Madam Speaker, in today’s Bloc Québécois opposition day debate on federal government spending power, there is nothing new.
We have been calling for limits on federal government spending since 1993. Successive Quebec governments, from the time of Robert Bourassa through to the era of Jean-Jacques Bertrand—not to mention every member of the Parti Québécois—have consistently called for limits to be set on the federal government’s power to spend.
In fact, allow me to quote a former Quebec premier. He said, “Quebec continues to believe that this power to spend in solely provincial areas of jurisdiction should quite simply not exist, and that the federal government just needs to let it go.”
And it was not a sovereignist who said that. Robert Bourassa, a federalist, made the statement in 1970. So this is nothing new. One certainly cannot label Mr. Bourassa a sovereignist, and yet I hear the Conservatives, Liberals and even occasionally the NDP saying that the Bloc only moved this motion in order to promote Quebec sovereignty. Of course we are sovereignists. However, this motion is simply about limiting the federal government’s spending power.
When the time comes to vote on Tuesday, I hope that members, and in particular members from Quebec, will realize that this request to limit federal government spending power has been made repeatedly by Quebec for many years.
It is also important to remind members of this House—particularly Quebec members on the government side and those in the Liberal party who, when power appears to be within reach, seem to once again favour highly centralist positions—that there is a strong consensus in Quebec that Ottawa must stop interfering in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own.
I would also like to mention something that I failed to indicate at the start of my speech: I will be sharing my time with the member for Joliette.
Now, back to the debate. As I said, all governments—from Jean Jacques Bertrand’s to Robert Bourassa’s, right through to Jean Charest’s, as well as all the sovereignist PQ governments—want control of all the tools they need to better meet the needs of Quebeckers; there is unanimous agreement that federal spending power must be limited.
Over the years, Ottawa has cheerfully gone about spending money in areas of jurisdiction that are not its own, areas that are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces. And yet, this spending power that Ottawa has appropriated for itself across all of these areas, which are supposed to be the exclusive purview of Quebec and the provinces, causes problems and raises numerous obstacles.
The result is that Canada dictates to Quebec much of what it should or should not do in all its fields of jurisdiction. That is the big problem. That is an issue because in Canada there is more than one nation. There is the Canadian nation and the Quebec nation, recognized here in the House, symbolically of course, not to forget the aboriginal nations.
Through the spending power, the Canadian nation imposes its views on the Quebec nation. Every time Ottawa creates a program or spends in a field of Quebec jurisdiction, it is Canada deciding how Quebec society will be organized and structured and how programs will be implemented in Quebec. In many cases, whether in regard to health, regional development or education, there is all kinds of duplication.
Sometimes we have debates here about big national mental health programs, but in Quebec, all the regions and local community service centres, as well as the provincial health and social services department, have their own programs. The result is duplication, which costs huge amounts of money, instead of investments in improving health. All kinds of money is wasted. Every time Ottawa sets conditions before making transfers to Quebec, it forces the Quebec government to implement Canadian priorities rather than Quebec priorities. That is the problem that always arises.
Here is a case in point. Parental leave is a major issue that the Bloc Québécois debated in the House for many years. Nearly 20 years ago, the Government of Quebec wanted to institute a suitable parental leave system. The problem was that Ottawa was already using its spending power to intercede through employment insurance. To create its program, Quebec therefore had to get the money already being used by Ottawa. At the time, Ottawa refused. In 1996, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of these parental leaves. Still Ottawa said no. We all remember the Liberal government of the time cutting social programs. Unfortunately, the Liberals apparently still embrace this centralizing approach because the signs are all that they will vote today against the Bloc motion, although I hope not. So the Liberals have learned nothing. The Conservatives made false promises, and the New Democrats have centralizing policies, a little like the Liberals, and are prepared to poke their noses into jurisdictions that are none of their business.
To come back to parental leave, five years later, the National Assembly unanimously passed the bill creating parental leave. As you will have guessed, Ottawa, true to form, again said no. We had to be patient, at that time, and wait five more years to see legal action by the Government of Quebec and the election of Paul Martin’s minority government, with the Bloc Québécois at its heels, for Quebec, after 23 years of hard-fought battle, to finally achieve its parental leave program. All of the members from Quebec who are present here can confirm this. That program is very popular and it is no accident that the number of births has been rising since it was implemented. This is one example, but let us not forget that there is not a single area under Quebec’s jurisdiction that has not been invaded by Ottawa.
The Conservative member made me laugh when he talked about family policy. He said that if we limited the federal spending power, we could say good-bye to the child tax benefit. We are only talking about transfers. That money, which is paid by Ottawa, would be better managed by Quebec in a family allowance program, for example. The Conservative members turn a deaf ear and act like hypocrites when they say they are in favour of limiting the federal spending power, as their leader said during the election campaign and in various speeches since then, with which the member from Beauce seems to agree. We see here that the Conservative government could take advantage of all the positions it has taken in recent years and vote in favour of the motion by the Bloc Québécois.
We are talking about areas under Quebec’s exclusive jurisdiction, family policy, health, education, or regional development. These are examples of mistakes made by the federal government. In 2008-2009, the federal government spent over $60 billion in areas that are within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. That figure is quite telling. It also shows that the fiscal imbalance has not been resolved. As the Séguin report said, the problem of the federal spending power is closely connected with the discussion of the fiscal imbalance.
In closing, I urge all members in the House to vote in favour of this motion, which Quebec has been calling for for many decades.