Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I rise in this House, and it is with great emotion that I speak today as a member of Parliament. I would first like to thank the people of Papineau-Saint-Michel for their confidence in me and I want to tell them that I will always be proud and happy to represent them, to promote their interests and to defend their rights in this country.
My first loyalty is to them, since my primary role in our wonderful parliamentary democracy is to speak on their behalf. I heard their concerns and their fears, as well as their hopes, their determination and their common sense. I invite the people of Papineau-Saint-Michel, whatever their allegiances, to continue to communicate with me and tell me what they think. I am here for them; I would not be here without them.
In this era of upheaval resulting from the revolutionary force of globalization, liberal democracy faces its main challenge. We must say loud and clear that freedom is the goal pursued by human beings.
The people of Papineau-Saint-Michel will always find in their member of Parliament a representative willing to spend all his energy on protecting the freedom we enjoy as individuals, as well as that enjoyed by our respective communities. And because the time has come to redefine the role of government, I am very proud to make my first speech in this House on the finance minister's budget.
This budget meets the ambitious objectives set by the Government of Canada: to put the nation's finances in order to protect our financial future, while at the same time rethinking the role of government in the economy and in the lives of the people.
The finance minister's budget stays the course set by the government at the beginning of its mandate, and rightly so. We are finally getting out of the deficit spiral. Our deficit will fall to 2 per cent of GDP by 1997-98, ahead of the commitments made in the last general election. And this with no increase in personal or corporate income tax, or even in excise taxes. There were no personal income tax hikes in the last three budgets.
Putting the nation's finances in order will prepare the ground for a more vigorous, job creating economy. A lower deficit will help reduce interest rates, increase confidence and promote new investments leading to more jobs and stronger growth. The government's performance with respect to employment deserves to be acknowledged. The unemployment rate dropped from 11.2 per cent in 1993 to 9.6 per cent today. There is still much work to be done, but we are on the right track.
This budget, presented in the middle of an election campaign, was very well received by the residents of Papineau-Saint-Michel, who voted in with a strong majority a member of the Liberal government.
The people of Papineau-Saint-Michel accepted the necessary yet respectful decisions made regarding pension benefits. I could feel it in my riding: my constituents realize that this is the only
budget approach that can actually boost the economy and ensure that our social programs will be maintained in the future.
As Minister for International Co-operation, I am responsible for projecting Canadian solidarity internationally. Canadians share a tremendous sense of solidarity in every respect and wealth is redistributed among the regions of Canada to ensure that all Canadians enjoy public services of a quality second to none in any federation on this planet. From this solidarity arose Canada's solidarity with less privileged countries. The Canadian International Development Agency is an institution that Canadians and Quebecers alike can be very proud of.
We are investing in the future, in our youth and in technology. This budget promotes export development, since international trade was responsible for creating 80 per cent of jobs created over the past few years. The people of Papineau-Saint-Michel appreciated this budget, but they are nevertheless worried. They are worried about the future of Montreal, and the east end of Montreal in particular.
Formerly the industrial and financial metropolis of Canada, Montreal is taking a radical shift toward the new economic order. While a part of Montreal, represented by high technology industries like aircraft manufacturing and computer science, consulting engineering and pharmaceutical products, is thriving, another part of Montreal cannot cope with such rapid and drastic changes in production modes and lags behind in the globalization movement. That is my part of Montreal, the one I represent in this place, the east end of Montreal, and this part of Montreal is choking to death.
The people of Papineau-Saint-Michel appreciate this government's economic policies. They made this very clear in the last election, but they also came to me with their concerns about unemployment, by which they are hard hit. They told me they wanted to work.
But my constituents realize that economic and monetary policies alone, however good they may be, are not enough to achieve the desired goal-and for us, Liberals, the goal remains employment. Even the best policies cannot help them achieve their goal if the political climate is not favourable. That is why every bone and sinew of Quebec must immediately come together to stop the brain drain and capital flight that have picked up since October 30.
Montreal, this large North American city, cannot develop in the restrictive economic conditions created by sovereignist pressure in Quebec and associated climate of political instability. Quebecers energies should not be wasted in divisions and political jockeying, but rather focused on strengthening Quebec's civil society and paving the way for its integration into rapidly forming transnational networks, strategic alliances and cultural coalitions. The Quebec society will show much more convincingly that it is mature, distinctive and distinct by resolutely engaging in a successful integration process that is now much more important than the obsolete nation state model.
Throughout the world, identities are becoming more complex and allegiances are multiplying. The French are becoming increasingly more European, and both the French and European identities reinforce each other.
The Quebec identity is strengthened by the Canadian identity, particularly in light of the fact that the latter is strongly impressed in the head and heart of Quebecers, who greatly helped define that Canadian identity. Indeed, Quebecers greatly helped define the Canadian identity. That identity, which is more closely integrated to the North-American reality, helps many of our businesses and organizations by enabling them to be part of international networks and world alliances.
To think that we would strengthen our identity by giving it only a Quebec dimension is to totally misunderstand what is going on in the world today. On the contrary, such a measure would deprive our identity of elements which ensure its richness, its vitality and its future. The strength of an identity lies in its ability to reflect the facts and realities of a society.
To be sure, the solution of the sixties, namely a strong central state, allowed Quebec, which was lagging two or three generations behind Ontario and the rest of North America thanks to its elite, to make up the lost ground. All that took place within the Canadian federation. However, 1960 was also the golden age of decolonization; the welfare state was in its glory. That was 35 years ago. We are talking here about a Quebec nationalism-not sovereignism but nationalism-that is unifying and perfectly compatible with a modern Canadian federalism that is ready for globalization.
The nation state is a political model that is now obsolete. Without excluding a feeling of belonging, the Quebec nationalism of the 21st century must be modern and fully affirm itself in the economic, technological, linguistic, cultural and financial sectors. Quebecers have a unique opportunity to show that a normal people, to use the expression coined by the Bloc Quebecois, chooses to express its distinctive features, its determination and its intelligence by redefining its needs and its priorities in a contemporary way.
To be politically mature is to share its sovereignty with its neighbours. Are the French, the Germans and the Dutch any less sovereign? Are they less mature politically because they have transferred some powers to Brussels?
Sovereignists insult Quebecers when they travel abroad and say that Quebecers will chose sovereignty once they are free. We are a free people. We have chosen Canada every time we were consulted in the last 200 years.
The Quebec society should be well advised to focus its energy and nationalism on the new rising world rather than on yesterday's world. Any people in 1996 would prefer to be part of the G-7 countries, that have a lot of influence over the evolution of our world and exercise real leadership over the rest of the world. Any people would obviously prefer that.
By the way, during 18 of the 20 years the G-7 countries have existed, Quebecers have led the Canadian delegation. Last June, at the Halifax summit, Jean Chrétien, from Quebec, played host to heads of state; André Ouellet, who was the member for Papineau-Saint-Michel before me and who had a remarkable political career, welcomed the ministers of foreign affairs; and the Minister of Finance, another member of Parliament from Montreal, greeted his counterparts from the other G-7 countries.
So, these three Quebecers have, in a sense, the opportunity to work closely with people in Washington, Tokyo, Bonn, London and Paris, and I am proud to be part of a nation that is carving out a place for itself in this world.
Far from preventing the Quebec society from integrating into the world, Canada is letting Quebecers play a role in international relations which they could not have if Quebec and the rest of Canada did not maintain the remarkable international reputation they have built together.
For instance, because of its dynamic presence within the French-Canadian community, Quebec can promote the growth of the French language both at the national and international levels. My role as Minister responsible for Francophonie helps me see Quebec's constant contribution to the French-speaking world. Nevertheless, the Canadian francophone community is not limited to Quebec, and it is our duty to also give this community a voice in the world.
It is only because it is part of the Canadian federation that Quebec meets the geographic criteria of the Asian and Pacific Council, an organization that is crucial to our relations with several economies which, in these times, are experiencing the most remarkable economic growth. Included in the growing industrial sectors in that region are several sectors where Quebec has a major competitive advantage: telecommunications, transportation, energy and development infrastructure.
Quebec must no longer exclude itself from Team Canada missions and from the economic and trade advantages that these missions bring to our businesses. Canada's reputation and the strength it gets from the association of the economic and political leaders of a great country, which is an influential player within the major and even the most exclusive centres of power, open a lot of doors and create a lot of business opportunities.
Quebec needs to be recognized by the rest of Canada. It needs the recognition of its unique mission in North America. This recognition must be reflected in the attitude of all Canadians and must find its place in the Canadian Constitution. But to fulfil its mission, Quebec needs all the advantages that come with being part of the Canadian federation.
To rejuvenate and revitalize Canada, that is our mission, my mission. We have to address the real underlying issues and not limit ourselves strictly to the legalistic formalities of constitutional process, however essential this process might be.
We need a new language, a new master plan which begins with a solid understanding of our common interests. The new generation in all regions of Canada must express its determination to overhaul federalism by renewing it, not dismantling it.
Obviously Quebec has a special contribution to make to that new Canada. Its distinctiveness in economic terms is certainly a worthy contribution. Obviously Quebec has a special contribution to make in cultural terms. Quebec is an asset in a world that is shrinking and the French language is an asset in many foreign markets in Europe, Africa and Asia.
For decades our constitutional debates have been inward looking, this region against that one, this linguistic community against that other one, individual rights versus collective rights. We need to give much more attention to the opportunities and threats from the outside world.
I remain convinced that when we re-establish dialogue among ourselves and look together at the outside world we will realize that we have more in common than we think, certainly enough to build solidarity, to maintain common institutions and a common country. We will certainly find we have enough to be generous toward Quebec and its special mission in this country and on this continent.
If enough people in the new generation everywhere across Canada accept this formidable task their creativity, their tolerance for our differences will in the end reinvent federalism.
The centralized nation state of the 19th century does not really excite Quebecers, and a majority of them will always choose an updated thoroughly rethought federalism over an ambiguous and doubtful sovereignty.
The 21st century will be the century of integration of societies similar to what the Europeans are now building with some difficulty. Despite the hesitations, despite the lamentations, the European
Union is the future of Europe and Europe moves toward federalism as it approaches the next century. As Alain Minc, a respected French public figure told us last fall commenting on the European difficulties, le Canada c'est notre rêve, Canada is our dream.
Canada has a long tradition and much valuable experience in the accommodation of integration with distinctiveness. It can make a remarkable contribution to the 21st century as an example of tolerance, justice and democracy. Canada could continue to play a role in world affairs which divided we cannot play. Let us modernize what we have. Let us adapt it to the challenges of the next century.
If Canada did not exist today the chances are we would be working hard to create it. Let us work just as hard to reinvent it. Every generation of Canadians in a sense did so in the past. It is the task facing our generation and Canada deserves a victory.