Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, the bill on fiscal arrangements for the health sector. Earlier, my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, presented the Bloc Quebecois' views on this bill.
First, it is important to stress that the Bloc Quebecois endorses the criticisms that were just made by the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. The Bloc Quebecois agrees with a number of criticisms addressed to the government in view of the fact that this bill is being introduced on the eve of a general election, and in view of the incredible harm caused to the health system across the country, including in Quebec, by the government's cuts to transfer payments to the provinces.
It is surely because of the fight led by opposition parties in the House, including the Bloc Quebecois, that the federal government has finally heard the voice of reason. The Liberal Party finally realized what terrible consequences its cuts have had, not only on the health program, but on its users, on sick people in hospitals and other health care facilities. Indeed, their situation got worse because of the drastic cuts made by the Liberal government.
It is easy to show what impact these cuts have had on Quebec's health program. As members know, between 1994 and 2000, the government made cuts of $1 billion each year, that is, six years of cuts of $1 billion, $500 million of which could have been allocated to our health programs.
These cuts resulted in the elimination of more than one quarter of the budgets of Montreal's hospitals, more than one half of the budget of all the CLSCs in Quebec, almost the whole budget earmarked for home support, four times the annual budget of Ste-Justine hospital for children, more than three times the budget of the Royal Victoria Hospital, or over one quarter of the cost of the prescription drug insurance plan.
This is the real impact of the federal cuts to health, the cuts it had to re-examine. That re-examination was possible only because of an agreement and a coalition of the provincial premiers, and Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard played a pivotal role. He supported until the end the desire of the provinces to assume their responsibilities.
Unlike the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the government of Quebec have always insisted that the lead role in the health field be given back to the provinces, and thus to Quebec. The present constitution of Canada requires Quebec's jurisdiction over health to be respected.
Faced with this common front, these objections and this effective opposition from the parties in the House, the Bloc Quebecois in particular, the government was forced to enter into an agreement at the last minute. This would not have been the case, if there had not been a federal election looming. That same federal election also appears to have prompted the government to table a last-minute bill aimed at implementing that commitment.
We have examined the bill. We have studied it, although we did not have much time to do so, but the Bloc Quebecois finds that, even if its intention is to implement the agreement and the commitments arising out of the press releases issued in the aftermath of this agreement and the first ministers' meeting, there appear to have been a few little slips, a few little problems that the government ought to resolve itself by making some amendments. We are going to propose some amendments ourselves, if it does not listen to reason on this.
Two of the provisions in the bill present a serious problem and need to be brought to the attention of all hon. members, because they do not appear to properly implement the agreement reached between the first ministers a few weeks ago.
First, there is the very basic question of the amount of the funds that will be paid to each province under the commitment made by the Prime Minister of Canada and the provincial premiers. Subclause 2(2) of this bill indicates that the amounts will be determined in accordance with the terms of the trust indenture establishing the trust into which will be deposited the amount of $1 billion for medical equipment.
This is not very clear for a government that calls for clarity in other matters. This provision is silent on the amounts that were agreed upon during the first ministers' meeting. We have cause to be concerned about the fact that the government could use the establishment of the trust and use the discretion given it by this bill to change the amounts if that were its intention. This is why we in the Bloc Quebecois will insist that the bill mention the amounts agreed upon by the first ministers and that they be clearly established within the text of the bill.
There is a limit to the trust that may be put in the Liberal Party of Canada in these matters. It cut its health care transfers without consulting the provinces. It might want to use this bill and its subclause 2(2) in order to change the rules of the game as set by the first ministers.
There is one serious objection the government absolutely must take into account if it wants our party's support: if it introduces no amendments, we ourselves will move, at the appropriate stage, an amendment to correct a very significant failing of this bill.
Our party is also very concerned about certain words used in the bill, which are not at all consistent with the agreement reached by the first ministers. I am referring to clause 3 of the bill in which the Minister of Finance is invited to make a payment for health information and communications technologies and to allocate, as agreed by the first ministers, the sum of $500 million. But this amount will go to a corporation to be named by order of the governor in council for the purpose of developing and supporting the adoption of Canada-wide standards.
We had thought that this idea of Canada-wide or national standards had been sorted out during the discussions at the first ministers meeting. Participants had said that the bill should talk about common standards, which was much less at odds with federal principles. Once again, we must remind the government that health is a provincial jurisdiction. It is the provinces who must assume leadership and jurisdiction in the matter of health care.
Here again, we see the federal government's intention to interfere in this jurisdiction by pushing for Canada-wide standards. Perhaps it is just a translation error, and if so, we would hope that the government would make the necessary correction. Canada-wide information standards has been rendered in French by normes pancanadiennes. If this is not an error of translation and the intention is that national Canada-wide standards must be adopted, we cannot agree. The Bloc Quebecois has always fought the idea that there ought to be national standards across Canada in an area that falls exclusively under provincial jurisdiction.
If this wording is maintained, it will be in violation of the agreement to which Premier Bouchard gave his approval at the first minister's meeting. Let them not try to do in an underhanded way what they did not succeed in doing openly. The provinces managed at the conference to impose the point that health is a provincial jurisdiction in which the federal government ought not to interfere, as it always seems to have the intention of doing.
The Bloc Quebecois position is that this bill needs corrections to two of its fundamental provisions, because these are incompatible with the agreement on which a consensus was reached, an agreement between the provincial premiers and the Prime Minister of Canada.
If these amendments are not adopted, the Bloc Quebecois reserves its position, when the time comes to vote on this bill. It will always be mistrustful of a government which has shamelessly slashed transfer programs in the health field. The government has caused suffering to Quebecers and to many other Canadians, and sought to stifle the provinces at the very time that health care costs were increasing exponentially.
With these remarks I shall conclude my speech, trusting that the government will understand that this bill needs amending before it can earn Bloc Quebecois approval or assent.