Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain is asking the government to drop the idea of unilaterally amending the equalization formula, and I fully support his motion.
Indeed, in the 2007 budget, the Conservative government boasted about restoring fiscal balance by, among other measures, reaching an agreement on the equalization formula. That is confirmed in this excerpt taken from an annex to the budget:
Budget 2007 puts in place a renewed and strengthened Equalization program, legislated through 2013-14 to provide long-term predictability for provinces.
Let me repeat it again: “...to provide long-term predictability for provinces.”
In its 2009 budget, in the midst of a global economic crisis that is also affecting Quebec, the federal government is going back on its word and imposes a limit on transfers, thus depriving Quebec of about $1 billion, compared to what was anticipated.
At the same time, the Conservative government is providing $1 billion for the establishment of a new southern Ontario development agency. This is in addition to the $2.7 billion given to the auto industry, which is primarily based in Ontario, while Quebec's manufacturing and forestry sectors are only getting a few million dollars.
Yet, Quebec is hard hit by the economic crisis. The federal government's laisser-faire attitude in recent years regarding the needs of the manufacturing sector only adds to the problems generated by the crisis.
Then there is the unilateral amendment to the equalization formula. This change is a step backwards. Quebec and the provinces will lose hard won gains that had been made regarding the fiscal imbalance.
Moreover, in the middle of the holiday period, the government published in the Canada Gazette changes affecting the status of Hydro One revenues, Ontario's hydro company, in the equalization calculations, thus favouring Ontario. Indeed, from now on, the federal government will consider Hydro One's revenues as business revenues rather than natural resource revenues.
Why is Hydro-Québec not being treated like Hydro One? Two thirds of Hydro-Québec's revenues come from its transportation and distribution activities, while one third comes from electricity production.
By refusing to give Hydro-Québec's distribution and transportation revenues the same treatment that it granted to Hydro One, the Conservative government is cheating Quebec out of an additional $250 million in annual revenues. The Conservative government is once again using a double standard when dealing with Quebec and Ontario.
We are in a time of crisis, and it is the government's duty to act. Two weeks ago, Pratt & Whitney, which is headquartered in my riding, announced that it would be forced to lay off a thousand workers at plants around the world. It goes without saying that several hundred Quebec workers will be affected by these job losses.
Over half of those who lose their jobs are not eligible for employment insurance. Those who are eligible have to suffer through a two-week waiting period before they can collect benefits. The Conservative government has abandoned Quebec and those of its workers affected by the crisis.
The Conservative government has thumbed its nose at Kyoto, has refused to set absolute greenhouse gas reduction targets, and has set 2006 as the base year instead of 1990, despite the demands of environmental groups. In so doing, it has deprived Quebec of the tools it needs to renew its economy. Kyoto would be lucrative for Quebec.
According to Canada's greenhouse gas inventory, Canada's emissions rose by 21.8% between 1990 and 2006. That pathetic record would be even worse without Quebec's 1.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over that period, during which Alberta raised its emissions by 36%, and Saskatchewan by 63%.
Quebec's manufacturing sector alone reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 24% between 1990 and 2006. That is four times the target set by the Kyoto protocol, achieved six years before the deadline.
Just imagine if Quebec could participate in an emissions credits exchange, a carbon exchange located in Montreal. Companies exploiting the oil sands in Alberta could buy emissions credits from Quebec manufacturing companies, thereby doing their part in the fight against climate change undertaken by industrialized nations in 1997 when the Kyoto protocol was signed.
The Conservatives must not use the economic crisis as an excuse for their laissez-faire approach to the environment. Instead, we should see the crisis as an opportunity to make the green shift that will renew our economy. The federal government should get to work and take a more serious look at the proposals the Bloc Québécois submitted last fall.
This government claims to have recognized the Quebec nation, but the truth is that it has chosen to stifle our economy and shamelessly encroach on areas under Quebec's jurisdiction.
That takes me to another part of my colleague’s motion and the creation of a single securities commission. The establishment of a Canada-wide securities commission would create a regulatory monopoly and a dangerous situation in view of the elevated concentration of the industry in question. Canada would lose the advantages of the competitive regulatory system we have now.
There are not many arguments in favour of this new commission being able to reduce the direct costs. The Australian example even seems to show the opposite. On the other hand, a system based on harmonization and mutual recognition by the various commissions of what is called the passport has advantages that led the European community to opt for this method of regulating securities.
The passport system works very well. It provides for a coordinated approach to the enforcement of the legislation and uniform protection of investors. In addition, the current system has enabled each securities commission to develop its own particular approach and areas of expertise, allowing for differing but complementary views on how the rules are being complied with.
The system could be made more effective, however, if Ontario decided to stop trying to go it alone and joined the harmonization efforts of Quebec and the provinces. This system of differing but complementary standpoints helps us to detect and prevent scandals like the ones in the United States, which has had a central authority for the last few years. These scandals have resulted in social costs that are much more serious than anything we have experienced.
The Quebec National Assembly expressed its unanimous opposition to the federal government’s plans to create a Canada-wide commission. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion to this effect on October 16, 2007: “That the National Assembly ask the federal government to renounce its plans for a Canada-wide securities commission”.
Authority over securities was conferred on the provinces by virtue of their jurisdiction over property and civil rights under section 92.13 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The Conservatives are prepared to infringe on Quebec’s jurisdictions in order to advance their plans for a single Canada-wide securities commission. The federal Liberals are in favour of this commission. That is unacceptable to Quebec. The government prides itself on its open federalism and claims to have recognized the Quebec nation, but everything it does weakens Quebec, with the help of the Liberals. The creation of a single securities commission and the levelling out of equalization to the detriment of Quebec are only two new examples of this, even though Quebec has been hard hit.
Recognizing the Quebec nation means showing respect for its economic and social jurisdictions and its language, culture, history and institutions, as well as the unanimous demands of its National Assembly. The federalist parties are on their knees in Ottawa and only the Bloc Québécois stands up for Quebec.