Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on the Speech from the Throne.
On the first day of Parliament, I had the honour of acknowledging and thanking my family, the people who voted for me, and my organizers. Today I would like to take this opportunity to wish them a happy new year; much health and happiness to all these people who mean so much to me and whom I have had the honour of representing for 31 years.
Some members have asked me if I ever feel like I am running out of steam after spending so many years in the House. To the nearly 200 new members who arrived this year, I would say that one's passion for politics grows over the years. The longer they are here, the more passionate they will be about serving the public and about politics, and the more they will respect this great House, this place of democracy. It is truly a privilege to sit here. No one can enter here without wearing the mantle of democracy placed on their shoulders by the people of their riding. I always come back to work in this House with enthusiasm and passion. Often there are heated debates. It cannot be avoided because we cannot always see things the same way.
When people say that things are a bit crazy in the House of Commons, I tell them that we send our soldiers to fight all over the world to spread democracy so that people can have different opinions. Let us therefore make the most of our differing opinions here in the House of Commons. I am still very happy to speak here.
There is one thing I am not happy about. The throne speech was read on December 4, and because our party is considered to be made up of independents, we were 34th and 64th in line to speak. In any other democracy, we would have had a chance to speak sooner. The same kind of thing happened today. The hon. minister made an important statement on the environment, and the other parties got about as much speaking time as the minister. We asked for two minutes for our environment critic, but our request was refused.
The same thing happened with other ministers' statements, and we were also denied the opportunity to sit as members of a special committee. We could speak but not vote. When some members do not have the same privileges as others and the same resources to do their work in the House and in their ridings, that is not right. It is not right, and ours is the only democracy in the world where that happens. There is no provincial government, no democracy in the world that denies political parties the rights and privileges enjoyed by other members of the legislative body. Only here in Canada. There is no reason for it either, because there is no House of Commons standing order that says it has to be that way. It is the way it is because three whips from three parties arbitrarily decided that there must be 12 members.
The Bloc Québécois once held six seats and was denied rights and privileges. At one point, the NDP had nine seats and they were also denied rights and privileges. We have 10 seats and we are being denied rights and privileges, and we were also denied them when we held four seats. It is 2016, the 21st century, and there are many more schools of political thought than there were in the past. It is wrong that our party and the Green Party do not have the same privileges as the other parties. The Green Party has a presence throughout Quebec and Canada. It received over 500,000 votes and should have the same rights and privileges as the other parties, in proportion to the number of seats it holds.
I wanted to mention this in my speech. I am asking the members of the House to discuss this in caucus and to try to defend this way of doing things to their constituents by telling them that they have rights and privileges that other members of the House do not and asking them if they agree with that.
No legal expert or anyone with any judgment at all would agree with that. It is not the fault of the MPs. It is often because of the stubbornness of their whip, and the MPs should challenge that. It is not about giving us the same amount of time. We are 10 members out of 338. We should have the right to some time and a research and support budget, in proportion to our numbers, so that we can work in the House like all the other members.
I will now talk about the Speech from the Throne. During the election campaign, the Liberal Party created high expectations with its sometimes very specific promises regarding the environment, for example. Whether we liked it or not, the winds of change were blowing.
For 10 years, the former government had a very austere policy that Canadians did not agree with in the least. The government was tired, and people decided to listen to the winds of change and the very firm commitments made by the candidates and the Prime Minister.
However, in the throne speech, the first major official speech by the government, the speech that paves the way for all the bills to be introduced in this session and outlines how things will work in the coming months and what the government's priorities will be, many promises seem to have been forgotten.
In the throne speech, we do not see many of the commitments the Liberals made while they were the third party. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps this will come. However, at the end of the day, the throne speech is generally used to dictate the legislative agenda in the coming months.
My first comment is that we have heard a lot about nation-to-nation dialogue with the aboriginal peoples, and I think that respecting nations is a wonderful thing. However, I noticed that the Quebec nation was completely ignored in this throne speech.
When Mr. Chrétien was leading the Liberal Party, his party moved a motion in the House, which was unanimously adopted, that recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. When a government recognizes a nation, it also recognizes that this nation may make choices that are sometimes different from those of another nation, and there needs to be a special agreement when the central government introduces a particular bill or makes a particular expenditure.
The throne speech did not mention the Quebec nation a single time, which leads many to believe that the intent and the recognition itself were nothing but empty gestures.
In addition, this is the first time in over 50 years that the Prime Minister has not appointed a Quebec lieutenant. The first time in over 50 years. This suggests that they think Quebec is just like all the other provinces and that we can dispense with notions of founding people and distinct society. That says Quebec is a province like any other and that this government will seek to provincialize it. That will not work at all with all of the political parties in Quebec.
No Quebec premier ever signed the Canadian Constitution. Legally, we are Canadian, but regardless of the party in power in Quebec City, we never signed the 1982 Constitution because it does not recognize the Quebec nation.
That brings me to health care funding. During the election campaign, the Minister of Health made it clear that she wanted to reinstate the 25%.
I would remind the House that under Paul Martin's Liberal government, contributions to the provinces covered 50% of the provinces' total expenditures. In order to balance the budget, transfers were dropped to 25% under the Liberal government of the day, and the Conservatives followed suit, while collecting the same taxes. The money, then, stays in Ottawa, although the needs are in the provinces, and transfers continue to diminish. What is needed is a readjustment based on 1994-95. Transfers should be restored to at least 25%, and the principle that applied back then needs to be restored. This means that in the provinces, health care should be regarded as a whole, rather than per capita, because some provinces' populations are aging faster than others' and those provinces will therefore need more money to provide services to those individuals whose needs are greater. This will be very important in the negotiations this government should have with the provinces. Things got off to a good start with a meeting of the health ministers. Let us hope the government listens to their demands.
As far as the environment is concerned, there is a clear intention in the promises and the Speech from the Throne to reduce greenhouse gases. Something tangible needs to be done. We cannot ignore TransCanada's infamous energy east project. British Columbia also had a pipeline project. The premier of British Columbia, many elected officials, and the general public opposed the project. The Liberal Party, which was not in power at the time, immediately supported British Columbia, saying that it was opposed to the pipeline, as were the NDP members.
The Government of Quebec said that at least seven conditions had to be met before it would look at this pipeline that will go through Quebec. None of those conditions have been met. This project does not have the public's approval or the social licence, as the Prime Minister calls it. Eighty-two mayors in the Montreal area representing four million people are saying no to this project. It does not have social licence any more than the project in British Columbia did. The government has to respond accordingly. Eighty-two mayors and the Government of Quebec are against this project. There is a lot to think about. The members from Quebec, no matter what party they represent here, have a duty to stand up and defend Quebec's interests ahead of TransCanada's. It is only right to listen to the public.
Given that the Speech from the Throne spent a lot of time on the environment, I would like to remind members that there will be environmental risks for the 160 rivers that the pipeline will cross in Quebec. We are not talking about two rivers, but about 160 rivers in addition to the St. Lawrence. Do we have the means to cover this risk? The maximum amount of liability covered is $1 billion. An accident in one of these rivers or the St. Lawrence would cost much more than that. Thus, Quebec is taking the risk and has no financial gain, other than 33 jobs. Therefore, the Bloc's position is clear: we must defend Quebec's interests and oppose this pipeline.
In regard to employment insurance, I would like to reiterate the commitments made by the Bloc during the election campaign and the promises made by some Liberal members here in the House. We wanted to get rid of the infamous reform proposed by the former government that would force a worker to accept a job requiring a 100-kilometre round trip, among other things. There was a firm commitment to correct that.
Today, the minister told the House that she was listening and that she was working on addressing this issue. Good. If she addresses it, I will have nothing but praise for her. However, I would like the government to do more about employment insurance. I would like it to create an EI fund administered at arm's length from government. This money belongs to workers and business owners. The government cannot dip into the fund surplus as we have seen previous governments do.
I remind members that the last government claimed its budget was balanced. However, it took $3 billion from the EI fund to achieve that balance. That $3 billion was intended for the next two budgets. The government must put an end to that and create an independent EI fund. When there is a surplus, the government can increase access to EI, and when there is a deficit, it can increase premiums. The fund will remain independent and will not be used to help the government achieve its financial objectives.
There has also been talk about the revitalization of our regions. My colleague from Manicouagan gave an eloquent speech on this topic, but meanwhile, the government has hardly said a word. The government often forgets that Quebec is made up of many different regions. There are four million people in the greater Montreal area, but unlike Ontario, Quebec has many other regions. Unfortunately, the government does not seem to take that into account and does not adapt its infrastructure and other programs to the realities of those regions, particularly when it comes to forestry, tourism, and the fisheries.
I would also like to briefly mention the child benefit. It seems to me that there is a practical measure that needs to be taken before the government's proposed reform is implemented. Parents are required to report the amount they received for their children under the Conservatives' UCCB program on their 2016 income tax return. That could be corrected immediately so that those benefits are not taxable.
With regard to agriculture, and more specifically supply management, the government clearly promised to compensate dairy producers, who were overlooked in the Canada-Europe agreement and the trans-Pacific partnership. The government talked about it, but nothing tangible was done for dairy producers, particularly with regard to the importation of cheese under these agreements. We will be the watchdog for dairy producers on this matter.
A discussion is needed regarding political party financing. Mr. Chrétien's Liberal government rightly established that funding should be public and that only people with the right to vote could donate to political parties. They even quoted René Lévesque to back up this change. All corporate donations were banned. By way of compensation, every party was given $2 per vote in order to prevent government members from doing favours in return for slush fund money. It is high time to discuss this and restore the spirit of the bill introduced by the Hon. Jean Chrétien.
The Bloc Québécois will be very vigilant with respect to the promises in the throne speech. It will also be there to support deserving measures and propose real solutions to improve the lives of all Canadians and all Quebeckers.