Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill. In fact, I am doubly pleased, since this is probably one of the last speeches I will make in the House. If the rumours prove to be true, there could be an election very soon. It is time for me to throw in the towel. I will be moving on and going home after 25 years of relatively active political life.
In all those years as a member of this House, I have had the opportunity to defend various files. Among others, the one that affected me most and into which I threw all my time and energy, the one of which I am most proud, is the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.
The House will recall that, when we took on this issue affecting the poorest seniors in Canada and Quebec, most had been deprived of the guaranteed income supplement to which they were entitled. The Bloc Québécois travelled around Quebec meeting with seniors and showing them the extent to which they had been deprived of an essential income. I met people with all kinds of conditions and I was surprised that the government had so little concern for the most vulnerable members of our society.
When we talk about economically disadvantaged people, we often refer to poverty and to children living in poverty. Indeed, it is sad to see a child who is suffering from poverty because his or her parents are poor. And these parents are often poor because, again, the government is not fulfilling its duties.
Let us take, for example, the employment insurance account. Instead of paying benefits to workers who lose their jobs, the government has used these funds to reduce its debt. Therefore, it is not surprising to see children living in poverty, because the money is not going to families.
When I see young people living in poverty, it affects me. But I keep thinking that there is always hope and love. Some change could occur. Some miracle could happen.
However, when a person has worked for society throughout his life, has raised six, seven or eight children, and is deprived of his due in the twilight of his life, it is a rather painful thing to see. I remember the day when the hon. member for Sherbrooke and I were supposed to meet someone. We were not able to do it, because that person was dying. However, we met the family and found out that, after raising a family of eight children, that woman, who was 88, had spent her senior years with an annual income of $6,000, and when she died, the government collected $90,000 that was owed.
When we see such things, we can only fight tooth and nail for these people. I can say that we met with some success. The number of elderly who fall through the cracks is still too high, but it has diminished significantly. The government has improved its way of informing the elderly. However, a lot remains to be done.
I would have liked to leave politics only after managing to convince the government that it must pay retroactively the people that it has—I will not use the term “robbed”, because it is too harsh, although I really wonder if it is—fooled and misled. Indeed, the government did not do all it could to locate these people, simply because they are economically disadvantaged.
We often meet elderly people who do not have a good education, and there are even well-educated people who, following some disease or a stroke—I, along with all the hon. members who helped me with this issue, met some—are often no longer able to get the information they need. In my view, if we make it complicated to get the information, we are guilty, if not of robbing people, of acting very irresponsibly towards society's oldest members.
This matter is not closed. Yet, I wish, among other things, that the government would continue to manage the country for some time, if only perhaps to close this matter and to pass this legislation now before the House, which would force the government to pay retroactively the people whom it has swindled.
Instead of solving these problems, what does the government do? It introduces legislation like this. The federal government takes pleasure in complicating what could be simple. Why simplify things when it is so simple to complicate them? We need to get closer to the people, to provide better service, to give more information, not to create another department that will add 14,000 more public servants. And why? To spend money within the government, to expand the whole thing, to increase the size of this government instead of providing services to those waiting for them.
The seniors' issue is somewhat a part of this. Instead of adding 14,000 public servants, the government could perhaps have taken the billion dollars and more that this will cost to pay out the $3 billion retroactively to seniors who are entitled to receive it. In the last six years, the federal government has increased the number of publics servants by 49,000. Here, it wants to add 14,000 more, which means almost 60,000 public servants. The total payroll is about $9 billion a year. Yet, it would be so simple to respect jurisdictions. This bill infringes on provincial jurisdictions. I am helpless before a government that really does not want to improve things.
If you can get your hands on the article in La Presse from three weeks ago, you should read it. In it, Mr. Castonguay, the former Quebec health minister and a Liberal federalist, was saying how much the federal government has missed the mark since the 1960s. In trying to get closer to Quebec, it has pushed it further away. It would have been so easy just to respect Quebec and its jurisdictions. Just read the piece by Mr. Castonguay, a Liberal federalist, in which he explains how badly you have been missing the mark since the 1960s. You are still missing the mark.
I had the opportunity to serve as an MNA in Quebec City and I worked with Mr. Parizeau, a finance minister recognized throughout Canada. He was a smart man. One day, he was to give a speech in my riding at a meeting of the chamber of commerce. Since I was unable to attend, my wife agreed to go and sit at the head table with Mr. Parizeau. This intimidated her immensely. She said she was not really sure what to do, that she was shy. I told her it was simple, all she had to do was ask a few questions and let him take it from there. I assured her the meal would go very well and that she would learn a great deal.
At one point during the evening she said to Mr. Parizeau, it must not be easy to run a country. Mr. Parizeau said he was surprised to hear a mother say that, because it is mothers who run the country. They are the ones who, in the past, took the household income and divvied it up according to each member's responsibilities and plans. It is simple, you have your budget and you allot a certain amount for education, leisure, food and housing. That is how a country should be run. We should go back to the basics and use common sense.
If the federal government had done that, then they might not have increased the number of public servants by 59,000 over the past six years only to duplicate provincial jurisdictions and services. Health, education and municipalities are provincial responsibilities. According to Mr. Parizeau, it is simple and very logical. We do not even need any experts. Out of its little budget, Quebec needs x amount of billions of dollars for the health system to work. The same goes for Quebec and the provinces who need a certain number of billions of dollars for education and for every area of need.
However, it currently costs a fortune in administration alone. Money is wasted because we have too much administration.
One need look no further than the sponsorship scandal. As René Lévesque would say, it is not one specific scandal but an atmosphere of scandal, and shameless waste everywhere despite crying needs.
Seniors did not need this legislation; they merely needed to be listened to. I feel we owe it to them to admit they have been fleeced, to have the honesty to admit that they were not given the information they needed and that steps were not taken to see that they could get that information.
One of the parish priests in my riding said that if it is not dishonest, it is at the very least totally irresponsible. That money is not ours. It belongs to the poorest members of society, particularly older women. They generally live longer than men, with a life expectancy of 83 years at present. So they are the ones who suffer the most from poverty and yet they are the ones who have raised families and made our society what it is today. This is completely irresponsible and immoral.
It would be appropriate to add some more public servants rather than putting the money into the big government machinery. I do not see the advantage of making that machinery still bigger and still more complicated, when there are responsibilities in our system that need to be divided. The system is not that badly designed, if there were the will to apply it properly.
We are not in favour of this bill, of course, because it is unnecessary and because it encroaches onto provincial jurisdiction. I would have liked to have felt that my time in politics had enabled me to make things better. If there is one area in which I can say that I have some satisfaction with what we have accomplished together, it is the seniors file. It would be so easy to make this country work better. I know, however, that we will not achieve that goal.
I can say, however, that this was my primary objective when I entered politics, even though I would have preferred it did not have to be done, with the federal government deciding to govern properly.
Perhaps Quebec need not become sovereign, but we can see from Castonguay and many others that the only way out with everything we want—with our money, which means not having to beg, and no more federal scandals—is through Quebec's sovereignty.
Having worked with various governments, I am convinced that Quebec would do a better job if it could govern itself. We would not have to encroach on anyone's jurisdiction. Quebec would be perfectly capable of administering itself. Quebec is promised a great future. René Lévesque once said of Quebeckers that they are something of a great people. I can assure the hon. members that Quebeckers will become a great people with a wonderful, beautiful country before my days are over.
I worked with René Lévesque, as well as with Gérald Godin, Pauline Julien, Camille Laurin. I have had the pleasure, since the 1960s, of working with the people, including Jacques Parizeau and others, who made up the “équipe du tonnerre” in those days. There was Jean Lesage, and his master of our own house theme. That was a truly extraordinary team.
Then came Lévesque's team, preceded by another team advocating sovereignty-association, or rather independence. Then there were the days of sovereignty-association with René Lévesque. I am convinced that there will soon be another referendum. You have amply proven to us to what extent you have trampled our rights. In 1995, you made us lose not only hope but also our name, our reputation. You—