Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure to have this opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill C-28 to implement reforms to the Canada Student Loans Program. In all conscience, I cannot condone this new attack of the federal government on provincial areas of responsibility.
I am a teacher by profession and I am familiar with this kind of manipulation the federal government has been exercising in Quebec for so long. It is imposing national standards while knowing full well that they do not meet the specific needs of Quebec. We are wasting a great deal of time harmonizing curriculums, again at the expense of the students.
Since the beginning of this 35th Parliament, the Liberal government has been showing puffing self-centredness in granting its ministers broader and broader discretionary power. Just a little while ago, members of the Official Opposition vehemently condemned provisions of Bill C-22 giving the minister the power to compensate friends of the Liberal Party of Canada following the cancellation of the sale of Pearson International Airport in Toronto. It seems that the government did not get the message the first time around, given it is caught scheming again to manipulate power. Once again, unreasonable powers are being granted to a minister.
In my speech before the House on the cancellation of the Pearson Airport contract, I compared Bill C-22 to a scorpion. This government initiative appeared harmless enough until the Bloc Quebecois uncovered the government's true intentions. The venom of the beast was skilfully stored in a tiny little clause which granted the minister excessive powers to compensate as he considered appropriate companies and investors with close ties to the Liberal Party. Charles Bronfman and his buddies had just seen major profits slip through their fingers, and the Liberal Party could not let such generous contributors to its election fund suffer.
Bill C-28 falls into the same category. It is as poisonous as Bill C-22 in that it insidiously gives outrageous powers to a minister. However, it goes much further in its obscene attempt to pervert provincial education systems, particularly in Quebec.
The federal government simply does not have the courage to admit what it is doing openly. It prefers to attack in a roundabout way the integrity of provincial education systems. It shamelessly exploits an already difficult aspect of student life, that is the loans and bursary system. Once again, the end justifies the means. Regrettably, this saying is well known by all Liberal governments worthy of the name.
Several provisions clearly demonstrate the pernicious nature of this bill. Allow me to quote a few excerpts from clause 3 which states the following:
- (1) For the purposes of this Act, the Minister may-designate for a province (a) an appropriate authority, which authority may designate as designated educational institutions any institutions of learning-that offer courses at a post-secondary school level-;
One question immediately springs to mind: What does the legislator mean when he speaks of "appropriate authority"? To what or to whom was he referring? Again, we are confronted with the same old expression, one which I would readily qualify as diabolical, namely the infamous ministerial discretion. There is nothing more dangerous than putting too much power in the hands of one individual. I know what I am talking about, having spent over two years in Haiti working as a teacher and school principal. I know very well the damage these discretionary ministerial decisions can do to an education system.
Our concern for economy and efficiency must not make us forget principles as fundamental as the transparency and democratic integrity of the entire decision-making process. But what are this government's real intentions in giving such powers to the minister? The government's allegations in this respect sound a little false. A May 9 press release from the office of the Minister of Human Resources Development states that the bill
will allow the government to enter into agreements with the provinces to rationalize the financing and implementation of student assistance programs.
The press release goes on to say that this initiative shows how this government prioritizes public spending to better serve Canadians and promote the rational use of public funds.
All these arguments sound a lot more like nice excuses invented by the Liberal government to interfere even more deeply in this area of provincial jurisdiction.
The Canadian Constitution is especially clear on this. Sections 92 and 93 of the British North America Act clearly specify that education comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. I urge the members opposite to refer to this section often in order to benefit from one of the few clear and non-ambiguous provisions of the Canadian Constitution.
This is quite an unusual phenomenon, especially since this provision is strictly in favour of the provinces. However, the federal government does not see it that way and does not seem to care at all about the provisions of its own Constitution. In fact, it has never hesitated to invade areas of provincial jurisdiction and the Liberals hold most of the records in this regard, unfortunately. They are indeed past masters in the art of always surrounding their usurping machinations with high-sounding rhetoric, thus creating the illusion that the federal government is acting with noble intentions.
In fact, we have the feeling that the present Prime Minister is only perpetuating the invasive doctrine of his mentor, who left us the constitutional mess that we are in today, the memorable Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
In this case, the minister can conclude agreements with financial institutions for the new Canadian student loans program. Negotiations have already begun with the Royal Bank of Canada, among others.
Do you see the absurdity of the situation, Madam Speaker? The Royal Bank made itself ridiculous in the 1992 referendum by predicting a financial disaster for Canada if the "no" side won. This same Royal Bank would be made responsible for administering the federal student loans program. How can the Liberals seriously think that Quebec could be interested in a project which is so clearly intent on domination?
However, the very prestigious Toronto daily Globe and Mail devoted the front page of its May 20 edition to constitutional power sharing between the federal and provincial governments, from a specifically Quebec point of view. In that issue, the Globe and Mail gave us the results of a Léger & Léger poll on how Quebecers see a fair distribution of powers between Quebec and Ottawa. It is important to mention that this is not an internal report by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society or the movement for a French Quebec.
The figures which I am about to give come from a poll ordered by what is probably the most federalist daily newspaper in the country. So this is what the Globe and Mail reported last Friday following a survey of 1,000 Quebec taxpayers. Only 10.9 per cent of those questioned think that the federal government administers public funds better than the provincial government.
A majority of people would prefer to see Quebec, rather than the federal government, have full power regarding issues such as manpower training, health, justice, energy, the environment, etc. In fact, 62.1 per cent of respondents feel that education must fall under exclusive provincial jurisdiction. The results of this survey are very telling. People are well aware that the federal government has absolutely no business in a field of jurisdiction as important as education is for Quebec's socio-cultural development.
They are also well aware that national English Canadian standards are not compatible with the specific needs of Quebec's education system. Any federal interference in the field of education constitutes an attack on our cultural integrity. I am concerned by the fact that these national standards will be set by English Canada, considering that it did not even recognize the mere principle of a distinct society in Quebec.
I have spent close to 30 years as a teacher and my experience can help shed some light on the issue being debated today. All stakeholders in Quebec are currently holding consultations to implement a series of reforms to improve our education system. We certainly do not need federal involvement to complete this delicate exercise which is so important for Quebec to blossom out as a nation. In fact, Quebecers have clearly said so in the Globe and Mail survey, and I am proud to act as a spokesperson and report this display of collective insight.
I have seen a lot of things and I feel it is my duty to openly condemn this latest attempt by the federal government to interfere in a field of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. In doing so, I speak on behalf of all my former colleagues who still work in the education sector. I also speak on behalf of all those who voted for me last October 25 and asked me to defend Quebec's interests as best as I can. I also speak on behalf of all students attending a school, a college, a CEGEP or a university. But, mainly, I speak for future generations, who certainly deserve better than what the federal government is proposing with its Bill C-28.
I would have liked to conclude by giving an outline of this legislation, but it is absolutely impossible and the reason is very simple: most of the provisions contained in Bill C-28 will be implemented through regulations to be made public later. When exactly will that be? It is hard to say since that, too, I imagine, will be subject to a discretionary decision from the minister.
Out of respect for the public, it would be in the interest of this Liberal government, which has been stressing the virtues of integrity and transparency for months, to take a serious look at these nice principles before tabling a bill in this House. I therefore ask the government to be a little more honest and frank with Quebecers and Canadians. In this bill, too many measures will be taken through regulations. Why will the minister not table at least a draft of these future regulations?
The minister responsible also gives himself way too much power with this legislation. Why is the government trying to muzzle opposition members by granting excessive discretionary powers to the minister? Bill C-28 seems to be an attempt to hide from us important elements and the government is doing its best to ensure that no light is shed on this issue. I remain convinced that if the Liberal government is going to the trouble of playing hide-and-seek with its legislation, it is because its intentions may not be as noble as it claims.
Quebecers are not as uneducated as the federal government seems to think.
Those awful separatists are not the only ones who are concerned about the integrity of our education system. We saw an instance of this today in the newspaper La voix de l'Est , where Valère Audy, a highly federalist editorial writer, made some comments that were particularly relevant to today's debate. I will quote what he said, since it is a clear indictment of the federal government's ulterior motives in all areas connected with education.
This is what Mr. Audy had to say: "Education is already a provincial matter, and Quebec does not intend to relinquish any part of that jurisdiction, but it must be careful because the federal government is constantly trying to encroach on that area".
This comment reflects how important it is for Quebec to maintain its jurisdiction over primary, secondary and post-secondary education.
The carrot concept does not work any more in Quebec. The federal government may think that when they see a red maple leaf at the bottom of a cheque from the Royal Bank, Quebec students will become ardent federalists and spend the rest of their lives thanking their federal benefactor. It would hardly be in character for Quebecers, but it would not surprise me if the Liberal Party of Canada were to make that assumption.