Such an interruption during a maiden speech is rather startling. I will start again then, Madam Speaker. Once more, I wish you all the best in your new position. You may be assured of our full co-operation.
I will also remind the House that the riding of Ahuntsic, which I represent, has always been at the heart of the national debate in Quebec. It was represented by prominent federalists such as Jeanne Sauvé and Raymond Garneau. At the provincial level, prominent sovereignists such as Jacques Parizeau and Jean Campeau, whom I hope will be our next finance minister in Quebec City, ran for election in that riding. It is therefore a great privilege for me to represent it.
As opposition critic for infrastructure, I would like to voice some of my concerns regarding the program being implemented by the new government.
The Liberal Party of Canada was elected on the strength of its red book. The infrastructure project took form in that same book. And it is clearly from that policy paper that stems the confusion regarding this project. Indeed, since the infrastructure program was announced, those concerned have not known what to expect from the federal government. When you are aware of the people's expectations in terms of economic development, you are fully justified in asking the government for more details on what it intends to do in that particular area.
The tough economic times we are experiencing put all levels of government in an uncomfortable position. Given these trying circumstances, it is extremely important to look at how the needed funds promised by the federal government will be allocated and where the money will come from.
To begin with, I would like to refer to a statement made by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and which was reported in La Presse last November 21. Mention was made of the fact that the provincial governments were in such a weakened economic state that their powers to negotiate with the federal government were virtually non existent.
The minister stated the following: "So far, I have met with most provincial representatives and I have observed that their fiscal problems make them much more open to reason than they ever were during the last two or three decades".
This kind of statement by the minister leads one to believe that might is right and that the federal government intends to take advantage of the economic hardships of the provinces to once again infringe upon provincial areas of jurisdiction.
The Bloc Quebecois believes that the infrastructure program could lead to constitutional infringement and our party will denounce any kind of interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
Traditionally, the principal area in which the federal government has intruded to a significant degree for many decades is spending power. Spending power is linked to the federal debt which has surpassed the critical $500 billion mark. We object to this spending power and will continue to do so.
May I remind the government that section 92(8) of the Constitution Act, 1867 gives the provinces jurisdiction over municipal institutions.
The federal government is forever reminding us that the provincial governments will be responsible for implementing the infrastructure program. Why then is the federal government taking so much time to negotiate with the provinces to ensure that the money invested in the program will satisfy its criteria and requirements?
In his address in reply to the throne speech, the minister responsible for the infrastructure program, the President of the Treasury Board, emphasized the need for some elements of consistency and I quote: "All the provinces the federal government will review projects in relation to broad program criteria". The conclusion is obvious. In fact, the government is interfering with project management.
If the federal government wants to give good, solid proof that it will have no involvement whatsoever in this program, why not just give the provinces the money they were promised?
Madam Speaker, the federal government also keeps saying that the infrastructure program will stimulate job creation and boost the economy in Quebec and Canada.
By making this program the focus of their economic recovery policy, the government is displaying a glaring lack of vision and sensitivity to the real, basic needs for improving the economic performance of the provinces and Canada as a whole.
How could the Liberal Party think that such an ad hoc program could have a structuring effect on the economy while a more serious and carefully thought-out approach would have had a much stronger structuring effect by creating steadier employment?
I am thinking for instance of the HST project which is particularly promising both in terms of development for the economy of Quebec and Canada and in terms of industrial consolidation in high-tech sectors.
Another strategy which would have had a structuring effect for the consolidation of the industrial fabric in Quebec and Canada would have been to develop a national defence industry reconversion program. In these industries, production is already technology intensive and for the federal government to provide them with assistance through a reconversion program would have demonstrated a more structuring view toward brightening things up as regards the economy and the manufacturing industry.
I would be remiss to address the issue of infrastructure without mentioning the need for oneness in light of the recent negotiations between the federal government and the provinces.
Over the past few weeks, I have had to tell constituents who were enquiring about the state of the negotiations on infrastructure that the government was keeping us in the dark.
These hidden negotiations have led to confusion for which the federal government must assume responsibility. The umbrella agreements being drawn for each province-and we will revisit the issue after the Minister tables these agreements-contains grey areas on aspects as simple as the definition of infrastructure.
In fact, what constitutes an infrastructure? For some, infrastructure must be narrowly interpreted in terms of roads, sewers, drainage ditches and sidewalks. That is how this basic infrastructure project was defined. Others favour a wide and vague definition including cultural and community facilities, telecommunication highways, even congress centres.
This wider definition suggests that the moneys to finance this infrastructure could come from various government departments such as Public Works or federal regional development offices.
The nature of the projects chosen under the infrastructure program could not only confuse existing federal departments but also lead to a duplication of departmental efforts and to a waste of public funds.
In this regard it is conceivable that the federal government will be tempted to use the money already allocated to these departments, thus weakening the notion of new money invested by the Canadian government.
The Liberal Party cannot use old money to keep its election promises, or else its program amounts to a mere accounting exercise.
In fact, is the federal government willing to pay the grants in lieu of taxes in full to municipalities?
According to the UMRCQ, the Union of Quebec County Regional Municipalities, these grants amount to some $125 million. How much is it for all the provinces?
It is also easy to assume that the government will be tempted to reduce public spending in terms of transfer payments to the provinces and social programs.
The Bloc Quebecois denounces such practices, because the budget cuts to be made in the federal government must not be at the expense of the poorest people.
Together with my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, again I invite the government to set up as quickly as possible a committee to review public finances. This committee could identify major cuts that would provide the funds required to support needy people.
Finally, Madam Speaker, the infrastructure program must not be used to reward the government's friends. The government must not intervene in the process of recommending and selecting applications for financial support under the program.
When we met with the minister on January 12, 1994, I proposed consulting all members of the House who are directly concerned with local projects, regardless of their political affiliation.
I also wrote to the minister on January 17, so that he could explain this point which was missing from the document received by all members as of Friday, January 14.
So I am satisfied, I admit, that the minister took this recommendation into account in his address on the Speech from the Throne on January 21.
Madam Speaker, I would like to make a final clarification on the true nature of the infrastructure program and its economic impact on the provinces and municipalities.
The federal government is championing this program. It pompously announces its absolute leadership in setting up this program.
It is important to recall that the Liberal government did not instigate this program; in fact, it was initiated by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, whose report addressing the renewal of basic local infrastructure was adopted in 1985. In reviewing the documents, we will see how far it goes. It was a project re-evaluated in May 1993 at nearly $20 billion over five years.
For example, the basic infrastructure renewal needs of the city of Montreal alone are estimated at about $1.7 billion.
I also wish to remind people that the federal government only pays one third of the total program cost. The provinces pay one third, as do the municipalities.
Madam Speaker, the federal government has not yet demonstrated, I remind you, that the money it uses will all be new funds, nor has it demonstrated that it will not use spending cuts in social programs and transfer payments to free up the new money needed to pursue its program.
The 33 per cent that the federal government invests is likely to be much less when the above-mentioned issues are taken into account.
By intervening in provincial jurisdiction, the federal government is unbalancing the municipalities' three-year capital works plans. To free up the money needed to start work in the next two years, will the municipalities have to draw on funds that were to be spent in later years, in 1996, 1997 or 1998?
In so doing, they will face chronic underfunding for future projects on later agendas, thus creating a sort of dependence that will of course suit any centralizing government.
Madam Speaker, I wanted to show in my first speech in the House one of the wrongs of federalism as traditionally practised by Liberal governments. Here is where the second part of the mandate we sought and received from Quebecers comes in, namely promotion of Quebec sovereignty.
In this statement on Canada's infrastructure program, I wanted to show the indescribable administrative mess we are living in as Canadians. This example in just one field of government activity is matched in almost all other areas. Duplication and infringement have become the rule and no longer the exception.
English Canada recognizes the primacy of the federal government over the provincial governments and that is no doubt why this same English Canada is less sensitive to federal infringement in provincial jurisdiction.
We are a long way from the spirit of equality, balance and mutual respect which characterized the Constitution in 1867. Although it respects the will of its partners, Quebec must not pursue that route.
In my opinion, Canadian federalism has become a model of administrative inefficiency, an inefficiency which undermines the system and severely affects the groups which should be served.
Political systems are tools used by communities to co-ordinate their actions. There is no doubt in my mind that we have to adopt a new regime if we want to get out of this situation.
And this is why the Bloc Quebecois will, during the next referendum, ask Quebecers to patriate its tools by proclaiming its sovereignty.
In the last week, we have heard a lot about the famous red book-probably as much as the Chinese people heard about Mao's red book during the cultural revolution-but I want to remind the government that people in Quebec voted overwhelmingly in support of the Bloc Quebecois and not the Liberal government's red book and, as such, gave their federal representatives the very clear mandate which we had sought, that is to defend Quebec's interests and promote its sovereignty.