Mr. Speaker, in the name of the New Democratic Party, I am pleased to say right away that we will support the motion of the Bloc Québécois, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should negotiate in good faith with the Government of Quebec to resolve the dispute dating back over ten years regarding the harmonization of the QST with the GST in the early 1990s and agree to provide $2.6 billion in compensation to Quebec for this harmonization, and that Quebec continue to administer these harmonized taxes.
Just a moment ago, I could not help smiling a little bit as I heard the comments of my colleague, the finance critic from the Liberal Party, when he tried to blame us for some our past declarations. I simply want to tell him that I know firsthand what it is like. I know by experience what it is like to try to get a fair share for Quebec in any given file with the federal government.
For example, in May 2005, the McGuinty government put information online about receiving $550 million from the federal government. The title was “For Climate Change”. Thus, we asked for an equivalent amount for Quebec, which would have been about $327 million at the time. The answer was a straight no, which led to an interesting exchange with the PQ opposition critic in the National Assembly. She asked me how things were going with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was the Liberal environment minister at the time. I had to tell her—as I have always tried, in my political life, to understand the motivations of the other side, even when I did not agree—that, the longer I dealt with the ex-leader of the Liberal Party, the easier it was for me to understand how you became a sovereignist, even if I was not one. Indeed, this legendary stubbornness from the Liberals was the cause of much friction between the federal government and Quebec in recent decades.
While we are delighted to hear them say that they are now in favour of this motion, truth should still be key in all of our deliberations. I have to say that when Quebec asked to be compensated in 1996-97, I was a member of the National Assembly. Bernard Landry who was Minister of Finance made a terrible fuss, as he often did, because he wanted Quebec to get the same compensation as the Maritimes. However, let's not forget that the maritime provinces received more than $1 billion as compensation for their losses in harmonizing sales taxes.
At the first ministers conference held in Jasper in August 1996, the provincial premiers said that all provinces should get compensation. As he often did, then federal Minister of Finance Paul Martin presented a very skilful calculation based on an objective formula establishing that the maritime provinces were entitled to compensation, but not Quebec. Faced with the same formula in the last few weeks, the other side had to acknowledge that although Ontario was about to receive billions of dollars, it did not meet the conditions that Paul Martin prescribed in his famous formula.
How can we determine what objective criteria are being used as a basis to deprive Quebec of its share of these billions of dollars? I have to note that when the money was approved for the Maritimes, it was election time on the federal scene, which was, of course, sheer coincidence. It is so good to be able to buy people with their own money.
We now have a government that has a lot of seats at stake in Ontario. So it is worth finding some money to get Ontario on side. The problem is that Quebec has awakened. The Quebec government is saying, “Wait a minute! Apparently, in 1996-97, we did not meet the criteria established in that famous formula for the Maritimes but are you saying that the formula does not apply anymore because this time it is Ontario?” I would be very happy if Quebec were fairly treated in this case.
Harmonization is a word that must be used wisely. It does not mean that the feds can do everything on their own terms. I think there is some confusion among Conservatives on this issue and we will see if, on the Liberal side, they finally understand what it is all about.
In the quotations that my colleague, the Liberal Party finance critic, gave at the outset, he tried to show a contradiction between what certain people had said, but there is none.
In Quebec, for example, at present, there is no sales tax on diapers or books. That is a good thing, but it does not mean that if the taxes were harmonized Quebec would have to agree to tax books. If we were to tax ignorance we would have to send the bills over to the Conservatives, and that would be fine, but let us not start taxing knowledge and the ability to gain knowledge.
Quebec has always decided, since the Quebec sales tax began, that there would be no tax on books. As a result, when this is negotiated, the federal government must not start lecturing Quebec on morality and preaching to it about what the tax should apply to. Harmonizing means harmonizing, it does not mean that one side tells the other what to do.
There is another subtle factor in Quebec’s case, and that was resolved in the early 1990s under the Bourassa government. A very simple rule was developed. The tax was harmonized—as the federal government said and has spelled out for years, Quebec was the first province to harmonize its tax—but Quebec was responsible for collecting the taxes.
Once again, I find it hard to see how the Minister of Finance can justify this kind of administrative upheaval, calling for federal government employees to be responsible for doing this from now on. You do not fiddle with things; you do not fix something that is not broken. The system exists, it is in place, and Quebec collects the taxes. This is not a problem with the harmonization of the GST and the QST. Let us not hear that excuse for not giving Quebec what is owing to it. That would be unacceptable.
So today the Bloc is taking the bull by the horns with a clearly written, finely crafted motion that explains exactly what it is about. The entire motion is very clear, and I am delighted to see the Liberals joining us, on this rare occasion, in a matter that concerns Quebec, and calling for Quebec to receive the $2.6 billion owing to it. I say it is a pleasure, for once, to see the Liberals supporting a motion that could help Quebec, because we are used to seeing examples of the opposite happening.
The exception does prove the rule. What is the rule? The Liberals voted against the consensus in Quebec, supported by a unanimous motion of the National Assembly, objecting to the federal government's desire to centralize everything having to do with securities regulation in Canada. The Liberals would have liked to centralize securities here in Ottawa. There is no question of that happening, for us, because the Autorité des marchés financiers is doing its job quite well.
The Bloc has also put forward a motion that appeals to us: we should see which parts of the protection of the right to work in French can be transferred into the federal legislation in sectors under federal jurisdiction. Is it normal, for example, that an employer can require a knowledge of English just because one of the bosses just arrived from another province and speaks only English and they are in the telecommunications sector, or in a bank, or in inter-provincial transportation? These are all areas under federal jurisdiction. For example, if a person in Rimouski works in a telecommunications company and a new boss arrives from Vancouver and speaks only English, that person in Rimouski has to know English in order to get a promotion. We are going back 50 years. We are going back to the 1950s with this approach.
Since August 26, 1977, the adoption of the Charter of the French Language has meant that employees and workers in Quebec are entitled to receive all documents from their employer in French. It is rights of this kind that we are looking at here. Twice the Liberals have refused not just to pass bills but merely to study them, once under the previous government and then now. There are surely a lot of things to study here. We do not want to take anyone’s rights away; we want to add rights. The Liberals are voting, therefore, against even studying these bills.
I find it incomprehensible. If we live in a country with two official languages and one of them is in the minority in Canada as a whole, we have an ethical and moral obligation as a society to do everything we can to strengthen that language in the only province where it is in the majority. We need to ensure that it is a living, appreciated, respected language and that rights attach to its use.
Simply put, why would a woman who works in a charter bank, which is therefore under federal jurisdiction, have fewer workplace rights—because fewer linguistic rights attach to her job—than a woman who works in a caisse populaire?
To ask the question is to answer it for anyone who believes it is important to keep our two languages alive. The Liberals would obviously rather cling to symbols than look at the reality of working people.
It is different for us in the NDP because we have always understood that linguistic rights are labour rights. That is why we in the NDP are on the same wavelength as many people in Quebec. The Liberals are always out of step with this reality. They know how to talk about recognizing the Quebec nation, but whenever they are asked to do something specific, they are nowhere to be found.
In regard to the harmonization issue we are discussing today, I think the background just described shows how badly Quebec has been treated by federal governments, both Liberal and Conservative.
The Bloc motion today distils all this and puts things into proper perspective when it says that the least the government can do is negotiate correctly and in good faith with Quebec. We should be able to assume good faith.
I saw the letter that the Minister of Finance signed. He was talking about it even yesterday. He signed a letter—evidently one that was hastily written —and quickly had it published in the newspaper La Presse. It was an outright refusal to have an open, objective, appropriate discussion in good faith with Quebec. The good old centralizing Conservatives are dictating conditions to Quebec and remind me of a little old lady wagging her finger. These conditions will not be tolerated, nor will any others.
I find it interesting that, since the outburst by the Minister of Finance was published in La Presse, his theme song closely resembles the “beep-beep” of a truck backing up. It is becoming increasingly apparent in Parliament that, of the 10 Conservatives elected in Quebec, there will be none left if the Conservatives continue to behave in this manner and allow someone like the Minister of Finance to make decisions affecting Quebec.
I would also like to add that it is nevertheless an indication that someone in the federal government is doing some thinking and that someone is noticing what is happening, even if he still puts on a brave front when he rises in this Parliament and says that he makes the decisions and no one else, that those are the conditions, that harmonization is harmonization and that that means the federal government will dictate everything. That is the opposite of negotiating in good faith. When you negotiate in good faith, you put everything on the table and indicate what you want to achieve and what is good for the economy, because there is some good for the economy in this approach.
For its part, Quebec believes that there are a certain number of exceptions and that it will not impose more taxes on families or knowledge by taxing books, etc. Everyone can benefit from it. Finally, after more than a decade of effort, Quebec will be given what it is entitled to. Unfortunately, it is only after it was given to Ontario, once again, but better late than never.