Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to this misguided motion that the Bloc has put forward today.
I want to be clear. Our Conservative government has always supported an open federalism, and that will not change. We have maintained that stance since we were first elected and brought it to the House in 2006. We support an open federalism that respects provincial jurisdiction. But this federalism rests on a core of federal jurisdiction. It works with the provinces, not against them. Our approach has translated into some important pragmatic initiatives for Quebec that have kept Canada united, even more than it was in the past.
The Prime Minister, seconded by the leader of the government and the minister of democratic reform at the time, put a motion forward that this House almost unanimously agreed to. There were a few nays that came from members of the Liberal Party of the day. The vast majority supported this motion. I want to put on the record the support that this government has for Quebec. The motion says: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada”.
That motion received tremendous support in the House, including support from our Quebec friends in the Bloc. Their support indicated that they also believe Quebec to be a nation of people, but within a united Canada. Canada has a responsibility to every province, and that includes Quebec.
We have also given Quebec a seat at UNESCO, the first time any government has done that. That increases Quebec's voice as a nation within a nation, the voice of Québécois within a united Canada. It gives them a voice on the international stage, which they did not have in the past.
Let me be upfront. Our government has cut taxes for all Canadians, regardless of which province they live in, and that includes Canadians who live in Quebec. They are Canadians first.
I have been on two or three trips overseas with my Quebec colleagues in the Bloc. They were as proud as I was to show their Canadian passport to enter and leave those countries and get back to Canada.
I was on one trip across Canada with the finance committee. A committee member who is no longer on the committee but is still a member of the House, a Bloc member, was anxious to get his picture taken every place we went. He was so proud to be Canadian. Those members should be proud to be Canadian, as all of us in the House should be.
Perhaps most important, our Conservative government recognized that there was a fiscal imbalance in this country between the provinces and the federal government, and we fixed it. We fixed it in conjunction with the provinces. A formula was developed, a formula that had not been touched for many years. That formula was brought forward to all the provinces for them to sign. It was a new formula that better reflected the economic situation across the country. Quebec signed on. We fixed that fiscal imbalance. The previous Liberal government did not even acknowledge that a fiscal imbalance existed. We took action because we knew it was the right thing to do for Canada.
We have taken action to restore the fiscal balance by setting up transfers in a principled, transparent manner. This agreement greatly benefited all provinces, and transfers are now at historic levels.
I want to make sure people understand this. The transfers are $54 billion. The government spends approximately $250 billion a year, maybe slightly more, depending on what happens in a year. Of that, $50 billion goes to pay the debt. That comes right off the top.
With $200 billion left, a quarter of it automatically goes to the provinces, whether it is the health transfer, the social transfer or the equalization payment. There are actually three fundamental payments and a variety of others on top of that. Therefore, of the $54 billion, about $26 billion of that are in the health transfer that goes to the province.
A significant amount of money that we collect as a national government is redistributed to the provinces to help them service Canadians in a manner that we think they deserve based on the taxes they have to pay for that service. This represents a 30% increase from the previous government, showcasing our commitment to open federalism that works for all provinces, including Quebec.
Not only are those transfers at historic highs, but they continue to grow. Health transfers will grow at 6% and the social transfers at 3%. I knew I would be speaking today so I asked what it meant in real dollars that we have committed to the 6% over the next number of years, up to, I believe, 2014. It would mean that what we are providing to the provinces, which includes Quebec which gets its 6% of that increase, would go to 26.9% and then, based on population, it will go to 28.5% and then to 30.3%. That translates to $26.9 billion, $28.5 billion and $30.3 billion.
If the federal government were not involved in that 6% and there were a 2% increase based on inflation, the provinces would get $25.9 billion, $26.4 billion and $27 billion, as much as $3 billion less than what the provinces would be able to raise on their own based on straight inflation. Our commitment to the provinces for health care for the people of Canada is to provide a 6% increase every year and Quebec is benefiting from that increase.
We need to keep our commitments on these transfers. I was a city councillor in the city of Burlington during the 1990s when the federal government cut transfers to the provinces. What did the provinces do? They cut back on what they were funding municipalities. I can say that as a municipal councillor for 13 years in Burlington and the region of Halton, the cutbacks were felt every budget year.
This government is committed to continuing the transfers at the levels they are at. We have gone through a very tough recession and are moving out of it cautiously but we are moving forward as a country. We are seeing positive growth but we do not know whether that growth will continue at the robust pace it was. Economists are saying that it should slow down a bit. However, we are not going to penalize the provinces, including Quebec, by reducing our transfer payments to them at a time when they need the money to provide the services to all Canadians, including Quebeckers, which happened in the past under the previous Liberal government. We are committing not to do this.
I want to provide a few quotes regarding our commitment not to touch transfers, which has been well received across this country. The Manitoba finance minister, Rosann Wowchuk, praised our government by saying:
The major part of our budget is that [they have] indicated that they are going to keep the level of payments to the province at the same level they committed earlier.
She when on to say that it was good news for them.
The Canadian Healthcare Association also welcomed our government's reassuring commitment to transfer payments. Its president and CEO stated:
To provide any kinds of services to Canadians we needed to know that there's some predictability to the funding coming across to the provinces and territories, so that's a major positive.
Finally, Quebec's own premier, Jean Charest, also praised our government for its commitment to protect equalization payments so that Quebeckers could continue to rely on social services they pay into with their taxes saying, “Quebec is receiving more money in equalization transfers this year than they did in previous years”.
This shows that the provinces and territories continue to rely on the federal government, on our government, to practise open federalism that respects provincial jurisdiction and provides resources necessary their duties.
I want to point out that I have a list of about 15 private members' bills. I have six of them here that all ask the taxpayer of Canada to pay more to support programs. These six bills were brought forward by the Bloc.
Bill C-301, for example, which was improvements to the employment insurance system, would have cost billions and billions of dollars. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report indicating how many more billions it would cost. I have not heard the Bloc Québécois members on the finance committee, which I belong to, say that they do not want that money because it is federal money or that they do not want the government getting involved.
At prebudget meetings that we are having at this time every day of the week, we have people, including organizations from Quebec, coming to the committee and asking for more funding for whatever project they are here for today.
The student unions representing the students of Quebec were at the committee today asking for a national student's charter. A national student's legislation would help to ensure that the money transferred in the social services envelope would be earmarked for post-secondary education. They were not there asking us as the federal government to get out of their way and stay out of Quebec's business. They were asking for federal involvement.
Another bill asks for the removal of the waiting period and family leave costs. Another good one is one in which the Bloc is looking for a tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions.
We heard from witnesses today at the finance committee that the province of Quebec has such a tax credit and they said that 1,500 people have taken advantage of it. However, they were not there asking us to get out of their way. They were not asking us not to be involved. They were asking the federal government to support Bill C-228. They wanted us to be more involved in Quebec's jurisdiction as presented by the Bloc. They were asking for more money and more support.
I find it very ironic that the previous speakers talked about their right to opt out, that we should not be involved in their business and that it is provincial jurisdiction, but week after week they bring private members' bills to the House that ask for more money from the federal jurisdiction.
That is why I am not in favour of today's motion. Today's motion gives us an opportunity to at least chat about these things honestly.
I have been here four and a half years. When I was first elected, I found it somewhat strange that I would come to the House of Commons, our national government that is here for all Canadians, and see a party here that was looking to end that coalition that we have as provinces and as a country from coast to coast to coast and that they wanted to separate.
Being from Ontario and not having been closely involved with federal politics, I did not understand. However, after I arrived here I got a new realization. I realized that Bloc members wanted their cake and to eat it too. They are not really here about separation. They are not here for what is best for Quebec because they are not able to deliver for Quebec. Their leader in the last election said that he was not interested in being prime minister. They are not here for the good of Canada and cannot point to one thing that they have delivered for their province.
The members of the Bloc are here and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. They are duly elected, and I respect that, but where I lose a little respect is on their principles. With the principle they are trying to portray in this motion, which is that the province should run its own business and the federal government should get out of it, then they should not be introducing bill after bill asking for more from the federal government. They also should not be at committee supporting other people's private members' bills that do not respect that principle. It makes it very difficult for me to understand what the purpose of the Bloc is here.
I will conclude with a few things and I will be frank. After 20 years in opposition, the Bloc members really have no results. If they can show me what results they have accomplished, I would be happy to hear about them. I would say that our Quebec members on our side in the government have done more in the four and a half years for Quebec than the Bloc has done in 20 years.
Our government will continue to deliver for all Canadians, including Quebec. We have fixed the fiscal imbalance by increasing transfers to provinces to historic levels. We have promised that we will not balance the books on the backs of the provinces like other previous governments have. We have delivered for Quebec with the increased transfer payments so that they can invest in their social system, and we did it all within five years while the Bloc has delivered nothing in 20 years.