Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
What we are debating today is the Bloc Québécois motion concerning elimination of the federal spending power.
Before the reading of the throne speech, the Bloc had laid out certain non-negotiable conditions relating to it. If these conditions were not met, Bloc members would vote against the speech. One of those conditions was the total elimination of the spending power. With a careful reading of today's motion, we can see that its purpose is really to counteract one of the claims made by the Conservative government: that it had supposedly solved this country's fiscal imbalance.
It is fairly easy to claim one has solved something one has never defined, especially when one has not put a dollar figure to it. Under those circumstances, a claim can easily be made that one has a solution to a problem. But it has never been identified, never been defined, never had a dollar figure put on it. That is exactly what the situation is as far as the fiscal imbalance is concerned.
Then the Bloc proposes total elimination of the federal spending power. No surprise there, that the Bloc would adopt such a position but the surprise is that the Bloc is confusing two things: eliminating and limiting.
If memory serves, there was talk of limiting the federal spending power. In October, the leader of the Bloc said that “encadrer”--limiting, meant “éliminer”--doing away with. I imagine he uses the same French dictionaries as I, and if one reads the definitions for eliminate and limit, one cannot conclude that they are synonymous, can one?
Elimination means that something will no longer be in existence at all. Limiting means that limits have been imposed on it. The Bloc needs some consistency in its use of French and needs to say exactly what it wants and not what the Conservative government wants, which is in a completely other register. The Conservative government is in favour of a federalism of openness. As am I.
But I need convincing that this Prime Minister has shown proof of his federalism of openness. This government has been in power for 21 months. There has, however, been not one meeting of all the first ministers of this country to discuss issues affecting all Canadians. Not one meeting with all the premiers. Yet we are in a federation made up of various levels of government of importance to their citizens. Each has its own role to play, as well as a complementarity role with respect to one and the same citizen.
Why is the present Prime Minister not capable of meeting with all of his colleagues, the premiers of the provinces and the leaders of the territories, in order to discuss some extremely vital issues?
We are faced with two extremes. On the one hand, the Bloc wants to completely eliminate the federal spending power and, on the other, the Conservative government is proposing a text that, I would say, is not very meaningful. The government says that it will “place...limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction”.
That is just flim-flam. At present there are very few shared-cost programs. It is as though we were referring to the 1950s or 1970s—I'm not quite sure. Today, these programs are almost non-existent.
Thus, we are anxious for the legislation to be tabled in this House, to see what it is truly all about. However, based on the throne speech, we might as well say that it will make absolutely no difference to our provinces that—I would like to point out—often struggle with concerns of great importance to the citizens.
At present, in the federation, we are working with all the provinces. That is what my government did at the time. You will recall that we signed agreements with our provincial counterparts in some very important areas. For example, the health accord is an agreement involving billions of dollars in which the special characteristics of the provinces in certain areas were recognized. The accord even acknowledged the concept of asymmetrical federalism, another term inviting us to respect what each province is doing in its areas of jurisdiction, particularly in the areas of health and social services. We did that.
Today, I did not hear anyone question that. Yet, this is a reality. When we wanted to set up a child care program, we first consulted the provinces to see whether they would agree to a national child care program. We would have signed individual agreements with each province. When we approached the Quebec government, we realized that it already had a child care program in place. We took that into consideration and, under the family policy, we transferred money that could be invested in other areas related to family child care services.
Is this not a federalism that is geared toward people, a federalism that should be implemented in partnership with the provinces and the other levels of government? This is precisely what we tried to do and, in my opinion, we achieved very concrete results.
However, when I read the Bloc's motion, I realize that it wants to completely eliminate this way of doing things, this partnership. But we are living in a complex world, a world in which Canada must often compare itself to other countries, and this is why all the provinces and the Canadian government should work together to improve the well-being of Canadians across the country, including Quebeckers. We need to all stick together to achieve these objectives.
It goes without saying that the Canadian government will always have a role to play. Therefore, it must use its spending power while respecting its partners in the federation. It is with that in mind that we, Liberals, intend to work. This is why we cannot accept the Bloc's motion, which goes to the other extreme and which seeks to “eliminate”.
I realize that the Bloc is trying to get a new lease on life with its sovereignty project and that, as far as it is concerned, the federal government should not even exist. However, we do not share this view in the Canadian Parliament, and this is why our party will oppose this motion.