Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House for the second time today, this time to speak to Bill C-35, an act respecting early learning and child care in Canada, which was introduced by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development on December 8.
From the work that we did at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, it is clear that the demands of the Bloc Québécois and Quebec were not heard or respected. Throughout the study of the bill, we heard witnesses talk about how important affordable, quality child care is for early childhood development, for better work-school-life balance, for the emancipation of women and for return on investment in the economy.
Throughout the study, Quebec was lauded as a model. Although it is not perfect, the Quebec model was mentioned many times as the model that should be emulated. However, at amendment stage, when it came time to include Quebec's expertise in the bill, the other three parties dismissed that reality out of hand. The same thing happened with our amendments to include wording allowing Quebec to completely opt out of the federal program with full financial compensation.
The only sign of any degree of openness was when a reference to Quebec expertise was included in the preamble, the only place where these words ultimately have no real impact on the law.
Although Quebec will not get the option to completely withdraw from the program with full compensation, an agreement to this effect had already been reached between Ottawa and Quebec. Senior officials who worked on the bill also repeatedly stated, when questioned on the subject, that while nothing would prevent the federal government from imposing conditions as part of a future agreement, the bill had always been designed with the asymmetry of Quebec's reality compared to Canada's provinces in mind.
The various members of the Liberal government who spoke on the bill also repeatedly said that the Liberals intended to continue working with Quebec on this issue. The current agreement also appealed to Quebec, since it did not interfere in any area of jurisdiction and left the Quebec government free to spend the money wherever it wanted.
With the current agreement between Ottawa and Quebec, and with the government's expressed willingness to continue that collaboration, it appears that Canada does not intend to preach to Quebec on the child care issue, especially since it has consistently praised Quebec's model of early childhood centres. We therefore believe that another bilateral agreement would be possible, probable and necessary, since the government is taking its cue from Quebec.
I presented six amendments in committee that, as I said earlier, would have made it possible to include Quebec's expertise in the bill. I wanted clause 7 to be amended by adding, among other things, the following:
(3) Having regard to the special and unique nature of the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec relating to early learning and child care in Quebec society and despite any other provision of this Act, the Government of Quebec may choose to exempt itself from the application of this Act by giving the Minister written notice to that effect, in which case that province may still receive the funding under section 8.
The purpose of this amendment was to incorporate a clause that recognizes the expertise of Quebec in the guiding principles of the bill. The adoption of my amendment would have allowed for the recognition of Quebec's jurisdiction and guaranteed Quebec a right to opt out of this legislation with full compensation. The idea is to avoid disputes between Ottawa and Quebec by recognizing from the outset what everyone here knows: Quebec is a pioneer when it comes to early childhood education and must continue to have sole control of its policies in this area.
We know that Quebec adopted a forward-thinking family policy more than 25 years ago. This policy, which can be described as progressive and feminist, has enabled thousands of women and families to benefit from better work-life or school-life balance, specifically through the creation of a network of early childhood centres. This model is an asset and a source of pride for the entire Quebec nation. In fact, it is the inspiration for this bill.
The adoption of this amendment would have confirmed the special and unique nature of the Government of Quebec's jurisdiction over education and child development by giving Quebec a right to opt out completely with full compensation.
Furthermore, this is an exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, and we believe that this amendment, like all the amendments that I moved, would have prevented squabbling between Ottawa and Quebec in the next round of federal investments in this area.
With respect to the same clause of the bill, I moved that the following be added:
Quebec retains sole responsibility for implementing, evaluating and adapting its early learning and child care policies and programs in Quebec, and therefore the Council's functions do not extend to early learning and child care, or any other related activity, in Quebec.
This amendment would have reiterated Quebec's sole jurisdiction in this area. Quebec has no desire to be evaluated or monitored by some council that answers to Ottawa, seeing as Quebec is a pioneer in this area, which falls under provincial jurisdiction. This came at the request of the office of Quebec's Minister of Families.
I also wanted the preamble to recognize the unique and leading-edge expertise of the Government of Quebec in the development and implementation of accessible and affordable educational child care services, that government having developed an innovative child care model in 1997 as part of its comprehensive family policy designed to give Quebec families a better work- or study-life balance, access to generous maternity and parental leaves, and services that are suited to self-employed workers and those with atypical hours of work.
This change in the text of the bill would have been important in guiding actions and interpretations of the bill. My amendment would have enshrined Quebec's historical capacity and expertise in its jurisdiction and family policy in the bill.
Continuing with the preamble, I wanted to read that the Government of Canada recognizes that, because of the special and unique nature of the Quebec government's responsibility for early learning and child care and the fact that Quebec developed educational, accessible, affordable and quality child care services as part of the family policy it adopted in 1997, the Quebec government need not adhere to the multilateral framework, as it intends to retain the exclusive responsibility for this matter in its territory.
The amendment that I presented was important because it would have recognized all the work done by Quebec on family policy and early childhood education over more than 25 years. The Quebec government declined Ottawa's invitation to participate in meetings to develop the multilateral early learning framework for a very simple reason. Quebec is responsible for its areas of jurisdiction and takes full responsibility for its family policy and educational framework. In this regard, it is not accountable to the federal government for its decisions.
As I said at the beginning, when it came time to include Quebec's expertise in the bill, the other three parties dismissed the idea outright. As I have said many times, Quebec is a champion in this field and a model, a model repeatedly cited by several witnesses we heard from at committee, and a model long envied by other provinces and territories.
However, Quebec does not appear once in Bill C-35. If Quebec's expertise and recognition had appeared in this bill, it would have garnered greater support from the Bloc Québécois. That said, we still support Bill C-35 in principle and will be voting in favour of it.