. If my colleagues truly wish to prove they take their interests to heart, they need only vote in favour of this mission. I challenge all members to do so.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the member mentioned that Quebec is a large province, but Canada is a very small country from the worldwide point of view and I believe we are the most decentralized country in the world.

The federal spending power is implicit in the British North America Act. It is recognized by the courts. It has been used by successive governments to implement programs, such as the Canada Health Act, employment insurance, Canada pension plan, old age pension, old age supplement, family allowance, the child tax benefit and so on. These social programs, which started mainly in the fifties, reflect Canadian values and reflect our shared destiny as a country.

Because of these programs that were implemented, maintained and enhanced by successive governments over the years, does the member not agree with me that we are a stronger country because of these programs?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how my colleague can see the strength of a country in what he tried to explain to us. However, I will use the example of health care, because it is obvious.

When the health care system was set up jointly with the provinces, the federal government was paying 50% of the bill. That was the commitment made by the federal government. However, in view of the fact that, with regard to health care, it only has the spending power, it decided in the 1990s to reduce provincial transfers in an attempt to eliminate its debt, or its deficit. Thus, in 2000, when I first came to the House of Commons, the federal government was footing only 13% of the bill. As you might have guessed, of course, Quebec and the other provinces were paying the difference. If this is the Canada that my colleague wants to sell to me, it will certainly be a tough sell.

One of the reasons in all likelihood is the intrusion of the federal government through its spending power. Under the Constitution, nothing forces the federal government to pay its fair share. Thus, it was able to adjust its budgets to the vagaries of its spending and, finally, cause grief to the provinces, including Quebec. This is one of the reasons why we are asking it today to give up this federal spending power.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for the clarity of his speech. Indeed, there is intrusion in the areas of provincial jurisdiction from one government to another, and it continues. Canada's Confederation was not created in this way. It divided powers very clearly, and that is what we want. We want at least that the terms of Confederation be respected.

My question is for my colleague. The current federal government—as the previous one—is constantly doing piecemeal management of issues that are not its business.

Is it because they are not interested in financial management? Do they think that this will bring them votes? They should restrain themselves and mind their own business, as my colleague just said. What is their business? It is the laws of Canada, international affairs and national defence. Or, is it because they are doing such a bad job of managing international affairs and national defence that they want to intrude in piecemeal financial management?

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi for his question. He is absolutely right. The worst thing about the Conservatives is that they give the impression they are trying to resolve the problem. The example of the federal spending power is quite striking. They give the impression they are going to restrict it, but then they add in cost-shared programs. That has not existed in five years. There is no longer any spending in cost-shared programs.

What is more, they try to use American-style politics where they fool people into believing that they want to resolve the problem, but in fact do nothing about it. It is so low and so pernicious. They try to convince people that they are different, but in reality nothing has changed. When they say they are going to restrict federal spending in cost-shared programs, that means they are going to continue to spend in other programs such as health, education and culture. We know what that means.

Once again, everything the federal government does, has done and will continue to do is simply in an effort to get votes. Why are the Conservatives doing this? Why are they investing in jurisdictions that do not belong to them? They are trying to win votes. Quebeckers figured that out a long time ago—or they will figure it out.

That is why, if there is an election one of these days, there will still be a large Bloc Québécois contingent here in this House.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this debate on the motion by the Bloc. I want to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.

A little over a month ago, I stood as a candidate in the byelection for the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean against the Bloc candidate. The Bloc had held this riding for 14 years. That election was a direct struggle between the platform of the Bloc, which is one of separation and impotence, and the platform of my party, which is one of equity, unity and openness.

The voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted on September 17 for openness over impotence. They preferred our federalism of openness. They saw what our government, led by our Prime Minister, can accomplish for Quebec, which is real results. That is why they gave us their support. So it is with a great deal of emotion that I rise today in this House to oppose this motion by the Bloc.

Our government is committed to practising a federalism of openness that recognizes the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of our great country. We are committed to respecting the fields of jurisdiction that are exclusively provincial and ensuring a proper accounting by clarifying roles and responsibilities. In a little over a year, we have kept our word. We have done what we promised to do.

We have taken action by restoring fiscal balance in Canada, by basing fiscal arrangements on principles and by making long term funding predictable. Indeed, thanks to the restoration of fiscal balance, federal support to the provinces and territories has reached unprecedented heights.

In the Speech from the Throne, we presented other measures promoting our concept of a federalism of openness. We made a commitment to introduce legislation that will place formal limits of the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. At the same time, the legislation will allow provinces to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.

It is not a case of disparaging the federal spending power, as the leader of the Bloc did when he spoke in this House in reply to the Speech from the Throne. He called for the elimination of the federal spending power as one of the five conditions for his party’s support of the Speech from the Throne. Today, we have before the House a motion from his party in support of his proposal.

The federal spending power has been an important factor in social development throughout our history. It has made it possible to set up national social programs, such as health insurance, in concert with the provincial and territorial governments. It has played a vital role in promoting equality of opportunity for all Canadians. It has also helped ensure that Canadians have access to basic social services of comparable quality, wherever they live.

For our government, the debate is not to eliminate the federal spending power, but to define new rules for its judicious use. Total elimination of the spending power without exception would be contrary to the interest of Canadians, Quebeckers included, for it would prevent the federal government, for example, from allocating funds to education and to health transfers.

I personally know what the result of eliminating the federal spending power would be for my electors in Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. It is clear: elimination means separation. A party that proposes such a motion in this House should be aware of the contradiction in what it is asking. One cannot on the one hand demand an end to the federal spending power and on the other call for the federal government to invest in communities that are experiencing economic difficulties.

Unfortunately, that is the spirit of the Bloc: the spirit of contradiction. That is why the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted for real change on September 17. They voted for real results. They voted for a party that understands the problems of Quebec and knows how to solve them. They voted for the party that has the will to strengthen the Canadian federation by recognizing the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of this great country. They voted to build a stronger Quebec within a better Canada.

A solid federation and a dynamic democracy make Canada strong and united. Our practice of federalism enables us to establish a fair balance. We can pursue national objectives while taking account of the various local and regional concerns.

In reality, the Bloc should acknowledge the wisdom shown by our founders, the Fathers of Confederation, in opting for open federalism. For this is the formula best adapted to the changing needs and aspirations of Canadians. The flexibility of the Canadian federation is well suited to seeking solutions to public policy issues, and helps us to meet the challenges before us.

The success of the Canadian federation is admired throughout the world. Some see us as a model of effective governance. Other see us as a model of respect and recognition of diversity, and others still as a model of the search for a pragmatic consensus. This is the model country that the Bloc Québécois wants to destroy. As I said earlier, the voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean realized this. They recognized all the other advantages of our federation and what our government can do for Quebec, and this is why they voted against the Bloc Québécois and for our party on September 17.

When we took power in 2006, it was clear that federalism was not working as it should. It was a federalism based on the old dynamic of federal-provincial conflict. It was a centralizing and domineering style of federalism, which wanted Quebec to stay in its place. It was chequebook federalism and was not based on principles.

Since unexpected federal surpluses were used to spend huge amounts of money in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, often without much consultation, some government initiatives were implemented without stable, long-term federal funding.

The days of this style of paternalistic federalism are long gone. Our government practises an open federalism, which is based on the notion of a strong national government working with strong provincial and territorial governments.

The key to the future that we see for Canadians is a federalism of openness in which all Canadians, whether they live in Roberval, Moose Jaw or Nunavut, can participate.

Our open federalism is one that recognizes the maturation and evolution of the provinces and territories within the federation. It is one that respects the important role that the provinces clearly have to play in the development of national policies. It is also a federalism that respects the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and limits the federal spending power.

Our government honours its commitments to its provincial partners: that is just as true of Quebec as of any other province. We have taken concrete steps to do so thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister. We will continue to play a leadership role in order to promote national interests in collaboration with the provinces and territories.

We will continue to affirm the importance of maintaining an open, honest and respectful relationship with the provinces and territories.

We will continue to affirm the vital contribution of the Quebec nation within the Canadian federation.

As set out in the throne speech, our government will table its bill placing formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. And as further set out there, this bill will allow the provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.

I can tell the hon. members from the Bloc that our policy on the federal spending power reflects our will to strengthen our federation and make it more effective, in a manner that fully respects the areas of jurisdiction of each member of the federation.

Our will to establish a more effective federal-provincial partnership is resolute. As the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean have indicated, Quebeckers, like all other Canadians, want to see their governments working together, cooperating to advance the progress and prosperity of all.

Inspired by this desire of the people, our government is pursuing the mission with which Canadians entrusted it in January 2006. Our government, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, shall not stray from this policy. And that is to the full advantage of Quebec, Canada and Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, our new colleague from the party newly in power prides himself on having won a seat in his region after a 14-year-long Bloc Québécois reign. Fortunately I do not have a large ego, since I could really talk about us ending 87 years of Liberal reign in my riding of Papineau. I have a hard time understanding the member's thinking about the fiscal imbalance and the proposed limitation on the federal spending power in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

I would like to ask him—since he must have learned the lesson recently—what is his definition of the words “fiscal imbalance” and what is his view of the federal spending power in its own areas of jurisdiction.

Opposition Motion—Federal Spending PowerBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I am new in this House, but I am not the only one, because other members have also been at one time. As the full time mayor of a municipality that had huge needs, I was able to see the importance of money transfers to help our communities. When, as mayor of a municipality, I received a gasoline excise tax transfer to improve municipal infrastructures—I will only refer to this aspect—I was able to see how important it is to have a cooperating central government that is working with all the provinces.

I am taking this opportunity to say that some are quick to claim to know what is perceived in Quebec as being the thing to do. On October 17—which is not long ago—minister Benoit Pelletier said:

How can we, on the one hand, urge the federal government to invest in single industry towns and, on the other hand, ask for the complete elimination of the federal spending power?

The fact is that if we completely and bluntly eliminate the federal spending power, we are also eliminating at the same time all the payments and all the transfers, including equalization payments.

I strongly object to being told that Bloc members are the only ones who can represent Quebeckers. I can represent the interests of Quebeckers just as legitimately as them.