Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the voters in the riding of Rivière-du-Nord for placing their trust in me during the last election. During my time in office, I will represent them with humility, wisdom and dedication.
I would also like to thank the hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers who decided to put their faith in the Bloc Québécois to speak on their behalf in the House.
The Bloc Québécois is Quebec's party. Our purpose and our primary function here in the House is to stand up for Quebeckers' interests and values. We have a solid team made up of men and women of conviction. Our team will do a great job of representing the thousands of voters who chose to put their faith in our party and who believe in our mission: to fight for Quebec's independence and champion the interests of the Quebec nation.
Since its creation, our party has always acted responsibly in the work it does. Over the years, successive governments have been able to rely on our support when their policies served the interests of Quebec. Our party has also vigorously objected, and rightfully so, any time the rights of Quebeckers have been violated or ignored. For instance, the Bloc Québécois supported Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's work to create the now-defunct long gun registry. We did the same thing when it came time to ratify the Kyoto protocol in order to fight climate change.
We also supported the same Prime Minister in introducing same-sex marriage and imposing a moratorium on the criminalization of cannabis. However, governments that ignored Quebec or abused the rights of Quebeckers remember the opposition work of the Bloc Québécois.
I am sure that no one in this House is proud of the notorious sponsorship scandal. In any case, it was because of the hard, tireless work of the Bloc Québécois and its members that Quebec and the rest of Canada learned of the extent of the corruption surrounding the government of the day.
Hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers have long put their trust in the Bloc Québécois because doing so is good not only for Quebec, but also for democracy. The reasons are clear. First, making Quebec a country is still on the table. I can assure everyone listening that our caucus' commitment to the cause remains unwavering. Another reason we are still in the House is that the Bloc Québécois has always been beyond reproach and devoted to its work.
The Bloc Québécois is not a conventional opposition party. We do not oppose something simply because we are in the opposition. That would serve no purpose or make any sense and, as such, would be disrespectful to those who gave us our mandate. The Bloc Québécois stands up for the interests of Quebec. Until Quebec becomes a country it is critical that its choices are respected. Provided the federal government's decisions reflect such respect then the Bloc Québécois will support the government's policies. One day Quebec will collaborate with Canada, side by side within the community of nations.
We watched the sad spectacle put on by the previous government for far too long. The rights of parliamentarians were violated for nearly a decade. The House of Commons was reduced to playing a supporting role to a prime minister who did not believe in parliamentary work. The public service, scientists, women and workers were muzzled and treated with disdain, and the Conservative government basically ignored the environment, when the time has long since passed for critical action on climate change.
The Conservative government worked to achieve a single goal: to use its power to remain in power. A change in direction and tone was needed. In that regard, all the parties that ran against the Conservatives in the last election can congratulate themselves for expressing and doing something about Canadians' frustration and dissatisfaction with that government by removing it from power. That is why we commended the Prime Minister's announcement in the throne speech of his intention to return to a parliamentary tradition where respect for the opposition is a given.
There is no democracy without the work of a real opposition. The Bloc Québécois supports a number of the objectives set out by the Prime Minister. We will support some of those initiatives in keeping with our tradition of working together constructively.
First of all, we are thrilled to see that the government shares our concerns about climate change. However, we are asking that the efforts to combat climate change that Quebec has been making for a long time now be taken into account in the plan that the government will be putting forward in this regard.
That being said, all states must do their part, and there is a consensus in the scientific community to that effect. Even former U.S. vice-president Al Gore recently pointed out the major efforts Quebec has made to help combat climate change. The government cannot ignore that fact. If the government wants our support, it needs a plan that takes into account the leading-edge work that the Quebec nation has done to date.
The same is true for the matter of end-of-life care. We believe that Canada must enter into an informed and thorough debate on this issue, similar to that undertaken by the Quebec National Assembly.
However, Quebec cannot be penalized for having led the way in this area. On the contrary, we believe that the government must acknowledge Quebec's invaluable contribution, get the rest of Canada up to speed and adjust the targets for each province based on the efforts made since 1990 and the Kyoto accord.
In his speech, the Prime Minister claims that he intends to strengthen the employment insurance system. We support that. We believe it is high time that employment insurance truly was an insurance program and not a tax on labour. At present this is not the case, as EI seems to be a deficit reduction tax.
For the past 20 years, the EI fund has been ransacked time and again. If the Prime Minister is serious about strengthening the program, he must agree to make the fund truly independent. We are still adding up the billions of dollars that have been looted from this fund since 1996.
It is time to put a stop to that practice and to ensure that workers have real support when they lose their jobs. There is currently no indication that the Prime Minister intends to solve this problem once and for all. We are asking him to do so.
The Bloc Québécois has always been a staunch defender of workers' rights. We urge the Prime Minister to listen to our proposals if he truly wants to find appropriate, sustainable solutions for employment insurance.
Health is another very important issue. The Prime Minister has told us that he plans on talking to the provinces to reach a new agreement. Again, we have some conditions. Ottawa will have to increase federal health funding by 6%, until 25% of Quebec's system costs are covered. Ottawa must also consider that our population is aging.
The Bloc Québécois will remain opposed to any law to implement the trans-Pacific partnership or the Canada-Europe agreement if the following conditions are not met. First, supply-managed cheese and agricultural producers will have to be fully compensated for any revenue losses. In addition, the federal government will have to provide considerable support for the next generation of farmers, to the tune of $100 million a year in investments. Lastly, the government will have to bring in border controls to prevent milk proteins from entering.
The fiscal imbalance is still a reality, and it could doom Quebeckers to decades of austerity unless something is done.
In the not-too-distant past, the Bloc Québécois was instrumental in partially addressing this issue. However, let us not kid ourselves. Everyone here is well aware that the expenses are in Quebec City, but the money is here in Ottawa.
The Prime Minister can get the Bloc's support if he acknowledges this situation and starts restoring the spending balance between the federal government and the Government of Quebec.
We salute the government's intention to renew its relationships with first nations. We fully support the Prime Minister's plan to tackle, at long last, the many issues they have been facing for too long. The Prime Minister said that he will initiate a nation-to-nation dialogue with aboriginal peoples. This is a noble initiative, and we will make sure that what is good for first nations is also good for the Quebec nation.
We will also support the government's plan to reduce taxes for the middle class. We believe that the middle class in Quebec and Canada must be strengthened. However, we would also like to see the government do more for low-income citizens. The middle class has been shrinking over the past 30-plus years not because the people of Quebec and Canada are getting richer, but because the number of people with low incomes is growing. If the government really wants to be progressive, it has to tackle poverty. Yes, we have to do whatever we can to strengthen the middle class, but all governments have an even more pressing duty to eradicate poverty. We would like the government to take meaningful steps toward that goal.
For all these reasons, we see many areas on which the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal government can agree and work together. The Prime Minister's wishes and goals are in line with many of the Bloc Québécois's demands and commitments. However, some important issues were ignored in the throne speech. We believe that a tax-free UCCB would be far more beneficial to Quebeckers than the proposed Canada child benefit.
We also believe that scrapping Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, would be better than a lengthy process to reform it.
In terms of infrastructure development, we want to make sure that Quebec's jurisdictions will not be violated for the umpteenth time by a federal program that ignores federal-provincial jurisdictions. If the federal government is serious about coming up with solutions to modernize our infrastructure, it needs to provide the Quebec government with the resources. It is up to Quebec City to decide the best way to modernize its infrastructure, with support from and by working with the municipalities in Quebec.
Allow me to reiterate that our work has always been accountable and honourable. That said, we have a duty to work together and ensure that our constituents can get the most out of every Parliament. Ever since the Bloc Québécois has been in the House, that motivation has made our party one of the most respected parties by Quebeckers. Over the years, we have even received praise and encouragement from the rest of Canada on our constructive work. Today, we are continuing in that vein with our tradition of promoting and defending Quebec's values and interests regardless of the circumstances. That is why we support, with reservations, the general scope of the Speech from the Throne.
That is also why we are asking to be heard and to join the government in a discussion with our parliamentarians in order to meet the needs of Quebeckers. We have always taken this approach because we represent Quebec. Our nation is our raison d'être. Our nation adopted a model more than 50 years ago when a tremendous group of people set out to make Quebeckers masters of their own house. This model is universally supported in Quebec. Under this model, no citizen is left behind.
We cherish a just and fair society. Modern Quebec is a society with a thirst for social justice and self-determination. However, the government in Ottawa always seems to stand in the way of the Quebec model. It has become increasingly obvious over the years that Quebec would be in a better position to develop its economy, environment, society and social programs if it alone could choose its priorities.
Earlier I mentioned that we unequivocally support the Prime Minister's efforts to engage in real nation-to-nation dialogue with our aboriginal peoples. This should set an example for the government's relations with the people of Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois is the standard-bearer for an ideal that is shared by millions of Quebeckers and that cannot be ignored.