Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate on the motion moved by the hon. member for Joliette.
The hon. member for Joliette raises some points that I would like to address as a Quebecker and federal MP for Lévis—Bellechasse serving my constituents and the Quebec nation.
First of all, I have no intention of supporting this motion for two reasons. First, it precludes reforming Canadian federalism and prevents Quebec from showing what it is capable of within Canada.
The second reason is because it does not recognize the improvements to and the evolution of federalism since the Meech Lake accord. I firmly intend to oppose this motion.
I think this motion gives us the opportunity to put things back in their historical context and in order to do so, we have to go back to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982. At that time, the Liberal government of the day unilaterally repatriated the Constitution, without Quebec's consent.
Even though I am a proud Quebecker who wants Quebec to grow within the Canadian federation, I cannot accept that. It was unacceptable at the time and it remains so today. And I am not the only one to think so. Many Canadians think as I do that patriating the Constitution unilaterally had adverse consequences of which we are still feeling the effects today.
The former Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield, from Nova Scotia, said this about the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982 by the federal Liberal government, led at the time by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
No Quebec premier in human memory would have accepted the 1982 Constitution. In 1982, English Canada forgot its history. We abandoned our tradition of not changing the rules that govern Quebec without Quebec's consent. I thought then and I still think now that the 1982 exercise put Canada as a country in jeopardy.
The unilateral patriation of the Constitution was particularly egregious as the process was supposed to be based on the willing consent of all parties.The quotation continues:
Ottawa not only missed an opportunity for constitutional renewal following a positive vote in the referendum; Ottawa also betrayed francophone Quebeckers who voted for constitutional renewal.
That is what happened in 1982. It showed contempt for the nation of Quebec. It was unacceptable, and it was the doing of a federal Liberal government.
What led us from the unilateral patriation of the Constitution to the Meech Lake accord? The Meech Lake accord was a Canadian plan developed under the leadership of a Conservative government. That is the reality.
Unfortunately, what I find paradoxical today, is that sovereignist members are introducing a motion that sings the praises of the Meech Lake accord to high heaven. Just like the federal Liberal members, they all found themselves on one side of the fence and opposed that accord. They dug its grave, no question.
Today, we see that the members of the Bloc have thrown in the towel, while still keeping their hands on the benefits of Canadian federalism and relegating Quebec to the opposition benches. I am sharing my opinion and hon. members are free to take a different view.
This motion gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to a great Quebecker and a great Canadian. He had his finest moment here on May 1, 1987, when he informed the House that:
—the Premiers and I reached unanimous agreement in principle on a constitutional package which will allow Quebec to rejoin the Canadian constitutional family.
This agreement enhances the Confederation bargain and strengthens, I believe, the federal nature of Canada. Although it remains to be formalized, it represents in the judgment of First Ministers from all political stripes and from all areas of the country an historic accomplishment.
Of course, members will recognize the words of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, who said this here in this House on May 3, 1987. He also drew a parallel with a statement by another former Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who said:
The governing motive of my life has been to harmonize the diverse elements which compose our country.
Surely, that is the wish of every Member on all sides of the House. That is our policy, our purpose--building a stronger Canada for all Canadians.
That is the Meech Lake accord. It is a Canadian proposal prepared under the leadership of a Conservative government, with a vision that would bring Quebec back into the Canadian federation with its full consent. People recognized that it was a unique and unprecedented gesture. I am thinking in particular of Roger Tassé, who was the main author of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said that, of course, like any agreement, it was not perfect, but it was certainly as good as the 1982 amendments. It was a major constitutional accord that was a defining moment for Canada, resolved matters left unresolved in 1982 and brought Quebec back into the constitutional fold, an accord that had been signed by 11 Canadian first ministers, an unprecedented achievement.
That is what we had under a Conservative government. We had a Canada that worked, a Canada with a place for everyone. That was until people came along and sabotaged the Meech Lake accord. Now, 20 years later, it is important to tell people that those forces are still at work here in the House. We must remember that the Conservative government played a crucial role in helping Canada and Quebec continue to thrive.
I have a quote here from a member who is still in the House. This is from the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for a time. He said:
After Meech we would have had stability for a very long time. And the worst constitutional error in the history of Canada was probably Mr. Trudeau's campaign against Meech.
That was a current member of the Liberal Party acknowledging the problems that sabotaging the Meech Lake accord created. People definitely have strong feelings about it because what happened was unacceptable and we are still suffering from the after-effects.
So here we have the centralist Liberals who torpedoed the Meech Lake accord and people who threw in the towel. I am not throwing in the towel. We have made real progress over the past 20 years and under the leadership of our current Prime Minister. Canada can evolve and Quebec can evolve within the Canadian federation.
A prime indicator is the recognition of the Quebec nation, which is similar to one of the clauses in the Meech Lake accord about recognition of a distinct society. We recognized that Quebec is not only a distinct society, but a nation. That happened here in this House. Where there is a will, there is a way, and this is a good example of what we can accomplish when we want to move federalism forward. That is one very good reason why I oppose the motion.
Our government, like the majority of Quebeckers, is betting on Quebec remaining within Canada. We believe that Canada and Quebec can continue to work together and make it a winning proposition. That has been the underlying principle of our policies since 2006. This policy is supported by concrete action consistent with the vision of a modern and confident Canada, resolutely turned towards the future. In the Canadian federation, no partner is made to renounce its very nature. On the contrary, we believe that each partner, with its own assets and strengths, contributes to our collective nation building. That also applies to Quebec which, with its flourishing culture, rich identity, vigorous economy and dynamic entrepreneurs, plays an important role in this country, allowing us and Quebeckers to maximize our potential and to realize our legitimate aspirations.
Quebeckers, together with other Canadians, have risen to the challenge. Our government intends to continue in that direction for the benefit of all Canadians. Canada poses a collective challenge, to which each of its components is asked to respond. This objective has been defined by some with a slogan that is also a program: unity in diversity.
This objective is being met by practising a federalism that respects the responsibilities of each of our provincial and territorial partners and takes into account the major issues of our time.
Our government favours an approach based on open federalism, an approach that recognizes that the federation, far from being static, is constantly evolving in order to adapt to change and the realities of the modern world. This approach allows the federation to better respond to the challenges faced by the provinces and territories and gives results for all Canadians.
For example, we worked with all the provinces and territories to implement Canada's economic action plan last year and we are continuing with that process.
In the last two years, Quebec's economic performance was remarkable, thanks to the Quebeckers in the House who supported the economic action plan. The best example of this is that right now, the lowest unemployment rate in Canada is in the Quebec City region, a region represented by a majority of Conservative members.
Investments from the economic action plan have been made in all ridings in Quebec, regardless of political representation. In all regions and all major cities in Quebec, the economic action plan will provide benefits in terms of infrastructure and culture, for workers, businesses and the forestry sector. The economic action plan gives concrete and tangible results, and puts Quebec in a relatively enviable economic position.
In terms of infrastructure, we committed to taking immediate action to start work and to accelerate funding for projects for the 2009 and 2010 construction seasons.
The economic action plan offers a series of concrete measures, agreed to by premiers and territorial leaders on January 16, 2009, to make substantial investments in the budget to support the economy in the short term and also prepare it for longer-term challenges.
This plan is achieving the desired results. Canada made it through this global recession better off than all the G7 nations. I have a hard time understanding why the Bloc members are against this economic action plan, which is fundamentally good for Quebec. It is clear. Quebec, as part of Canada, is in one of the most enviable positions in the G7.
Recent developments in the economic situation indicate that the action plan has helped stabilize the national economy and has helped restore economic growth. Economic growth means economic independence and autonomy. The Conservative members have helped make our country economically independent. More than 285,000 jobs have been created since July 2009. Consumer and business confidence has significantly improved and has returned to its previous levels.
We have some work to do in the House to ensure Quebec's economic prosperity. I can say that the team of Conservative members and senators from Quebec can be counted on and are doing a great job. We need only look at our remarkable justice initiatives that Quebeckers very must appreciate.
I want to come back to the economy. In the end, demand has increased much more than in all the other G7 countries. This shows that people are regaining confidence in the economy.
Thanks to the economic action plan, taxes were reduced. That is another measure taken by the Conservatives. Quebeckers are paying less taxes at the federal level because the Conservatives lowered taxes and the GST. Let us also not forget EI benefits, which were extended for the unemployed. Then, there are thousands of infrastructure projects that are underway across the country.
In Quebec's CEGEPs, record investments were made in science and technology. Industries and communities are benefiting from a strong support, and some exceptional measures were taken to improve access to financing.
Over the past year, the government has also signed agreements to allow provinces, territories, municipalities and private sector partners to implement shared responsibility initiatives. We are talking about an investment of $47 billion in our economy, in addition to the provinces' contribution of $15 billion. For Quebec, this means that, in addition to the economic action plan, federalism has provided some major benefits, but also tools for the Canadian federation as a whole.
In 2010-11, Quebec will continue to benefit from large federal transfers, since federal support for the provinces and territories has reached unprecedented levels and will continue to grow. For Quebec, it will total $19.3 billion in 2010-11. The moneys that Quebec will receive from the federal government will reach unprecedented levels.
I can reassure my colleagues by telling them that Quebec Conservative members supported these measures. Unfortunately, members opposite did not do so, and that is very regrettable. Among other things, Quebec is getting $280 million more than it did in 2009-10, which was already a record year. Let us not forget that Quebec is getting close to $6.8 billion more than when the federal Liberal conservative government was in office.
Quebec has never received as much as in the recent past, with a Conservative government in Ottawa and with Conservative members from Quebec who think that the province can continue to do very well within the Canadian federation and be an active player.
This increased long term support helps ensuring that Quebec has the necessary resources to provide essential public services, while contributing to the establishment of common national objectives in health care, post-secondary education and other important parts of Canada's social security net.
As for the wealth distribution system of equalization, it is important to remember that Quebec received $8.6 billion, almost $3.8 billion or 78% more than in 2005-06. And for the Canada health transfer, Quebec received $6.1 billion, which is $294 million more than last year. The Canada social transfer was $2.6 billion.
That means that even though our government has experienced some economic turmoil, we maintained transfers to the provinces in order to allow our provincial partners, and Quebec in particular, to maintain overall services. In addition, contrary to our colleagues on the other side, we did not make deep cuts at a time when our partners needed money. That is what I wanted to point out.
I would have liked to talk about what we are doing in terms of knowledge and innovation, as well as what we are doing for workers. Today I believe that we need to remember that, essentially, the Meech Lake accord was a project undertaken by a Conservative government that wanted Quebec to fully and of its own accord rediscover its place within the Canadian federation.
I gave the example of the Liberal Party of Canada, which sabotaged the Meech Lake accord, as did the sovereignists, who did not want it to work because it would allow Quebec to continue to grow within the Canadian federation. I believe that this accord had a noble objective, and I applaud those who crafted it. It is understandable, for obvious reasons, that I have no praise for those who killed it. The Conservative government will continue to practise an open federalism that recognizes Quebec as a part of the Canadian federation.