Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this debate on the motion by the Bloc. I want to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
A little over a month ago, I stood as a candidate in the byelection for the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean against the Bloc candidate. The Bloc had held this riding for 14 years. That election was a direct struggle between the platform of the Bloc, which is one of separation and impotence, and the platform of my party, which is one of equity, unity and openness.
The voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted on September 17 for openness over impotence. They preferred our federalism of openness. They saw what our government, led by our Prime Minister, can accomplish for Quebec, which is real results. That is why they gave us their support. So it is with a great deal of emotion that I rise today in this House to oppose this motion by the Bloc.
Our government is committed to practising a federalism of openness that recognizes the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of our great country. We are committed to respecting the fields of jurisdiction that are exclusively provincial and ensuring a proper accounting by clarifying roles and responsibilities. In a little over a year, we have kept our word. We have done what we promised to do.
We have taken action by restoring fiscal balance in Canada, by basing fiscal arrangements on principles and by making long term funding predictable. Indeed, thanks to the restoration of fiscal balance, federal support to the provinces and territories has reached unprecedented heights.
In the Speech from the Throne, we presented other measures promoting our concept of a federalism of openness. We made a commitment to introduce legislation that will place formal limits of the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. At the same time, the legislation will allow provinces to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
It is not a case of disparaging the federal spending power, as the leader of the Bloc did when he spoke in this House in reply to the Speech from the Throne. He called for the elimination of the federal spending power as one of the five conditions for his party’s support of the Speech from the Throne. Today, we have before the House a motion from his party in support of his proposal.
The federal spending power has been an important factor in social development throughout our history. It has made it possible to set up national social programs, such as health insurance, in concert with the provincial and territorial governments. It has played a vital role in promoting equality of opportunity for all Canadians. It has also helped ensure that Canadians have access to basic social services of comparable quality, wherever they live.
For our government, the debate is not to eliminate the federal spending power, but to define new rules for its judicious use. Total elimination of the spending power without exception would be contrary to the interest of Canadians, Quebeckers included, for it would prevent the federal government, for example, from allocating funds to education and to health transfers.
I personally know what the result of eliminating the federal spending power would be for my electors in Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. It is clear: elimination means separation. A party that proposes such a motion in this House should be aware of the contradiction in what it is asking. One cannot on the one hand demand an end to the federal spending power and on the other call for the federal government to invest in communities that are experiencing economic difficulties.
Unfortunately, that is the spirit of the Bloc: the spirit of contradiction. That is why the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean voted for real change on September 17. They voted for real results. They voted for a party that understands the problems of Quebec and knows how to solve them. They voted for the party that has the will to strengthen the Canadian federation by recognizing the strength and the contribution of each of the regions of this great country. They voted to build a stronger Quebec within a better Canada.
A solid federation and a dynamic democracy make Canada strong and united. Our practice of federalism enables us to establish a fair balance. We can pursue national objectives while taking account of the various local and regional concerns.
In reality, the Bloc should acknowledge the wisdom shown by our founders, the Fathers of Confederation, in opting for open federalism. For this is the formula best adapted to the changing needs and aspirations of Canadians. The flexibility of the Canadian federation is well suited to seeking solutions to public policy issues, and helps us to meet the challenges before us.
The success of the Canadian federation is admired throughout the world. Some see us as a model of effective governance. Other see us as a model of respect and recognition of diversity, and others still as a model of the search for a pragmatic consensus. This is the model country that the Bloc Québécois wants to destroy. As I said earlier, the voters of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean realized this. They recognized all the other advantages of our federation and what our government can do for Quebec, and this is why they voted against the Bloc Québécois and for our party on September 17.
When we took power in 2006, it was clear that federalism was not working as it should. It was a federalism based on the old dynamic of federal-provincial conflict. It was a centralizing and domineering style of federalism, which wanted Quebec to stay in its place. It was chequebook federalism and was not based on principles.
Since unexpected federal surpluses were used to spend huge amounts of money in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, often without much consultation, some government initiatives were implemented without stable, long-term federal funding.
The days of this style of paternalistic federalism are long gone. Our government practises an open federalism, which is based on the notion of a strong national government working with strong provincial and territorial governments.
The key to the future that we see for Canadians is a federalism of openness in which all Canadians, whether they live in Roberval, Moose Jaw or Nunavut, can participate.
Our open federalism is one that recognizes the maturation and evolution of the provinces and territories within the federation. It is one that respects the important role that the provinces clearly have to play in the development of national policies. It is also a federalism that respects the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and limits the federal spending power.
Our government honours its commitments to its provincial partners: that is just as true of Quebec as of any other province. We have taken concrete steps to do so thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister. We will continue to play a leadership role in order to promote national interests in collaboration with the provinces and territories.
We will continue to affirm the importance of maintaining an open, honest and respectful relationship with the provinces and territories.
We will continue to affirm the vital contribution of the Quebec nation within the Canadian federation.
As set out in the throne speech, our government will table its bill placing formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. And as further set out there, this bill will allow the provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs.
I can tell the hon. members from the Bloc that our policy on the federal spending power reflects our will to strengthen our federation and make it more effective, in a manner that fully respects the areas of jurisdiction of each member of the federation.
Our will to establish a more effective federal-provincial partnership is resolute. As the electors of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean have indicated, Quebeckers, like all other Canadians, want to see their governments working together, cooperating to advance the progress and prosperity of all.
Inspired by this desire of the people, our government is pursuing the mission with which Canadians entrusted it in January 2006. Our government, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, shall not stray from this policy. And that is to the full advantage of Quebec, Canada and Canadians.