Mr. Speaker, first of all I wish to congratulate each and every member on their victories in the last election. I would also like to thank the voters of Laurier—Sainte-Marie who elected me for the seventh consecutive time.
We have all savoured the joy of victory and the time has now come to carry out to the fullest our very important responsibilities. These are times of crisis and our constituents are counting on us. There are times in political life, particularly in a minority Parliament, where ideology and a lack of openness are decidedly out of place. These are such times. The circumstances demand that we focus our efforts on the needs of the people.
Therefore, it is with a sense of urgency, and also a desire for openness, that the Bloc Québécois begins this Parliament. We announced in advance that we intend to take a constructive approach and we made certain proposals for the Speech from the Throne. The Bloc Québécois was quite prepared to compromise. It is possible to do so without renouncing the principles on which we were elected.
Unfortunately, this openness and feeling of urgency are missing from the Speech from the Throne the Conservatives have given us, as a result of three factors: first, the Prime Minister continues to be completely insensitive to the effects of the crisis on Canadians and on the economy; second, the Conservatives have learned nothing from the outcome of the last election in Quebec; and third, this throne speech looks like the last Conservative Party convention, that is, it is grounded in conservative ideology. The Bloc Québécois will therefore have no choice but to oppose passage of this throne speech.
As I said, we are going through some very serious crises. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs in recent months, particularly in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. Some people are very worried. I am thinking in particular of retirees who have seen their savings disappear, workers in the forestry industry who are seeing their plants close down, one by one, workers in the manufacturing industry who too are seeing their co-workers lose their jobs by the tens of thousands. We are in a crisis, and the federal government has a decisive role to play in supporting people and the economy, and it has the resources to do that.
This was not the case in the past. I was elected for the first time in 1990, a year marked by a major economic recession. The unemployment rate in Quebec climbed to 13% in 1993. People experienced a great deal of hardship at the time. In the early 1990s, public finances were in a deplorable state, and governments were left with less leeway. In 1993, the federal government generated a $39 billion deficit, representing 31% of budget revenue.
The government’s primary responsibility, as we enter this crisis, is to make sure that people do not suffer too badly from this economic situation. The government must do what it can with the resources available to it, and this time it has considerable resources. Since 1998, the government has generated surpluses of over $100 billion. Restoring public finances and achieving these huge surpluses came at the price of the considerable sacrifices people had to make. It is now time to put these vast financial resources to work for the people who created them, to use them in the service of the public.
I would point out that the government has financial assets—I am not talking about federal buildings—amounting to tens of billions of dollars. I would also point out that the government is in a position to achieve major savings in its spending on bureaucracy, without laying anyone off, and that it can and must eliminate the tax breaks granted to the big oil companies and tighten the rules that for too long have allowed the wealthiest people to take advantage of tax havens.
The federal government has tremendous financial means at its disposal; failing to use those means in a time of crisis would be crazy. The federal government has a critical role to play in supporting people and the economy in times of crisis.
The government has the financial and legislative means to act decisively. Unfortunately, the will to do so was not expressed in the throne speech. It is sad to see such a lack of leadership. In light of the tremendous determination of governments in Europe, the United States and China, and their will to act, it is sad to see this government's pathological timidity and blatant lack of sensitivity.
It was the government's job to be clear about its desire to provide a workable plan to support businesses in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. That is a priority for Quebec and its regions. Instead, we got vague promises.
Thousands of workers have already lost their jobs in the forestry sector, yet the government is bent on staying its disastrous course. That sends a terrible message to thousands of workers, communities and regions that rely on the forestry industry: “You are on your own.” That is unacceptable.
We are not asking the government to throw money out the window. We are asking it to do its part by introducing intelligent, substantive measures that will enhance our economy's productivity—measures that will enable Quebec's economy and Canada's economy to save and create jobs and to emerge stronger from this crisis.
Such measures include loans and loan guarantees for the purchase of new production equipment for the forestry and manufacturing sectors and refundable tax credits for research and development.
We will soon be making new, concrete, costed proposals. We are ready to debate our proposals in the House in good faith. There are millions of jobs at stake. This is about the lives of millions of people and entire regions. I want to make one thing clear: no government member will be able to look any Canadian in the eye if, having helped the banks and the oil companies, it refuses to help economic sectors that employ millions of people. There is no excuse for that kind of negligence, none whatsoever.
The Prime Minister also showed that he had learned nothing from the latest election results in Quebec, by upholding the decision to cut subsidies to economic development organizations. We expected this government to show some openness and to reverse this decision, to show its willingness to respect the Quebec nation's way of doing things. Reversing this decision would not have cost a cent. Instead, the Prime Minister decided to be stubborn and to impose a decision for no good reason. This is not acceptable.
I would also like to remind the Prime Minister that culture, one of the building blocks of the Quebec nation, represents 314,000 jobs in Quebec. We asked him to commit to reinstating cultural programs, as did the Government of Quebec, municipalities, regions and artists. This foolish decision to make unjustified cuts to culture was at the heart of the last election campaign. But no, the government chose to be stubborn once again, for no good reason. This is not acceptable to the Quebec nation.
The government announced that it was willing to accelerate investments in infrastructure through Building Canada, and that is good. But why not commit to accelerating the excise tax transfer to municipalities, or to creating a high-speed train link between Quebec City, Montreal and Windsor? The government also needs to inject money into the economy by investing in affordable housing. Members will remember that there is a huge surplus at the CMHC.
Government assistance for financial institutions must be contingent on banks offering credit under normal conditions to individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses. There was none about this in the throne speech. But how can we go along with the government rescuing banks but not imposing minimum conditions, which would simply require the banks to do their job?
Lastly, reducing Quebec's dependence on oil is also necessary. This economic crisis should not distract us from our environmental responsibilities.
With a bit of courage, this challenge could be used as a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate and modernize our economies and ensure the prosperity of future generations. We want the government to commit to a change in course by no longer supporting an oil economy and by applying the Kyoto principles, as unanimously voted for by Quebec's National Assembly. Yet, the word “Kyoto“ does not appear in the Speech from the Throne. There is nothing in the throne speech to indicate that the Prime Minister has finally abandoned his role as the main lobbyist for Canada's oil industry. In fact, the Prime Minister has promised to provide even more assistance to oil producers by relaxing regulations. And he is committing to supporting the nuclear industry with our taxes.
Economically, the Conservative government has shown an appalling lack of leadership. With respect to the environment, it has its head in the sand. The worst part is that the Prime Minister is once again showing his complete lack of sensitivity towards the public. The federal government was able to put its fiscal house in order thanks to the sacrifices of Quebeckers and Canadians. Workers were literally pillaged by Ottawa. A good portion of the federal surplus came from the surplus in the employment insurance fund. Again last year, the government siphoned $2.3 billion off the fund. This cannot be allowed to continue. It is the government's duty to help those who have lost their jobs.
For example, nothing is stopping the government from eliminating the two-week waiting period or from enhancing the system by expanding access to it and finally offering an income support program for older workers. Eliminating the waiting period would cost next to nothing and an income support program for older workers would only cost the federal government $45 million a year. Not a single word was mentioned about this in the Speech from the Throne.
The government also has a responsibility to help seniors and retirees who are being hit by the financial crisis. For example, the government could change the rules for RRSPs. There was nothing about this in the throne speech.
By embarking on a major program to build and renovate affordable housing, the government would stimulate economic recovery while helping low-income families. By creating incentive programs to reduce home energy use and encourage people to buy green cars, the government would stimulate recovery while helping families. We must support people.
We can stimulate economic recovery and, at the same time, reduce poverty and help families breathe a bit. But there is nothing about that in the throne speech. There is no vision, no ambition, no compassion. We were very disappointed, and I am certain that the people of Canada are as well.
In the 1990s, cuts to employment insurance forced many unemployed people onto welfare, adding to the financial burden on Quebec and the provinces. At the same time, Ottawa cut transfers to Quebec and the provinces, downloading its deficit onto them.
The results were disastrous. These cuts dealt a blow to the health and education systems across the country and seriously weakened the finances of the other levels of government. That is how the fiscal imbalance was created. This downloading by the federal government was a real catastrophe, and we would like to believe that no federal government will ever again do such a thing. Unfortunately, the current government has said it intends to reduce and cap equalization payments.
One of the first actions this government plans to take could reduce transfers to Quebec and the have-not provinces by hundreds of millions of dollars. This is completely unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and to Quebec, especially since the federal government still has not cleaned up its own act. Operating costs—bureaucratic expenditures—have gone up by 75% in the past nine years.
We expected the government to clearly state its intention to shoulder its responsibilities, without going back on its promises to Quebec and the provinces.
We also expected a clear commitment from the government that it would completely eliminate the fiscal imbalance. Instead, in the Speech from the Throne, the government reiterated its old formula based on the social union agreement, which the Government of Quebec has already rejected a number of times. The Prime Minister is again repeating another empty promise regarding a charter of open federalism.
In the throne speech, the government said it has increased transfers for post-secondary education, which is false. Yet, to ensure a sustainable economic future, nothing is more important than investing in education. To that end, the government must restore post-secondary education transfers to 1995 levels, that is, before the cuts imposed in the 1990s. For Quebec, this would mean $820 million.
We were willing to compromise and accept, for instance, that these transfers be restored gradually, over several years. Instead, the government decided to turn its back on the fiscal imbalance. This is unacceptable for Quebec and for the Bloc Québécois.
The Prime Minister has said nothing about this fundamental principle whereby the federal government must shoulder its financial and fiscal responsibilities. Instead, the Minister of Finance wants to scale down the government's commitments to Quebec and the provinces, and ignore its promise to correct the fiscal imbalance, while refusing to clean up its own bureaucratic spending. This shows an appalling lack of leadership and we want no part of it.
During the recent election campaign, the Prime Minister declared his love for Quebec, pointing out that he had recognized the Quebec nation. Accordingly, the least one might have expected from the throne speech was that it contain a general principle to the effect that the federal government's policies and legislation should take the existence of the Quebec nation into account in some concrete fashion.
Quebec asked the federal government to begin negotiations to return jurisdiction for culture to Quebec, which would be entirely reasonable for a nation. There is no mention of this in the Speech from the Throne.
When you recognize a nation, you must also recognize in concrete terms its language, culture, way of doing things and values. Yet, the government is once again attempting to impose its will on Quebec by introducing repressive laws against young offenders, reducing the political clout of the Quebec nation and creating a federal securities commission to concentrate its powers in Toronto rather than helping Quebec.
The Prime Minister is promising new intrusions into health and education. And if he insists on proceeding with the dismantling of the gun registry, as he indicated in the throne speech, he could at least have proposed that this responsibility and the corresponding funds be transferred to the Government of Quebec.
The government was asked to not reopen the debate on abortion in the throne speech. Yet, this Speech from the Throne is the logical and ideological continuation of the last Conservative Party of Canada convention.
The Bloc Québécois cannot accept such indifference towards the Quebec nation, its aspirations, values and interests.
The Prime Minister's throne speech demonstrates that he has written off Quebec, not learned a thing from the election and that his love for Quebec was just plain rhetoric.
Just two months ago, the Prime Minister called an early election, claiming that this House had become dysfunctional and that he wanted a strong mandate to face the economic crisis. The public decided to keep him in a minority government, particularly in Quebec. But the Prime Minister did not understand this message. He refused to be open and to make compromises in his throne speech, and preferred once again to focus on Conservative ideology.
The Conservative leader refuses to show leadership by providing strong support for the economy. The Prime Minister still shows the same lack of sensitivity towards the people who are affected by or very worried about the crisis.
Lastly, the Prime Minister showed that he learned nothing from what Quebeckers expressed in the last election.
This throne speech has no vision or direction, is offensive to Quebec, and lacks the sense of urgency or broad outlook that one would expect from a Prime Minister in a time of crisis.
This is why I move, seconded by the member for Joliette, that the amendment be amended by adding after the words “in the opposition” the following:
“that the House recognize that the Speech from the Throne is unanimously decried in Quebec because it reflects a Conservative ideology that was rejected by 78 percent of the Quebec nation on October 14 and that as a result the House denounce the fact that it does not respond to the consensus in Quebec respecting, for instance, the legislation on young offenders, the repatriation to Quebec of powers over culture and communications, the elimination of the federal spending power and the maintenance of the existing system of securities regulation.”