House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.


Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:35 a.m.


Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the opposition leader's speech and I did not hear him talk about something very important that appeared in both the throne speech and the budget speech.

I would like his opinion on one of the items that insults the rights of Quebeckers. I am talking about the Canadian securities commission. We know it insults the skills of university trained Quebeckers, it insults the skills of people at AMF, it goes against Government of Quebec policies and it goes against the unanimity of our National Assembly.

I would like the opposition leader to give us a clear answer on his party's position on the Canadian securities commission.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:35 a.m.


Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga for his forceful comments.

He speaks as though the Bloc could speak for all Quebeckers. I respect his attempt to do so, but I would say that opinion is divided on the question he asked me and I do not believe that the Bloc has the right to speak for all Quebeckers.

There are many opinions on this issue and to say that this measure insults the rights of Quebeckers is a bit too strong.

Our party's position is to respect provincial jurisdictions. We are waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on this matter.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:35 a.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition indeed describes his party as the government in waiting and yet, when Liberal members are in government, we wait for action on climate and the environment.

The Leader of the Opposition decries the government for its failure to address climate change, for scrapping the eco-energy program and eviscerating the environment, and yet the member leads his party in voting for the very budget that continues the investment in the old, tired fossil fuel economy. He had the opportunity as the Leader of the Opposition to table an amendment that would at least have taken part of the deeper billion dollar tax cuts for major corporations and invested those in the renewable sector. Did he choose to do that? No, he did not.

When his party was in power, it ratified an international agreement and then for 15 years did nothing. Worse, as the leader of his party in the House, when a bill came forward to take action on climate change before we went to Copenhagen, he led his party in delaying action on that bill.

There is a lot of talk about concern for the environment and climate change, but where is the action?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:40 a.m.


Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would mildly remind the member from Edmonton that in a vote last September, it was her party that prevented an election. We feel that it is not in the national interest to hold an election at this time. What is in the national interest is to develop an alternative to this gaggle of improvisers across the floor.

I look forward to working with her on ways to invest in clean energy technologies, to invest in renewable energy technologies and to devise a national strategy on the development of energy infrastructure that does not take aim at the oil sands. Here is where I have to be very frank with the hon. member: we believe it is a national industry that adds value to Canadians. It must become sustainable. It must be renewable. It must be changed. It must be improved.

I hear nothing productive from that side of the House on that crucial point. I refuse to base an energy policy for our country that runs against an industry in the manner that party has consistently done. It is not in the national interest.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:40 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the government has misled Canadians and this Parliament when it stated in the throne speech that balancing the nation's books would not come at the expense of pensioners or by raising taxes on hard-working Canadians.

However, we know that it is raising transport taxes. There are significant increases in employment insurance premiums on employees and employers. It is also imposing a 31.5% punitive tax on income trusts. My question is not so much on the merit of fiscal policy, but on the character of this government and our ability to trust it.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:40 a.m.


Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for an obviously excellent question, with whose tenor I am in entire agreement.

One of the features of the government that does speak to character is its inability to tell a straight story to Canadians that Canadians can believe. It is one thing to put a swingeing tax on income trusts, which has had a devastating effect on the savings of millions of Canadians; it is another thing to propose a massive job-killing increase in employment insurance premiums, a job-killing tax that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business predicts will cost Canada over 200,000 jobs.

The issue that goes to character is that the Conservatives will not stand up in the House of Commons before Canadians and admit they have increased taxes. That is the issue of character. That is the issue that undermines confidence and trust in the government, and that is why we will continually oppose the Conservatives when they seek to tell Canadians things that are simply not true.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

10:40 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The debate is on the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Resuming debate, the right hon. Prime Minister.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

March 11th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Stephen Harper ConservativePrime Minister

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered last week by Her Excellency the Governor General. But before getting into the details, I would like to say a few words about Canada’s extraordinary results at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.

Of course, I want to talk about more than just the marvellous staging of the winter Olympics by the organizers and the warm embrace of the games by British Columbia. None of us who know our west coast were surprised by any of that, but as we all know, our Canadian athletes, our young men and women, set a new record for the number of gold medals ever won by any nation at a winter Olympic Games.

Fourteen golds, Mr. Speaker.

Fourteen golds and, of course, along with seven silvers and five bronze, it was 26 medals in total. That is the most ever won by our country at any winter Olympic Games.

Indeed, out of 80 countries, our athletes garnered 10 per cent of all the medals awarded. That is an extraordinary performance for Canada. There is no doubt that we are proud of our Canadian athletes.

As we all know, the streets of our great country were alive with red and white on the night following that final goal by Sidney Crosby, because when Canadians do something great in the name of our country, their fellow citizens know how to wave the flag as well as anyone, and that is a wonderful thing.

We need more of it, and I am sure we will see more at the Paralympic Games that start tomorrow. This summer I think we will see more again on the east coast, when there is another world class sporting event, the world junior championships in athletics being hosted in Moncton, New Brunswick. We will keep on repeating those magic words, I hope, throughout the year, “go Canada, go”.

I would go even further. I would say that our athletes had not just a tremendous performance. For a country of moderate size in terms of population, it was a magnificent performance.

I think we have to look beyond the gold medals, and even beyond medals in general, because they do not say everything about just how excellent Team Canada really was. Because at that level of competition, the placings are determined by fractions of seconds, a few millimetres, and sometimes by just a stroke of luck.

Among the roughly 200 young men and women we sent to Vancouver, we had 50 top 5 places and no other country had more than that. All except the United States and Germany had a lot less. When we realize that, we get a sense of the extraordinary level of excellence that ran right through the entire Canada games.

We were in the hunt in virtually every category. There are reasons we were able to reach out for so many golds.

It is all about attitude, which defined the goal and was supported by an action plan.

In Calgary, at the winter games a generation ago, we invested in the infrastructure necessary for world-class performance and then we got serious about winning. Canada's sports organizations came together, they set out the goal of owning the podium, they got private sector money and they received the financial and moral support of both the provinces and the Government of Canada. Then they found the best young athletes and they worked them and worked them and worked them. That is how we win, that is how we raise everybody's game.

We want to keep on winning, and keep on promoting that type of excellence. And that is why we made it clear in last week’s budget that we are going to keep on supporting our athletes.We will continue to support our athletes to help raise the Maple Leaf high over the podium.

We will continue raising that maple leaf in London in 2012 and for games well beyond that, because the Vancouver-Whistler games, Canada's games, as Premier Campbell called them, showed that when the challenge is understood and the goal is clearly defined, when Canadians are given the tools, Canada can get things done.

Getting things done is the trademark our country, Canada, is starting to be known for. For instance, just as we are getting things done in sports, we are getting things done in Afghanistan.

In Kandahar, Canada's best and bravest have prevented the Taliban from overrunning that critical province, and they are standing up for stability, development and justice in a country that has seldom known any of those things. This is a tremendous testament, one that has come at great cost and one that I know we would like to applaud. We would like to applaud the work of all of our diplomats, development officers and especially our defence personnel for making this happen.

We are getting things done in public health.

In mid-2009, the World Health Organization issued its first warning that a new fatal virus called H1N1 was probably going to quickly spread worldwide. If left uncontrolled, it had the potential to kill tens of thousands of Canadians, in particular young people and people weakened by other medical conditions.

We saw a problem and we acted quickly and effectively. We made the commitment so consistent with our basic values that every Canadian regardless of means who wanted to be vaccinated could be before Christmas. We then ordered enough vaccine to do just that.

Working with the provinces, which have the primary responsibility for health care in Canada, we rose to the challenge.

And it has been the largest and quickest mass immunization campaign in Canadian history. Thousands of lives have been saved. Happily we will never know exactly how many, but choking off a pandemic is no small thing and the fact that we were able to do that was a triumph of the dedication and commitment, particularly of the medical professionals involved. These are people we should also be enormously proud of, and I would like to take the opportunity to formally applaud their great work.

Then there is Haiti, where we are also getting things done. We all recall that January day when the devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. The number is staggering and hard to get our heads around.

In the hardest-hit regions, up to 90% of buildings were destroyed, injuring and trapping thousands of people in the rubble. A people that was already desperately poor lost what little it had. Everyday necessities like food, drinking water and medical assistance, which have never been abundant in Haiti, became even rarer. That is why we took immediate action. Just a few hours after the nightmare began, the first Canadian troops were on the ground: members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They were there to gauge the best way to deliver aid. Based on their recommendations, we deployed in force from Valcartier and other Canadian bases.

Ships of the Atlantic fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies. We used the new Air Force C-17s to quickly ferry more of life's necessities to the islands and to repatriate Canadian citizens and refugees on the return trips. Foreign Affairs and other government civilian personnel joined the effort on the ground and at command centres here in Ottawa.

By the time the mission peaked, in addition to the DART and Her Majesty's Canadian Ships Athabaskan and Halifax, we had deployed heavy-lift aircraft, search and rescue helicopters and a mobile field hospital. We had sent hundreds of tonnes of supplies and equipment to relieve the suffering. And over 2,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air personnel, along with a wide array of other public servants, were in theatre bringing real assistance and hope.

We brought home over 4,000 Canadians and permanent residents who were trapped in Haiti on the day of the earthquake, and over 200 orphans whose adoption applications were fast-tracked after the disaster. To date, the Emergency Operations Centre has answered over 50,000 calls, and liaison units between families and children will remain active for many months to come.

The mission to Haiti has been a massive effort, a huge achievement of Canada that has reflected the very highest levels of devotion and performance by every member of the Canadian Forces and every member of the Canadian public service who has been involved. Development officers, peace officers and diplomatic staff are still there, organizing what will be a long-term Canadian and international process and project to assist the government of Haiti with rebuilding its country.

Honourable members, all those great Canadians deserve our congratulations.

We saw a problem, we wanted to help and we acted quickly and effectively. Canada got things done. Hon. members, it is in this spirit of caring, of deciding and of acting that has animated our government and our country as we have taken up the formidable challenge of the economic times in which we are living.

As in other areas, when we saw a problem, when we understood the need, and in some cases the pain. We drew up a plan and we acted, Canada acted, quickly and effectively.

Let us talk about the economic times we find ourselves in.

Businesses may invest, governments may budget soundly, workers may toil, generations may perform the labours of Hercules, yet sometimes fortune is fickle. Just as the rain falls on the good and the bad alike, so the flood waters of recession have risen across the globe and that includes Canada, which does not, by the way for a minute, mean that our efforts have been for naught. Regulation and oversight of the financial system, the cause of the global crisis, was, in Canada, prudent and effective and it has made a difference.

According to the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund and numerous other experts, Canada has the soundest banking sector in the world.

Canada has avoided the failures of financial institutions and the vast bailouts of public money that have been so necessary in so many other countries. Availability and cost of credit, while they tightened over the recession, have begun to improve more significantly and more quickly in Canada than almost any other developed country. We have kept an eye on the mortgage industry.

We made prudent changes to the rules to avoid the real estate bubbles that caused so much damage elsewhere in the world.

And now in Canada our housing sector, where the recession was lightly felt, is well into recovery. Here also our fiscal fundamentals were sound.

Canada entered the recession with the lowest debt level of any country in the G7, and this level dropped as we were paying down the debt.

The strong fiscal fundamentals have allowed us to dramatically and permanently reduce business, personal and consumption taxes during the early stages of the recession. As a consequence, these actions delayed the onset of the recession in this country until after virtually every other developed country in the world.

It also enabled us to undertake recovery measures on an extraordinary basis, in lock-step with all our fellow G20 economies, but without imposing a needless burden on future generations.

In fact, it has allowed us to produce one of the largest, most comprehensive and most effective stimulus packages in the world, while keeping our deficit and debt levels in Canada to a fraction of what they are elsewhere in the world.

Today, we are emerging from the global recession. Our domestic demand is strong, but our export markets remain uncertain and so we are recovering slowly though with, I believe, a growing sense of optimism.

It is true that our unemployment rate remains too high. That is why this will remain our highest priority. But, thankfully, unemployment in Canada remains well below the levels seen in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s and well below what we see in the United States and elsewhere. Canada's economy, unlike most, is already beginning to create some net new jobs.

Hon. members will need no reminder that excessive government economic intervention is not a Conservative inclination. But, at the same time, blind adherence to ideology in a crisis is no more advisable than unprincipled expediency in the pursuit of short-term advantage. What is best for our country now and in the future must always be our guide.

We are pushing ahead with the second and final year of Canada’s economic action plan.

Our plan, which continues into its second year, continues to cut taxes. Our plan puts Canadians to work to build infrastructure, the bridges, roads, harbours, colleges, laboratories, everything Canadians need to live, work, innovate, travel and conduct trade.

In fact, nearly 16,000 projects, many of which are being coordinated with the provinces, municipalities and private sector, have been funded to date by Canada’s economic action plan. And we will be reaping the benefits for decades to come.

The same way the historic investments in the Olympics created a generation later of a superlative world-leading Canadian performance, these extraordinary investments we have been making in infrastructure across this country in the past year will serve us well for this generation.

By the way, I should mention that 16,000 number does not include the tens of thousands of household infrastructure projects undertaken during the past year under the home renovation tax credit.

Our plan continues to pump money into the economy, it puts wages into the pockets of workers, and it supports our fellow citizens, whose long-term jobs had been lost through no fault of their own, to transition to new opportunities.

We are helping those communities hardest hit by the recession. We are supporting industries that need help to overcome temporary difficulties.

In total, our economic action plan is mobilizing a $62 billion shot in the arm to the Canadian economy. Our plan is working. Exports are up significantly, retail trade has bounced back, growth has returned at 5% in the last quarter, and more people are working. Action, well intended, well informed and well executed, has made a big difference.

Shall we, therefore, declare success and relax? Of course, it is far too early to do anything like that. Indeed, I believe the lesson from the crumbling banks and budgets elsewhere is that it is never a time that a government can afford to take its hands completely off the wheel of the economy no matter how smoothly we are riding.

Today as well there are, of course, still too many possible potholes in the road ahead, particularly in our export markets, and at the present time our economy is not where it needs to be.

Too many men and women who want to work are still without work. Their financial distress is clear, but not having a real job is dispiriting as well. We take satisfaction in doing things that are useful and that serve a purpose. Not only does unemployment leave us in economic distress, it undermines our self-esteem.

We owe these, our fellow citizens, our continued concentrated efforts to restore to them all the rewards of employment and labour. That is why we have presented a budget that focuses on jobs and growth, that extends most of the extraordinary measures from last year, and introduces a few new ones.

We are eliminating tariffs on production inputs, making Canada the first G20 country to become a tariff-free zone for its manufacturers.

We are introducing new measures to support Canada's strong and competitive financial sector, and to give businesses access to the financing they need to support the recovery and longer-term growth.

We are taking other measures for the forestry sector. Budget 2010 calls for new measures, including the next generation renewable power initiative. This is in addition to other initiatives totalling $1.7 billion in direct support for the forestry sector since 2006. Export Development Canada has also provided the forestry sector with $30 billion in financial services since 2008.

We are establishing a red tape reduction commission and pursuing comprehensive regulatory reform to build on our 20% reduction in the federal paper burden, and to make sure we free entrepreneurs from needless, duplicative and inefficient bureaucratic weight.

Throughout this Parliament, this House will have some important, and sometimes difficult, decisions to make. Politics is about debating ideas, but government is about making choices.

Her Excellency's Speech from the Throne and the Minister of Finance's budget last week alluded to some of the most significant among them. They spoke of the tension in Canada's national life today.

On the one hand, there is the present requirement for deficit financing and unusual levels of government intervention to maintain economic activity and confidence, of course in coordination with the G20 and others across the world.

On the other hand, there is the widespread understanding among Canadians of the need to return to balanced budgets when the recession is over to ensure funds are freed for the private sector to create the sustainable long-term jobs and growth that we will need.

I spoke of choices.

Increasing the tax burden? Cutting spending? Maintaining deficits? There is no doubt that these strategies have their supporters in this House.

But on this side of the House we have made our choices. We have concluded that an economy cannot be taxed into prosperity. On this side we have concluded that the deficit must begin to come down, modestly now but quickly by next year. On this side we have concluded that if we proceed in this manner, spending growth will have to be moderated immediately and priorities selected.

But if we do these things we will be able to avoid the absolute levels of reduction and the kinds of devastating cuts to core services like health care, pensions and education that will occur if we delay, as past governments did after previous recessions.

Those are the choices we have made and the reasons why we have made them.

We must ensure our recovery and build our future. The word “recovery” is being bandied about by economists, investors and analysts, each assigning it their own specific technical meaning. But recovery is not an abstraction. Recovery has a different, but very real meaning for many Canadians.

Recovery can mean the dignity and peace of mind of a good job, one that will be around tomorrow. For some, recovery means being able to look after aging parents. For others, it means the pride in achieving home ownership. But whatever it means, it should never be thought of as a forgone conclusion. It will not just happen.

Bad choices now, unaffordable long-term spending commitments, ill-advised tax hikes, dithering on deficits and difficult decisions will doom those countries that choose them to years of debt, stagnation and unemployment.

A country of 33 million people, that can win the most golds ever at an Olympic Games, does not deserve that. On our watch Canada will not get it.

This country, Canada, is going to emerge from this recession in the strongest position of any first-tier economy.

That is our purpose; that is our plan. Canada will once again get it done.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:10 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario


Michael Ignatieff LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Madam Speaker, I listened with attention and with respect to the Prime Minister. There are certain elements of what he said with which all parties would associate themselves: the pride that we feel in our Olympic success; the pride we feel in the work of our soldiers in Afghanistan and Haiti; and places around the world.

I want to ask the Prime Minister a question of the following order. Could he outline which elements of the throne speech justified shutting down Parliament? He spoke of the necessity of having democratic debate and seemed to ignore that we have to have a place to have democratic debate, namely, this House. Our reading of the 6,000 word Speech from the Throne is that there is nothing new in this. There is nothing that could conceivably justify the prorogation of Parliament.

Would the Prime Minister agree to support our amendment to the address in reply?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:10 a.m.


Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I think it was very apparent from the Speech from the Throne and from the national reaction both to the Speech from the Throne and the budget that this is a very busy agenda. Last year, as we all know, we were preoccupied almost exclusively with one measure: the development and ultimately the delivery of the economic action plan of a series of tens of thousands of stimulus measures that were conceived and delivered across the country.

I have said this to senior public servants and I say it to all public servants who were involved not just federally but provincially and municipally across this country. The stimulus measures were delivered with an efficiency and speed that we have not seen at any time before in this country and certainly have not seen anywhere else around the globe. That was what we set out to do last year. That has been done extremely effectively and with good results. I want to congratulate all the public servants who worked on that program.

This year, we are now looking forward at a much wider range of economic policy and other initiatives. Those are outlined in great detail in the throne speech and also in the budget. I thought that, after giving the Leader of the Opposition these extra 20 days to work on his policies, we would hear what his suggestions might be. As the chief government whip said, we heard a lot of talk about good objectives, creation of jobs, innovation and these sorts of things, but absolutely no specific ideas.

I would have thought that, after giving the leader of the Liberal Party some time to work on his policies and contribute productively to the agenda of the country, he would have come out with something other than this amendment he just moved a few minutes ago.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:15 a.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the Prime Minister's response to the throne speech, but what struck me in this throne speech was that the Prime Minister was bragging about the Copenhagen accord. Yet we heard him in Copenhagen in December. He did not hesitate to go against the interests of Quebec. He did all he could to deny the existence of the Quebec nation and to go against the wishes of the Government of Quebec.

How can the Prime Minister rise today in this House to promote the Copenhagen accord, when he went against the interests of Quebec, the National Assembly and the Premier of Quebec?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:15 a.m.


Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, the reason we are talking about the Quebec nation is because this government recognized the Quebec nation in this House, and it has supported it from the beginning. I must also give credit to the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. The only party that resisted the recognition of the Quebec Nation was the Bloc. Why did it resist? Because it was clear in the resolution that we were recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation within a united Canada.

When we saw the performance of our athletes in Vancouver, when we saw the performance of our soldiers and diplomats in Afghanistan, when we saw the performance of our medical professionals during the H1N1 flu pandemic crisis, we saw francophones and Quebeckers who were proud to be Canadian.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:15 a.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to make a direct appeal to the Prime Minister.

Residential school survivors and their families have looked to the Prime Minister and Canada's national apology as a sign of hope. That hope now hangs in the balance. For 10 years, survivors and their families have looked to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for support as they try to move forward. The foundation has been key in working with young people and future generations. Despite the historic apology, the budget is silent on its support for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Will the Prime Minister follow through on the sentiment of that historic national apology and provide support and save the Aboriginal Healing Foundation?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:20 a.m.


Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, one of the perplexing things in this House is to see the NDP constantly standing up and demanding the very things that it constantly votes against.

This government has made all kinds of important investments into aboriginal programs, not the least of which was the signing and execution of not just the apology, but the Indian residential schools settlement agreement. The member will know that the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is a part of that agreement. The government will execute all of the obligations relative to that particular foundation according to the agreement. As has already been said, the government has made sure it has provided additional money in costs that have been required under that agreement due to higher than expected take-up on some actions. These things have been provided in the budget.

At the same time, I have to say, because I did allude to some of the things we have been doing which the NDP and others have opposed, that this government has had a number of important initiatives in aboriginal communities, not the least of which has been, under not just the Minister of Indian Affairs but his predecessor in front of me here, the important initiative on providing clean water on aboriginal reserves. Through the economic action plan there have been investments in infrastructure in aboriginal communities across the country. That was a particular part of the economic action plan which sadly, the hon. member and her party voted against. There are additional actions in the budget particularly to look at education, which I know is a priority of the new grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

For decades, governments have talked about improving the lives of aboriginal people and there have been many grand promises, and at times very extravagant numbers and budgets thrown around. This government has approached these problems in very clear ways, ranging from water to housing to treaties. It has approached it with a desire to have very clear goals to achieve some definitive outcomes, to actually make some progress on things that matter to aboriginal people.

While I believe we are making progress, we recognize that we still have a long way to go. We will continue to work with aboriginal Canadians for a better future.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:20 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, what was most remarkable about the Speech from the Throne put together by the Prime Minister was the absence of Quebec, as though Quebec did not even exist. This government, this House and Canada would all like to ignore the fact that there is a nation within this country—the Quebec nation—living under a Constitution that it has always rejected. That is the reality and everyone seems to ignore it, as though it will just go away. That is wishful thinking; the issue of Quebec will not just go away. Ignoring Quebec in the throne speech and the budget is just further proof of Canada's inability to respond to the least of Quebec's aspirations.

Consider this excerpt from the throne speech:

Building on the recognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, ...our government will take steps to strengthen further Canada's francophone identity.

It would be difficult to imagine a more empty, absurd statement than that, especially when the Supreme Court has just once again struck down a piece of legislation—Bill 104—that aims to protect French in Quebec. Was it because of hypocrisy, arrogance, contempt, or simply indifference? It was probably a combination of those things. For those who might think the Conservative government is to blame, I have some bad news. The Liberals are just as bad: it is as though Quebec does not even exist. No one party or individual is to blame; it is simply Canada.

Ever since the Meech Lake failure 20 years ago, Quebec and Canadian federalists keep saying there simply was no fertile ground, that the fruit was just not ripe enough to try to meet Quebec's constitutional aspirations. It is not a matter of the fruit not ripening; it is the tree that is rotten.

There has been no political will for the past 20 years and one things is certain: we will never see a constitutional package from Canada that meets Quebec's needs.

It is true for constitutional matters and it is true for Quebec's economic, social, environmental and financial needs. The Canada so clearly depicted in the Speech from the Throne represents not the status quo but a step backward for Quebec. All the hon. members in this House know that in Canada, there no longer is any will to reform Canadian federalism to respond to the aspirations of our people.

The federalist MPs can no longer promise change to Quebeckers. They have nothing left to propose other than a step backward for Quebec and its inexorable erosion within Canada. The federalist MPs from Quebec are intellectually bankrupt.

In 1990, I became the first sovereignist elected to the House of Commons. Twenty years later, after watching Canada evolve, I still come to the same conclusion, but with a greater sense of urgency and deeper conviction: Quebec is getting weaker with each passing day, making the need for sovereignty all the more pressing.

Those who believe that none of this affects the daily lives of Quebeckers are sadly mistaken. The effects are very concrete. The Speech from the Throne reiterates once again this government's desire to reduce Quebec's political weight within Canada. With the upcoming bill, Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons will be 21.9%, which is less than its demographic weight.

When Canada was formed in 1867, Quebec was absorbed into a union that reduced our nation to a minority. Quebec's political weight in that new union was nonetheless 36%. The Canada Quebeckers knew, where Quebec carried some weight, is disappearing.

That was made very clear in the budget that was brought down the day after the Speech from the Throne.

A single table, on page 259 of the budget, is sufficient to illustrate the extent to which Quebec's needs are ignored. This table indicates that Ontario's automotive sector received $9.7 billion whereas the forestry sector has to settle for $170 million. And Quebec's share will be much less than $100 million. When all is said and done, American automobile companies in Ontario will have received 100 times the amount of federal assistance given to all of Quebec's forestry industry. That is not just words, that is cold, hard cash. That is unjustified and inexcusable.

The Maritimes, Ontario and British Columbia will have received billions in compensation for harmonizing their sales taxes. Quebec, which was the first to do so 18 years ago, in 1992, will not be given a single cent. What disdain for simple fairness. We would like to hear elected Liberal or Conservative federalists start protesting and defending the interests of the Quebeckers who elected them. But they cannot because they are intellectually bankrupt.

Last year, this government cut $1 billion in equalization payments to Quebec, despite promising not to change the formula.

This Prime Minister, who had promised Quebec that he would eliminate the federal spending power, never kept his promise. The throne speech states: “[The government] will also continue to respect provincial jurisdiction—”

In this same speech, the government again made it clear that it wants to trample on Quebec's authority over securities. Just think, there are Quebeckers elected by the Conservative or the Liberal Party who accept this. As I was saying earlier, this is a step backwards, not the status quo, for Quebec's position in Canada.That is very real.

In Quebec, hundreds of villages are dependent on the forestry industry. The economy of entire regions is based on forestry. The people and families of Lac-Saint-Jean, for example, who pay their taxes to Ottawa, sent millions of dollars in subsidies to support the Ontario automotive industry. Why should they not now receive assistance given that they have been going through a crisis for a number of years? That is also fundamentally unfair.

The government decided to adjust employment insurance for workers in Ontario and Alberta, workers who had almost never needed EI before. With the help of the NDP, the government excluded all forestry workers and seasonal workers who had been forced to claim EI in the past. In other words, these workers from Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, Gaspésie, the Lower St. Lawrence region, the Côte-Nord, Mauricie and Abitibi, who have been experiencing a crisis for years, were abandoned. The MPs from Quebec who supported this should be ashamed. They should be worried.

The federalists should worry, because for 20 years, the only reasons they have been giving to Quebeckers to remain in Canada have been economic ones. But this budget has shown yet again that Canadian federalism does not benefit Quebec.

After 20 years here debating with members from all over, I am very familiar with Canada and its strategic interests. I know that a country's policy is always based on its own interests. The most important strategic interest for Canada is oil. Its future is the oil sands.

A Liberal environment minister once said that no Canadian environment minister, Liberal or Conservative, was in a position to oppose the interests of the oil companies, which were much too powerful. Obviously, the current government is particularly close to the oil interests, so close that we sometimes wonder whether we are looking at a government or the board of directors of an oil company.

But make no mistake; whether we have a Liberal government or a Conservative one, it is the same thing: we are dealing with the strategic interests of Canada.

The Liberal leader made a passionate plea in support of the oil sands industry. He repeated it again today. He said that for him, it was a matter of Canadian unity. In Quebec, it is the opposite.

I do not blame Canadians for wanting to develop their oil resources.

The Bloc Québécois has never asked that the government put an end to the oil sands development. What we have always asked is that Canada respect its international commitments, which it has always refused to do after the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. We simply want what is fair and just.

It so happens that Quebec's strategic interests are completely opposed to Canada's on this issue. Canada is looking more and more like an oil state and has the requisite policies of one. This makes it awfully difficult for Quebec to reduce its dependence on oil. We cannot afford that in Quebec. By cutting our dependence on oil in half by 2020, we would have an additional $15 billion to $25 billion to invest in our province every year.

That is huge and highly strategic for Quebec. However, caught as it is in Canada's oil web, Quebec is struggling to make any progress on reducing its dependence on oil. In Canada, Quebec is like a seagull covered in tar after an oil spill. That is what Canadian federalism offers to Quebeckers.

When we stop and think about it, we realize that not only does federalism not benefit Quebec, but worse, Canadian federalism is costing Quebec far too much.

I do not need to speak at length about the Quebec nation. Everyone here knows that since the symbolic recognition by the House of Commons of the Quebec nation, the Bloc Québécois has made a number of proposals to make that recognition concrete. We have introduced bills and made concrete proposals with respect to language, culture and citizenship. We have made offers to Canada without asking for the impossible. Absolutely none of our proposals required constitutional changes. None took anything away from the rest of Canada. But every last one of our proposals to give some substance to the recognition of the Quebec nation were rejected.

What does that show? It shows that the recognition by the House of Commons, by Canada, of the nation of Quebec, was in fact nothing more than an act of pure hypocrisy. The reality is that, when it matters, Canada does not recognize the nation of Quebec. For our people, this means that the status of the French language in Quebec will continue to be eroded.

I understand that the Prime Minister is happy about this, because, as president of the National Citizens Coalition, he financed a legal attack on Bill 101. I am talking about the current Prime Minister. But once again, it makes no difference whether the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party is in charge. In fact, the Liberal leader stayed away from a vote on a bill that would make Bill 101 apply to federal undertakings.

Canada has always refused to allow the Quebec nation to control language issues in Quebec, and this is not about to change. For the Quebec nation, this hypocritical recognition means that Quebec culture is going to remain subject to the whims of a country that knows nothing about it. Moreover, there was ample evidence of this in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and in the throne and budget speeches. This means that Canada is going to keep on imposing Trudeau's ideology of multiculturalism on Quebec, depriving the Quebec nation of the power to define the basis of its own society.

What is true for language, culture and citizenship is true for justice, research, education and many other areas. In the field of justice, the Quebec nation takes the opposite approach to Canada's on young offenders and gun control.

The petro-state has stopped supporting research on the effects of climate change, which clearly goes against Quebec's priorities. Canada has decided to ramp up military spending, but freeze transfers for post-secondary education. In short, the noose is tightening around Quebec in all areas.

This year will mark 20 years that I have been sitting here. After 20 years, with the experience I have today, I have bad news for my adversaries: I have the feeling that the best is yet to come for Quebec. And the best thing for Quebec and for Quebeckers is a country, the country of Quebec.

I am convinced of this because it is very obvious to me that Canadian federalism has nothing more to offer Quebec. It has always been very clear that, on the level of language, culture and national identity, sovereignty was very much in Quebec’s interest. It was easy, though, for Quebec federalists to hold out some prospect of reform of Canadian federalism that would meet Quebec’s desires.

Now, 20 years after the Meech Lake accord and the definitive rejection of Quebec’s minimal aspirations, the federalists have no credibility left when they dangle promises that cannot possibly be kept.

In any event, the Prime Minister and the Liberal leader have clearly indicated their refusal to yield anything at all to Quebec, adhering closely in this to the prevailing sentiment in Canada.

So nothing can be expected in that regard anymore. All that remained for the federalists was the economic argument that Quebec benefits financially from federalism. But even that does not hold water any more, because federalism is not financially beneficial for Quebec. Worse than that, Canadian federalism is actually ruinous for the Quebec economy.

As part of Canada, it is as if Quebec were enclosed within four walls that are closing in. Quebec is caught in a vise that grows tighter and tighter. The future of the Quebec nation lies elsewhere, in political liberty, and political liberty means sovereignty.

I know that Canadians understand sovereignty. So far as I know, no people has ever willingly given up its sovereignty, its political liberty, once obtained.

Once liberty has been tasted, we always want more of it.

What applies to the nation of Canada applies to the nation of Quebec as well.

In a sovereign country, Quebeckers will have 100% of the political power. Quebec will be a francophone country with its own citizenship and it will be the master of its own culture. Our taxes will serve to develop our own economy, based on clean energy. There will be nothing to prevent Quebec from radically reducing its dependence on oil.

Sovereignty is where Quebec’s future lies, sovereignty for Quebec, not against Canada. As good neighbours, we will be on friendly terms on the basis of real equality. Real equality means equality between one country and another.

Until then, the Bloc Québécois will remain faithful to what it is and will continue to defend Quebec’s interests in Ottawa in a responsible way. We do so in good faith, but without any illusions about the answer Canada will give to Quebec’s proposals.

I therefore move this amendment to an amendment, reflecting some of Quebec’s wishes:

I move, seconded by the hon. member for Joliette,

That the amendment be amended by adding the following after the word “prorogation”:

“that aim to prevent the opposition from asking legitimate questions on major issues such as Canada’s unacceptable position at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, the fate of Afghan detainees and the ineffective measures in the government’s economic action plan to help Quebec's economy weather this crisis”.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The amendment to the amendment is in order.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.


Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, how disappointing to see that the leader of the Bloc Québécois and his MPs are the ones, once again, who are abandoning Quebec here in Ottawa. We have before us a budget that offers Quebec unprecedented benefits.

I share Bernard Landry's view that Quebec has everything it needs at the moment to develop fully with the Canadian federation and to play a leadership role. It can share Canada's vision, which is to become a clean energy superpower. Quebec firms such as CO2 Solution are capable of developing carbon capture and storage technologies.

The budget we voted on yesterday contains programs allowing Quebec to play its leadership role within the Canadian federation. It also provides for unprecedented investment in the forestry sector and in infrastructure and provides help for workers affected by the economic upheaval.

My question for the leader of the Bloc is very simple. Why abandon Quebec workers yet again in these 20 years? Why abandon Quebec families and deny Quebec the highest level of transfers for health, education and equalization in Canadian history? Canada and Quebec are destined to go forward and take a leadership role.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, it is odd that the hon. member has spoken of Bernard Landry, because I just had dinner with him at my house this past Saturday. We spoke of the future of Quebec. It goes without saying that the bit the member added is not to be found in Mr. Landry's remarks.

That reminds me of what Lucien Bouchard told me regarding a speech by a member opposite. Quoting Napoleon, Mr. Bouchard said that fools should be trusted much less than the dishonest, because there was at least a limit to dishonesty.

That said, the hon. member is saying we are abandoning Quebec. Recognition of Quebec as a nation means there is a national assembly. Otherwise it would have been called a social assembly. The supreme authority in that nation is the National Assembly. The Bloc has presented all the unanimous resolutions of the National Assembly here, and time and time again the Conservatives have voted against them. Who, therefore, is abandoning Quebec?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

The green plants.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:40 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I hear a lot about the green plants. Those opposite are paying $2 million for green plants. That is a lot per MP.

Let us take one of the examples given us by the member. He spoke of post-secondary education, funding for which is at a level never seen before. He should have added—in 1994—since funding for post-secondary education is at the 1994 level. This funding has been frozen for 16 years. We could go through the examples one by one. They include harmonization of the GST, changes in equalization and so on.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:45 a.m.


Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a simple question for the Bloc Québécois leader. I agree with some of the things he said because Quebec values are important to me. However, I have noticed that Quebeckers' attitudes toward separatism are changing. The former leader, the separatists' and sovereignists' big boss, said that Quebec no longer supports separatism.

The Bloc Québécois has been around for 20 years, and its leader has been a member of the House all that time. We all share the same values. We all want to improve the lives of not only Quebeckers, but all Canadians, even though we have different ideas about how to do that.

Might there be some way to focus on the values and benefits that Quebec brings to the Canadian table instead of constantly criticizing and creating an image of Quebec as a province in need instead of a province that has so much to give?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:45 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, as my hon. colleague said, I have been a member here for 20 years. I have voted on the budget every time. He is a member of the Standing Committee on Finance but was absent yesterday, although I do not know why; perhaps he was suddenly ill. I am not allowed to say he was absent, so I wish to withdraw the comment. Let me simply say that he wanted to be here.

That being said, it is rather interesting that a member of the Liberal Party is asking me if some other suggestions could not be made. In fact, we gave some suggestions. We travelled all over Quebec to ask for suggestions. I looked at what the Liberal Party was proposing and there was absolutely nothing, not one number.

Let us come back to Lucien Bouchard, whom he insulted by calling the “big boss”. I would not call him “big” in that way; Lucien Bouchard is in good shape. Consider what Mr. Bouchard said. He said he is still a sovereignist. Lucien Bouchard was asked a question about the Bloc Québécois. He replied that it is very significant that in election after election, for the past six elections, between 40 and 50 Bloc members are always elected. That means something. That is what Lucien Bouchard said. Of course it means something; it means Quebeckers identify with this party. We may have had our differences with Lucien Bouchard. I am not a prophet, but I am convinced that my friend Lucien would not have guessed in 1987, when he was a Conservative minister, that he would found a sovereignist party in 1990. But most importantly, he said this: that a people must have a dream. Everyone needs to have dreams. And we must work to make our dreams come true. The Quiet Revolution took place in the 1960s—

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but I am trying to allocate the same time to the answer as to the question.

The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:50 a.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Madam Speaker, the NDP is concerned with the need to protect seniors. It believes that the Government of Canada should improve the Canada pension plan so that benefits are doubled over time.To that end, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should conduct negotiations. The NDP is also asking the government to fully protect pensions when corporations go bankrupt.

Will the Bloc Québécois support such an initiative today, even though it opposed the proposals in the NDP subamendment to the budget?

Resumption of debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

11:50 a.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, it goes without saying that the Bloc supports a number of my colleague's proposals, for example, those pertaining to federal pensions and the Bankruptcy Act.

We opposed the subamendment because it included the Quebec pension plan. That belongs to Quebec and Ottawa is not going to tell us what to do. It is the NDP's immaturity that leads it to say that Ottawa knows best. It is not up to the NDP to look after Quebec's affairs. We are able to do that ourselves. We capitalized our pension fund a very long time before Canada even considered it. That is why we opposed the subamendment. The same thing applies to the harmonization of the sales tax and the GST. We have already done that. We will not oppose what we have done and ask for $2.2 billion and, at the same time, say that we are against it. That would be inconsistent. I have a number of faults, but being inconsistent is not one of them.

I would like to conclude by talking about Lucien Bouchard's wonderful dream. The seeds for the Quiet Revolution of the 1960's were planted in the 1940's by Pierre Vadeboncoeur, the asbestos strike and Le Refus global, and in the 1950's, by Cité libre—with Trudeau, Pelletier and Vadeboncoeur—as well as the unions that fought the battles, and artists and women. The Quiet Revolution took place because Quebec dreamt about it. All the young athletes who participated in the Olympics said that it was their dream, and that they had to work hard to achieve it.

That is our dream. We will work hard and we will achieve it.