Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on the budget implementation act, 2003, particularly since this budget—like the budgets of recent years—is, in a sense, very consistent, reflecting as it does a continuity in the building of a new post-referendum Canada, a new Canada that is increasingly centralized, unitarian and standardized.
As I said, this budget, like the previous ones, continues this process. This is a process that is being conducted without any mandate—the federal government was never authorized to act in this fashion—without any debate in Quebec or in the Canadian provinces, without consultations and, more importantly, without any referendum to give real legitimacy to the government to act as it is doing and to completely change the rules of federalism in this country.
This change is being implemented in obvious contempt of the Canadian Constitution of 1867, which provides a rather clear sharing of powers. However, this change fully complies with the letter and the spirit of the social union agreement reached in 1999 between nine provinces and the federal government. As we remember, Quebec bluntly refused to sign this document, and it was right to do so, because it went counter to its interests and, indeed, still does.
So, the social union agreement applies even though there were no debates, no consultations. In my opinion, the social union agreement that governs the spirit of this budget completely changes the rules of the game, including—and this is a key element—the spending power, which, as we know, was officially given, when the provinces signed this agreement, to the federal government. The Canadian provinces, with the exception of Quebec, have accepted that, from now on, the federal government will invest in whatever area of jurisdiction it chooses at any time it chooses, in the name of Canadian public interest.
So, it is not the Canadian constitution that is being applied, but the social union agreement, which is an administrative agreement. The way this agreement is being applied, we feel as though we were hearing a provincial finance minister when we hear the Minister of Finance talking the way he did when he delivered the budget speech.
He interferes without restraint in areas of provincial jurisdiction, to such an extent, as I have said, that one would take him for a provincial minister concerned—as would be legitimate for a provincial minister—with matters of health, education, government relations with the family, or direct connections with individuals. These areas are, however, in keeping with the 1867 constitution, termed provincial responsibilities. The federal government is assigned the responsibility for international relations, foreign affairs, defence, international cooperation, postal services and the like. Over the years, however, a policy has developed, that has created a new Canada, the policy of “nation building”, creating a standardized Canada, a unitary entity that is definitively centralized.
To give some examples that stand out in the budget speech, on page 6, the minister states that he wants to establish:
—a plan for timely access; for quality care and for the sustainability of this Canadian advantage; for reform of family and community care; for access to home care; for coverage of catastrophic drug costs; for reduced waiting times for diagnostic services; for innovation; and for real accountability to Canadians.
The last concept is in direct reference to the social union of 1999. There is more and more reference to accountability, but who is to be accountable? The federal government? No, the provinces, who will have to be accountable within their own areas of jurisdiction to a government whose mandate does not encompass those areas.
This basically amounts to changing the rules of the game. The provinces will have to be accountable in the areas they are responsible for. They will have to be accountable to a government that is not responsible for these areas. This makes fundamental changes to the rules of the game without any mandate, without any consultations and without any referendum.
On page seven of the budget speech, it says that in addition to health—an area of provincial jurisdiction—Canadians want their governments to tackle the issues of poverty, homelessness and dependency.
If we were to respect the Constitution, this would refer to a provincial minister who answers to individuals and families and who has to manage the link between the provincial government and citizens.
Further on, the speech mentions child poverty and the national child benefit. This is the federal government, not Quebec. The federal government has so much money at its disposal that it is interfering in provincial matters.
The budget speech refers to persons with disabilities. The government dares to do so despite the fate it has dealt persons with disabilities in recent years. By raising the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit, the government has significantly reduced the number of people whose disability can be recognized. This has had an impact on the daily lives of people who are clearly vulnerable.
This is reprehensible from a government that, we know, has built up a surplus by stealing from the EI fund by depriving—as my colleague, the member for Champlain, said so well—people who were eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. This is akin to fraud the way they are being deprived of the money. The question needs to be asked.
Now it is even bragging about what it will do for persons with disabilities. The government is saying how much better off they will be.
One would think it was the provincial minister talking when we hear that poor families need more than an income supplement. This is in reference to parents and single parents in particular.
This government is interfering in other areas of jurisdiction and is using money that belongs to others.
On page 8 it says, and I quote:
No approach to poverty will be successful if we do not domore to address the issue of homelessness.
In Quebec, there is the Initiative de partenariats en action communautaire, an initiative that brings together community groups. This initiative is managed by the Government of Quebec. The federal government is duplicating what is already being done. In Quebec, hundreds of millions of dollars is being provided for community groups. It is being carefully managed by the secretariat established by the Government of Quebec for the initiative. There is no need for the federal government to come in and duplicate the work being done by the Government of Quebec.
Further on, the budget refers to education. It refers to innovation and learning. It says that we must provide Canadians with:
—the best universities that produce the best knowledge and the best graduates—.
This is still the federal government saying this. The speech goes on:
We have connected all of Canada’s schools and libraries to the Internet.
There is also reference to the millennium scholarship foundation, and the speech goes on as follows:
This government created the Canada Foundation for Innovation to modernize the infrastructure of our universities.
This is the federal government speaking. The universities are primarily a provincial responsibility, particularly in Quebec, which has always administered the matter fairly.
Reference is made to university research chairs and to the Canada Student Loan program. The system in Quebec—and this is no idle boast—is the best. Our scholarships and loans are the highest, and the debt load the lowest, in Canada. The budget speech also makes reference to the Canada Graduate Scholarships.
In closing, I will touch upon the proposals relating to the municipalities. There is a new development in this connection, and it is grandly presented. To quote page 14:
Virtually every initiative I have described today can be placed in the context of renewing urban and community life in Canada.
The municipalities are creatures of the provinces. Yet we get the feeling that the next great step in the evolution of this centralized Canada will involve the municipalities.
In the meantime, while the federal government has responsibility for international cooperation, it allocates only 0.3% to it, whereas the international standard is 0.7%. This was criticized this morning in committee by Stephen Lewis, the representative of the UN Secretary General. While the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom allocate 1%, this government, while interfering in all manner of things that are not its business, gives 0.3%.
This is the kind of Canada that awaits Quebec if Quebeckers do not wake up. We will be totally swallowed up by a centralized and unitary Canada.