Madam Speaker, I am so very pleased to speak to Bill C‑35 this evening, especially since I prepared my speech by running the statements I am about to make by my colleague from La Prairie, who is an economist. They call him “the big softy of La Prairie” now because he is so nice. It makes a change from his former life in Quebec City, where he was known as the “butcher of Sanguinet”. That was my little introduction.
Why am I so pleased? It is because, in my former life, I taught a course on social policy to social workers, in which we discussed Quebec's family policy extensively as one of the best examples of a successful social policy. As we know, Quebec's family policy encompasses a number of measures, including child care services and parental leave, which were introduced by Pauline Marois.
When explaining to students how to grasp the scope of a social policy such as child care, I always began by identifying the different ways of looking at society. The fact that there are multiple ways of looking at society gives rise to ideological debates. We are seeing these ideological debates play out this evening. I find that a good way of distinguishing between the people I would call social democrats and those who espouse what might be called classical liberalism—or conservatism, as I should call it for the benefit of people here—is to look at how social policies are articulated.
I would define a progressive as someone who fights for individuals to be able to define themselves on their own. That is what progressives try to do. Why is that? As we know, there are people who are stuck in a predetermined social position. Here is a simple example: People whose parents are on welfare have a tougher time at school because they have fewer resources. They are at risk of becoming stuck in a predetermined position that they do not want, but that was assigned to them by their circumstances, because they were born into families with limited resources, or because they were born into a social group where education was not valued. These are people who are assigned to a predetermined social position.
As I see it, a progressive is a person who clearly knows that people born into favourable circumstances have enough social capital to achieve social fulfillment. Equal opportunity takes this into consideration and creates mechanisms that allow less advantaged individuals to experience upward mobility. The concept is nothing new. The member for La Prairie explained to me that this is the very basis of Keynesianism.
According to the liberalism of John Maynard Keynes, a free market is not enough. We also need a social safety net so that every individual can participate in society. We know what this social safety net is. Our social safety net is access to education and health care. This allows for greater equity and gives people in less enviable social circumstances the chance to fulfill their potential. That is how I would describe a progressive.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that this is the role of the market, that this is the role of the individual and that, if the individual puts in enough effort, they will succeed. That is what we call a meritocracy. I was basically trying to explain to students that these are two very different visions of society. My goal at the time was not to participate in ideological polarization, but I did point out that, generally speaking, it is the more progressive people who will have a positive vision of social policy, and therefore a positive vision of a measure like $5-a-day child care.
We are seeing that tonight in the House. My Conservative colleagues' speeches reminded me of the ones I heard in Quebec 25 years ago when child care was first introduced. Some people said that parents are in the best position to make decisions for their child. No one is in a better position to choose than the parent. No one is saying otherwise. No one is saying that it is not up to parents to decide what will happen to their child.
People also said that the lack of child care spaces was creating inequality. It was not just for the mother who wanted to send her children to a day care that had no more spots, and it was not just for the mother who wanted to keep her children at home either. To me, this is just rhetoric that does not offer any solution and just advances a political agenda, but does not account for specific situations experienced by individuals.
I say that because history has not vindicated those who supported this point of view. After Quebec's family policy was brought in 25 years ago, we realized that there were more women in the workforce. That was Pauline Marois's initial goal when she introduced this policy. We also realized children started school with fewer language delays. They will succeed academically because they are not starting at a disadvantage. We know that when a child enters school with language delays and has trouble integrating into the school curriculum, that child has less of a chance of moving up and succeeding than a student who has supportive parents. A child who is sent to a day care that provides good services could have those delays sorted out. That truly is what happened, looking back, 25 years later, at the benefits of Quebec's family policy.
This means that a successful social policy is one that takes into account a multitude of factors. Quebec's decision to introduce a child care system was about more than just enabling mothers to enter the labour market. It was also about enabling mothers to escape poverty. It was about enabling children to have initial contact with education, learn how to be independent and embark on a path towards an undoubtedly brighter future. As we have seen, it worked, because Quebec is a progressive society.
Let me provide a few examples. Not to be petty or mean-spirited, but Canada's family policy is 25 years behind, unfortunately. It happens. The federal government sometimes lags behind. The same can be said of medical assistance in dying. We are not blaming the federal government. It is slightly delayed, which is normal. It is also the same thing with secularism. In 25 years, perhaps the federal government will realize that a law on secularism is also progressive. However, that is a different debate that I do not necessarily want to get into.
It is important to understand how a social policy fits in. It is also important to realize that there is an ideological struggle going on between the two visions. That is what we are seeing tonight. However, the ultimate goal is to do good. The ultimate goal is to ensure that every child has access to quality services and will eventually be able to thrive and escape from conditions in which they could be trapped. As I was saying, a child born into a bad environment is more likely than others not to have access to education and, ultimately, to have a bleaker future.
Quebec has shown what successful day care services look like. I was saying that the federal government is lagging behind, but it will eventually catch up. All of this is fantastic, and it means the Bloc Québécois will likely vote in favour of Bill C‑35. However, I would not be true to myself if I did not point out the fly in the ointment.
The fly in the ointment goes hand in hand with the disease that is eating away at federalism. It is a disease called the fiscal imbalance. I have no intention of reopening the debate on health care funding. However, as will be shown, the logic is undeniable. What does the federal government do all the time? I call it predatory federalism. It encroaches on jurisdictions that do not belong to it. Once inside these jurisdictions, it proposes policies and then it pulls out. In the process, it creates a sort of dependency and obligations. Then it avoids paying the costs associated with these obligations. This is what we saw happen in the health care system.
If we look back to the early 1960s, we will find that under the legislation that created the public health system, for every dollar invested in or spent on health, 50¢ came from the federal government and 50¢ came from the provinces. That was in 1960.
Over the years, health transfers went through a series of reforms. The 1970s was when the first change was made to substantially reduce the federal contribution to health care.
In the 1990s, Canadian-style neo-liberalism arrived with Paul Martin. At that time, transfers were slashed outright, and Canada's budget was balanced on the backs of the provinces. If I can use 1996-97 and 1997-98 as benchmark years, the federal government repeatedly cut transfer payments by $2.5 billion a year, if I remember correctly. This created intense pressure on the provinces.
In one of his occasional moments of lucidity, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told his colleagues at a G7 meeting that he could balance the books at any time without paying a political price, because it was the provinces that had to deal with the financial difficulties he created.
A child care system is now in place and Quebec will be given $6 billion over five years. There are no guarantees, however. The government is currently in a minority, which is good. The NDP is supporting it, barely. That is good because it means the Liberals cannot do everything they want. Sooner or later, there will be a financial reckoning. That makes the Conservatives' mouths water. This is what gets them excited, like a kid in a candy store. Sooner or later, we will have to return to a balanced budget.
When the government loses its alliance with the NDP, it will have to propose measures to return to a balanced budget. What will it do? Will it cut its own spending? Technically, it will be tempted to lower the payments it makes to the provinces. The despicable thing about all of this is that, generally, the government does this after having previously set standards.
As we have seen, the government wants to impose health care standards. The government is telling the provinces that if it sends money back to them to reinvest in health care, they will have to invest it in specific services, such as long-term health care or mental health care. The particularities of each province are not even taken into account. The federal government does not have the expertise, but it is telling the provinces how to behave. It is doing it with health care, and there is no guarantee that we will not see the same thing with child care.
The $6 billion announced in 2021 by the Prime Minister and Premier Legault is fantastic. However, there is no guarantee that when the government goes back to its old ways and wants to balance the budget, it will not slash these transfer payments and make the provinces bear the brunt once again. The provinces will have to bear the brunt and face their residents as services are cut and access to services becomes more difficult.
This is the blind spot with child care and Bill C‑35. We cannot totally agree with what the government is proposing. We know very well that, in the future, when the federal government intrudes on our areas of jurisdiction, that could translate into Quebec and other provincial politicians paying the price. They might have to deal with the federal government's predatory federalism reflex, which leads it to encroach on jurisdictions and then to pull out, refusing to pay the political price and instead foisting it onto others.
I say this because that is generally what happens. In my opinion, my Liberal and Conservative colleagues resemble each other in this respect. Ideologically speaking, they are willing to provide certain services to the public, but when the time comes to pay, they are much more tight-fisted.
The political instinct is to secure their own future, without thinking of the future of provincial politicians or the people's needs.
In my introduction, I said that I considered Quebec to be a progressive society. As we can see with child care, Quebec is 25 years ahead of the federal government. That 25-year head start is also reflected in the federal government not being ready right now to meet its obligations, at least when it comes to health care.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C‑35 with all due reservations. I urge my Conservative colleagues to stop using the sterile rhetoric about how they want to defend everyone's freedom to choose whether they want to send their children to a public day care or keep them at home. It is not constructive at all and it does nothing to combat the fundamental problem of poverty in all advanced western countries.
Whenever we look at poverty indicators, who tops the list? It is single mothers. That is how it is in Quebec and every other province.
The best way to support these individuals and get them out of the disadvantaged conditions they are in is to have proper child care services. However, let us remain vigilant, because if the past is any indication, I am convinced that in five, six, or seven years, we will see a Liberal or Conservative government ready to cut the financial support currently offered to the provinces.