Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. I would like to begin by thanking the people of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for once again entrusting me with the task of representing them here in the House of Commons, with a majority of just over 15,000 votes. I extend my warmest thanks to them.
Obviously, I believe I am entitled to speak on their behalf, like any member of any party in this House. Even though ours is a sovereigntist party, it has always respected democracy and our position within Parliament. We have always respected the way Parliament works and the Constitution that still binds us to Canada and will continue to bind us until we have our own country, something we will achieve legally and democratically.
Today, we are talking about an economic statement that is part of the democratic process in Canada. There was a Speech from the Throne, and the Minister of Finance had the job of giving this economic statement. The government had to make choices. In an economic statement, the government can simply describe the economic situation, or it can announce new programs and new investments. The Conservative government made a choice. In the midst of an economic crisis, it chose not to take the bull by the horns and not to attack the economic crisis directly.
That is why the Bloc Québécois is the only party that proposed an investment plan—worth $23 billion—and it has never hidden that fact. We made these proposals in light of what was happening with the global economy. The European Union tabled a $200 billion development and investment plan. The United States tabled an $800 billion development and investment plan. The Bloc Québécois proposed a $23 billion plan, which the Government of Canada can afford. We never hid that fact. This plan was meant to help the poorest members of our society, people who have lost their jobs, seniors, women, people in need, as well as businesses. I will describe this plan during my speech.
Our goal was to deal with the crisis, which the Prime Minister had referred to when he called the election. Why did he go against his own fixed election date legislation, which would have had us going to the polls in October 2009? Because there was a global economic crisis.
The problem, as we saw during the election campaign, is that the Conservative ideology will always be there. There has been no solution to the problem of the forestry and manufacturing crisis, which started well before the monetary crisis we are seeing today. The free market was given free rein. That is what the economic statement is proposing once again: laissez-faire, once more. The economic statement plans to deregulate investments. One of the measures in this economic statement would allow foreign companies to buy Canadian businesses. They want to give the market free rein, and they say it will regulate itself. Well that will not happen, and that is the tragedy.
The other countries in the world have understood this, and that is why Europe has invested $200 billion, and the Americans have invested $800 billion. Those are the facts of the matter. Right-wing Conservative ideology has seen its day.
That is why the Bloc Québécois cannot support a government that does not understand the problems people are experiencing. Bloc Québécois MPs are there on the ground. The men and women who are my colleagues, who were elected in the last election campaign, know this, because every day and every weekend they are there talking to the people. We know the tragedy that is happening in the forestry and manufacturing regions. We keep on top of the current economic crisis that is preventing our constituents from buying what they would like to buy for Christmas. We understand this. We are therefore in a better position than a lot of others are to say in this House that we have to invest in concrete measures. The reason the Bloc Québécois cannot support the statement is quite simply because the Conservative government has presented an ideological right-wing statement. We are considering the best interests of the Quebec nation. What that nation wants right now is for the economic crisis to be resolved the way the other countries in the world are doing.
That is quite simply it. That is why yesterday you surely saw, as we did, that three opposition parties signed an agreement to deny this government any further legitimacy. The Canadian federalist system is governed by English law. When the government no longer has the confidence of the House, it cannot continue to govern. Those are the facts. The Conservatives can rant on in this House until they are blue in the face, but their economic statement was not up to the task, and yesterday, with the stroke of a pen, the opposition parties decided to try to form a coalition government, as the Canadian constitution allows them to do. In my opinion, it will be much more effective at tackling the economic crisis than the present government.
So the facts of the matter are simple. The Governor General will have to settle it, because as of yesterday this Conservative government no longer has a legitimate claim to govern. It is as simple as that, and that is how it is. That is how democracy, how British parliamentarianism, says it is. That is why the sovereignists in the Bloc Québécois, in the best interests of the Quebec nation, have allied with the Liberal and New Democratic federalists. The Conservative Party can call us all the names it likes, but the fact remains that they are still federasts. The Conservatives decided to do what suited them, flying in the face of the entire British parliamentary system.
The Prime Minister should ask the Governor General today to turn the government over to the coalition formed yesterday. That is the reality. The Conservatives will go to any lengths over the next few days to keep trying to persuade us that they are right. They should have tabled an economic statement that was respectful of the public will. The Bloc Québécois had extended its hand. We submitted a program proposing $23 billion in investments. The finance minister congratulated us on it and thanked us, but there was no sign of it in the economic statement.
We worked hard, therefore, to try to deal with the situation, to extend our hand with a plan for $23 billion in investments to counter the economic crisis, as they are doing in Europe and the United States. But the Conservative Party decided to ignore these desires. That was its choice, but now it should respect the democratic choice, and very simply, under the British parliamentary system, a government that no longer enjoys the confidence of the House cannot continue in office. That is the reality. It does not have anything to do with the popular vote. The popular vote elects representatives to sit in this House, and these representatives must have confidence in the government. As of yesterday, they no longer have that confidence.
Why? Because the economic statement we are discussing today does not reflect what the majority of the people represented by us, the members of this House in all the political parties. We want to resolve the economic crisis quickly. We just want to deal with it. The right-wing Conservative ideology is laissez-faire—just let the economy take its course and clean up the mess afterwards. That is not a solution, and it is not the approach that other countries in the world have taken to deal with this unprecedented crisis. We have not seen anything like it since the Great Depression of the 1920s. That is the reality.
We are facing a new situation. No two economic crises are ever the same. This is a new approach and it is the one that the governments of the world have decided to take in order to tackle this crisis. They are going to inject cash into their economies to try to get through the recession. If we had done the same for the forestry sector, we would not be talking about a crisis there today. It would have been taken care of. The Conservatives decided not to deal with the crisis in forestry, and it is just piled up now on top of the banking crisis, the credit crisis, and so forth. We are going from crisis to crisis. We are making the problem bigger and nothing will get done under this government. It is finished.
The Conservatives should realize this and give the opposition a chance. It is not easy to tackle an economic crisis and decide as a party to form a coalition in the House of Commons with other parties in order to get through the crisis and try to deal with the fate of the weakest and most deprived members of our society. That is not easy. The Conservatives decided to do nothing, and that is their prerogative. But let them stand aside and allow the coalition to do it because we believe that in a wealthy country like Canada we will be able to overcome this crisis and help the weakest, most vulnerable members of our society.
That ideological choice was not just laissez-faire economics. The Conservatives also decided to attack workers' rights by suspending the right to strike and to pay equity. They used the economic crisis to deal with some ideological issues that are dear to activists' hearts.
Conservative members will no doubt have plenty of letters and emails to show us. Naturally. There is a right-wing economics movement that wants to suspend workers' rights, send women back home, suspend women's rights in the workplace, and so on. That is an ideological choice, but it is not the choice that the majority of Canadians made. The Conservative members have to accept that. We believe that we have every right to rise in this House, because Quebec pays its share of sales and income taxes to the federal government.
My background is in municipal affairs. I was president of the Union des municipalités du Québec from 1997 to 2000, and I was a mayor for 17 years. In our geopolitical context, there are three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal.
I always feel disillusioned when I see that the federal government—which has the most money because it gets over 50% of all income and sales taxes collected in Canada—does not do anything about health care because the provinces are responsible for health care. It does nothing about education because the provinces are responsible for education. It does nothing about transportation. It looks after a few bridges, but does nothing about the roads because, for the most part, structures and infrastructure are under provincial or municipal jurisdiction.
One might expect the federal government to implement this program because it collects most of the sales and income taxes. One might also expect the federal government to transfer money into a major program to help maintain infrastructure managed by other levels of government. But seeing how the Department of Canadian Heritage maintains its own heritage buildings, it is clear that the government cannot even look after its own buildings.
One might expect the federal government to participate in the management of buildings administered by the provinces, because it collects most of the taxes. That is the kind of thing the Bloc Québécois is calling for. The Bloc is calling for investments in infrastructure to be accelerated and for gas tax transfers for infrastructure to be increased from 3¢ to 5¢ right away, rather than in 2010. Most economists support this kind of one-off assistance. Investment in infrastructure is one way to help address the economic crisis. It would give people jobs, upgrade buildings and get our workers back to work in order to help the economy.
The Bloc Québécois also proposed eliminating the two week waiting period in the employment insurance program, a program that has been paid for entirely by employers and employees since 1996. The federal government does not contribute a single cent. Once again, while this economic crisis is causing people to lose their jobs, the people affected need their money right away, especially since the holiday season is just around the corner. Yet they continue to be penalized by the two week waiting period. The minister rose in this House to tell us that it was standard practice, since private insurance also has a waiting period. But when you think about it, employment insurance is paid for entirely by employers and employees.
Furthermore, if employers and employees were asked if they would like to see the waiting period eliminated, they would immediately agree. Even employers that must shut down parts of their businesses could not oppose the idea of their employees receiving their benefits immediately, instead of having to face two weeks with no income. Losing one's job can cause family problems. This is a minor request that would not cost the government very much, but it was denied.
The same goes for a program for older worker adjustment, which would provide workers aged 55 and older who lose their jobs with a basic income until they receive their pension. It would also bridge the salary gap for workers who find work that does not pay as well, until they reach the age of 65. This measure would cost $45 million, but was rejected by the Conservative government. The Bloc Québécois has been proposing many things to help the least fortunate in our society, but these suggestions have all been rejected by the Conservative Party with its right-wing ideology.
The Conservatives are attacking workers' rights at a time when the unemployment rate in Alberta is 3%. That amounts to full employment and there is even a shortage of workers. In Alberta, employers are forced to offer higher wages if they hope to find employees. That may be normal there but it is not the case in the rest of Canada. The navel-gazing must stop. The Conservative Party must stop viewing Alberta as the centre of the universe. They have to be able to see what is happening throughout Canada. The Bloc Québécois has always been open-minded in its work in Parliament.
We are sensitive to the fate of men and women who have paid and continue to pay taxes, to those who are losing their jobs and need assistance, to the manufacturing and forestry sectors that are in trouble and need help getting through the crisis. Over the past five years, the mining sector also went through tough times, but it recovered. The economy is cyclical. We all know that. The way to help a sector is to support it in times of crisis until the economy recovers. Then we can help another sector. That is how it is. That is why governments are elected.
The Conservative government came to power. It is a minority government and it knows very well that to have the confidence of the House it must at least have the support of a majority of members. It must therefore obtain the support of another political party and propose measures acceptable to the opponents it faced in the last election. That is the fact of the matter.
If the Conservatives do not accept it, that is a political choice. They are, moreover, dealing today with the result: the agreement signed yesterday by the opposition parties. The specific purpose of that agreement is to have a new government, one that will be far more open—a left-of-centre government—in compensation for the recent years of right-of-centre economics that have prevailed in Canada. Incidentally, that is not the approach that has been adopted by other countries in the world. Europe has decided to be left of centre, as have the Americans. It is a choice.
An unprecedented crisis is looming all over the world. We need a government that listens to the public, and listens to business, in order to try to solve the problems. We must not just wait for them to solve themselves. That is the reality. This is a democratic choice that must be respected by the Conservative members of this House. The British parliamentary system requires the Governor General to be the one to settle this, and in my opinion, the sooner, the better.
I have been saying this right from the start. Since yesterday, since the very moment that the three opposition parties signed the agreement for a coalition government, that party has no more legitimacy in this House. It must go to the Governor General. Doing anything else would just be an attempt to buy some time and stay in power. According to the rules of the British parliamentary system, for a government to govern it must have the confidence of this House. When that historic agreement was signed, that confidence was lost.
That leads me back to the economic statement. The entire situation has arisen out of the fact that the Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance lacked judgment. The main conclusion history will reach from this is that we had a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance who, for purely partisan reasons, and because they believed that the Liberals were not just on their knees but totally down and out, decided to just steamroller over them.
They found out that the Liberal Party still had a backbone. They are also well aware that the Bloc Québécois has always had a backbone. In fact, that is why we are so strong here. Quebeckers elected a majority of members from the Bloc Québécois, because this party stands tall. We will never be afraid of anyone, anywhere, anytime. We will defend the rights of Quebeckers in this Parliament as long as we pay taxes to Ottawa. We are not afraid to do so, and we never will be. We have always respected democracy in this Parliament, and we will continue to do so as long as we are here.
Obviously, we will support this coalition government until June 2010. We are in the midst of an economic crisis, and it is in the best interests of the Quebec nation that we take action to deal with this economic crisis for the sake of the men and women who have lost their jobs, who could lose their jobs or who could have financial problems. We must do what all the other countries of the world are doing. The European Union has invested $200 billion, and the United States, $800 billion. The Bloc Québécois proposed injecting $23 billion into the economy. That is what is needed. This is no time to be dogmatic and embrace a right-wing ideology. Yet the Conservatives are doing just that and are determined to take a laissez-faire approach to this crisis. That did not work for the forestry crisis, which still exists. Now, the automotive industry is in an unprecedented crisis caused by a credit crunch. I hope the Conservatives will realize that it is time they respected democracy.