First of all, Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all my colleagues for giving unanimous consent so that my first speech before the House will not be interrupted.
It is always extremely intimidating for a new member to speak for the first time before an assembly such as ours, which is a product of democracy. I shall be as brief as possible, in keeping with the spirit of our standing orders.
We are just out of an electoral campaign that took us to every corner of our ridings. I do not know a single member of this House, from one side or the other, who did not listen closely to his or her constituents during that period.
A period when-and that is one of the main virtues of democracy-the voters, our constituents were able to make themselves heard.
People were able to express themselves, as is the case every three of four years; they were able to tell us about their concerns, their fears, their needs, as well as their concerns and their objectives.
I was really surprised to hear the people from the riding of Roberval, whom I knew well since I represented them twice in the Quebec National Assembly say how disappointed they were to see that, after nine years of a government whose mandate was coming to an end, the basic issues of the election campaign were essentially the same as those of the 1984 campaign. This was both surprising and disappointing for the people who listen to us, and it explains in part the lack of confidence and the lack of interest regarding politicians in our society.
People were disappointed because in the 1984 election campaign, the Progressive Conservative Party had pledged to eliminate or reduce the deficit. At that time, politicians travelled to every riding to ask their fellow Canadians to support them, and more importantly to promise them that the deficit would, from then on, be under control. I must point out here that this deficit was totally generated by the Liberal government.
Job creation was another priority during that election campaign, the 1984 campaign. Politicians of this country travelled everywhere to promise Canadians that the problem of unemployment would be solved, adding that it was unacceptable for a society such as ours to have an unemployment rate of about 20 per cent in several regions. This was a promise. What is the situation nine years later? The situation is the same. If anything, it is worse than before.
During the 1984 campaign, a commitment was also made whereby the constitutional problems would be solved, especially for Quebec where this is a very sensitive issue. We were told that a federalist party sitting in Ottawa would once and for all solve the constitutional problems and erase the unspeakable insult made to Quebec in 1982. Earlier this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition alluded to this episode. Quebecers felt they have been betrayed by unspeakable political acts which took place in Canada in 1982, 1984, 1988, and up to the present.
After nine years of promises, nine years of hopes, the election campaign was dominated by the same themes. Our senders debt not only has not been contained, it has tripled, in spite of all promises; the rate of unemployment is at least as high as it was in 1984, or nine years later, in spite of all promises. And last, but not least, there is a constitutional saga that deserves closer scrutiny. Years of discussions, exchanges, a deal, the Meech Lake Agreement, an agreement that essentially could have satisfied a certain number of Quebecers. For the main part, the Meech Lake Accord contained conditions which seemed acceptable to a relatively large segment of the population of Quebec. But what happened? Meech Lake was rejected. Several months, several years of discussions, compromises, exchanges, fragile agreements were rejected, as we have seen, even if they gave some hope for the future of Canada.
Some of our colleagues on the other side, whose ideas I respect, of course, will say that Canada is a great country, a country where we should enjoy living, where we should feel comfortable. But whatever people might say, let us not forget that, in 1982, this country let us down, and this country rejected Meech Lake which represented a giant step on the constitutional scene.
Now we come to another discussion, another compromise, the Charlottetown Agreement, the substance of which seemed unacceptable even to Quebecers. Quebecers said no to this Agreement because it did not take into account their basic traditional demands, while English Canada rejected it because it apparently made too many concessions to Quebec.
It is very sad indeed to look at how political negotiations unfolded under the previous government. Our political formation was born of the desire of Quebecers to express themselves through the democratic process, to elect to the Canadian Parliament men and women who would convey the message that had been circulating at home for years and which deserved to be expressed here, to be shared during debates like this one, to be the core of our exchanges and discussions and, maybe, eventually, of our mutual understanding.
The Bloc Quebecois has received extraordinary support from a majority of Quebecers. We are 54 here today, 54 members of Parliament who have a job to do, who have the mission to see to it that this message is, for once, given to the federal Parliament without being filtered or distorted on the way by those who refuse to say it as it is felt back home.
We are here to make Parliament work. I want to reassure my colleagues. Many things have been said about the arrival of the Bloc in Ottawa. Never during the election campaign did we mention that we intended to paralyse Parliament, to prevent it from doing its job, to prevent it from dealing with the real problems facing Canadians. After our first day here, my colleagues and I are happy to show our interest for this institution and our profound respect for democracy. We are happy to tell all those who were worried about our coming here that we will co-operate. We will help find solutions to the terrible problems facing our society.
The whole political context that brought us here is set against a dreadful economic background. The government implemented a monetary policy that created unemployment, a monetary policy that was aimed essentially at maintaining a low inflation rate in Canada without paying any attention to the unemployment it brought. The economic crisis was made even worse by the signing of a free trade agreement, when industry had not been prepared for the deep changes so badly needed in the context of a broader economy. The free trade agreement was
indeed something positive for our future and for the development of our trade relations.
Unfortunately, the difficulties of transition had been overlooked. It did not cross the government's mind that companies needed help to face this new context. The monetary policy and the lack of preparation for a new international trade context combined to make the situation even more painful for Canadians than it was in 1984.
It is now incumbent upon this Parliament to settle once and for all a number of problems that get worse and worse all the time.
Why are we here? First, we heard the throne speech, the contents of which we are now discussing. The first topic is a Parliamentary reform that could eventually lead to more responsibilities for members. This is certainly commendable. That approach could prove interesting. We should wait and see what this reform is all about.
On the other hand, at the same time, you want to enhance the role of members of this House, yet you refuse to create an all-party nonpartisan parliamentary committee to analyze, examine, study, and criticize each spending item of the government. Instead, you merely mention a few examples of benefits which could be discarded so that we can appease our consciences and try to convince Canadians that we have done what had to be done.
So, a parliamentary reform that is already somewhat handicapped, I would say, by the fact that the first valid exercise to which we could have invited the members of this House is being dismissed by this government, a Speech from the Throne in which this government did not see fit to reassure the citizens of this country about the kind of changes that it was ready to make in the social programs.
It is disturbing to note that, at times, signals are given by politicians whose decisions are important in these matters and, at other times, in statements by employers, by people involved in the economic development, by people who are looking for solutions to the budget problems of the government, but who can only identify social programs as the primary target.
Imagine the wonderful country and the brave government that will solve the debt problem of this country on the backs of those who suffer the most! Are they going to hit the elderly, or the unemployed once again? Are they going to hit people on welfare or health programs? We do not know.
At times, the messages are informal, at other times, they are more formal in articles that they hasten to deny the next day. At any rate, when I hear the minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, right at the beginning of this mandate, say to us that they should at least try and cut 20 per cent in health care programs, I am concerned. It is nothing at all! Twenty per cent! As if it were the problem to takle first.
We are sometimes told that we should make the system more effective. Naturally, everybody wants to make this system more effective. But no one ever talked about maintaining or protecting the financial resources allocated to these programs. What worries us is that each time issues such as the debt and the current year deficit of over $40 billion are raised, each time that these issues are raised, the social programs are inevitably associated with the repayment of the debt, with the reduction of the deficit. There is always someone somewhere to suggest that the money is to be found in the social programs.
Administrative duplications in this country are very expensive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted in jurisdictional disputes between the various levels of government. Today, we have asked-I personally did-the member opposite if he would make it a priority to address the issue of manpower. All Quebecers agree with that. Someone is whispering to me that he said he would. Of course, he said he would. He always says yes, but sometimes it is "yes, right away", and some other times it is "yes, probably". It could be "yes, certainly", "yes, probably", or "yes, sometime in the future".
The problem is that it is stop and go in an area where the Minister could make history. All he would have to do is endorse the consensus among the people involved in Quebec. Seldom have we seen the unions, the industry, the federalist liberal government of Quebec, the people responsible for manpower training, the unemployed, the hundreds of thousands of unemployed in Quebec, all in agreement. But they are, and what they are asking the federal government, before it cuts into social programs, is to save the $250 million wasted on duplicate services which only create problems.
I thought that the government would leap at a tremendous opportunity like this one. But the Minister for Intergovernmental affairs is not sure. Maybe yes, maybe no. It makes no sense. The government will have to face reality some day. You are indicating that my time is up, Mr. Speaker, so I will conclude. The government must face reality, it must listen to members of this assembly, it must seize the opportunities available to save money without taking away from those most in need.