Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to respond to the question put by the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup on the federal spending power.
I would first like to remind the hon. member that on November 22, 2006, the Prime Minister affirmed that the Québécois form a nation within Canada. Certainly, that was an unprecedented and historic step on the part of a Canadian Prime Minister. It was also consistent with the government's unprecedented efforts to restoring fiscal balance.
Our government committed to working together with our provincial and territorial partners to build a better future for our country, and that is exactly what we are doing. For Quebeckers this means unprecedented support from the federal government of over $16.7 billion in 2008-09, an increase of $1.6 billion from last year and over $4.5 billion since 2005-06.
Quebec will see $8 billion in 2008-09 in equalization, an increase of over 67% from 2005-06. Payments to Quebec under equalization have increased by almost $870 million or 12.1% from 2007-08. Quebec will also receive $5.5 billion through the Canada health transfer and $2.5 billion through the Canada social transfer.
After more than a decade of uncertainty caused by the previous Liberal government, this Conservative government answered the call from the provinces and territories, and has provided long term predictable funding. In fact, budget 2007, which dealt with the fiscal balance, was very well received in the province of Quebec.
Former Quebec finance minister Yves Séguin called it prudent, realistic and “a big step forward”. He said that it significantly redressed a long time sore spot, the fiscal imbalance.
More recently, budget 2008 ended the millennium scholarships and replaced them by a bigger student grant program and streamlined the loan system. This gets Ottawa out of a provincial jurisdiction. Quebec will be able to opt out of the grant system with full compensation and it should be more useful to more students. A Montreal Gazette editorial stated:
Quebec will welcome this. It's no wonder [the Liberal leader] quickly said he would not vote against this budget.
Similarly, a new crown corporation to set employment insurance rates on a break even basis meets another longstanding demand of Quebec. Clearly, this government is fulfilling its long standing commitment to respect jurisdiction.
However, the Bloc Québécois voted against budget 2008 and Quebeckers have taken notice that the Bloc's rhetoric does not match its actions. In the spirit of open federalism, budget 2008 and the Speech from the Throne committed to formerly limiting the federal spending power through legislation.