Madam Speaker, I wanted to take part in this debate on Motion No.394 put forward by the hon. member for Trois-Rivières for several reasons.
In a nutshell, this motion is to recognize Quebec as a nation. It states that, since Quebec did not sign the social union framework union of 1999, the Quebec government should therefore have, and I quote:
—the right to opt out of any federal initiative encroaching upon Quebec jurisdiction, with full financial compensation.
The hon. member's motion raises several questions I would be hard pressed to deal with in any degree of detail during the time allotted me. Still, I would like to touch on them and focus on those aspects that seem fundamental to me, that is, the concept of nation, as the Bloc Quebecois and my hon. colleague seem to understand it, the legitimate role played by the Canadian government in the social field, and the need for cooperation among partners in the Canadian federation.
First, let us agree that the Canadian social union is central to the life of the country. It refers not only to the wide variety of social programs available to Canadians from coast to coast, but also and more importantly to the underlying common values of compassion, generosity and solidarity. it is an essential and incontrovertible component of the Canadian identity.
When we look at all that has marked the building and shaping of our social union, we are struck by how this great and noble endeavour adapted to the times.
Following the constitutional amendment providing for the establishment of a national unemployment insurance program in 1940 and the passage of the appropriate legislation by the House of Commons the following year, Saskatchewan introduced a hospital insurance program in 1947, followed, two years later, by Alberta and British Columbia.
In 1957, the federal government offered to share costs with any province which introduced similar programs. In 1961, Saskatchewan innovated again, with universal healthcare. A few years later, the other provinces signed on to a program jointly funded by the federal government.
Over the course of the next few decades, other programs were introduced, which had a direct impact on the enviable quality of life enjoyed by all Canadians, including Quebeckers. By the end of 1990, the governments in our federation undertook to update Canada's social union by making it more efficient and tailored to the realities of the new century.
The motion before us does not refer to the need for closer cooperation between the countries' governments. It proposes that the House of Commons acknowledge Quebec as a nation. It is less about determining whether Quebec is a nation than it is about determining how we can work together, with all our partners in the federation, including Quebec, to improve our country and the policies in place, to better respond to the needs and aspirations of the Canadian public, including Quebeckers.
Numerous definitions can be given to the concept of nation, and we have heard a few. However, that is not the issue that Quebeckers want to see their governments spending their energy on and investing their efforts in. Quebeckers want to see their leaders work together and not get into semantics or, worse, break up a country that works well and one they have every reason to be proud of.
The motion mentions that the Government of Quebec is not a signatory to the social union framework. Allow me to describe the context in which the negotiations for this 1999 agreement were held. The negotiations took place during a first ministers' meeting that was held on December 11 and 12, 1997, at the end of which the heads of government expressed their will to work together in the many areas that were considered a priority by all the partners of the federation and by Canadians. The social union was at the heart of these discussions.
Unfortunately, the Government of Quebec at the time decided not to be a party to the federal-provincial initiative for social policies. It was not until later, in 1998, that Quebec finally tried to take part in the negotiations.
The purpose of this motion is not to find a mechanism for improving social policies. The Bloc's objectives in this House are completely different, and this motion is more than enough to remind us of that.
This motion seeks only to paint a picture of Quebec as not being well served by the Canadian federation. It neglects to mention the considerable independence the provinces have within the country. Over the years, numerous arrangements, notably of an administrative nature, were made to allow the provinces to assume their full role within our federation. Quebec was not excluded from this movement.
Both levels of government are better able to agree because they both have a real desire, a political will, to reinforce the federation for the benefit of all. This desire must, however, come from both sides and not just ours. The Quebec government has lacked this desire since September 1994. This desire to cooperate, with respect for each other's jurisdiction, appeared with the election of Jean Charest as Premier of Quebec.
Not that intergovernmental relations between Quebec and federal government will be completely harmonious. Such differences are normal in a political system such as ours. Their resolution will require constructive, fruitful discussions based on the common good. Such differences will highlight our shared desire to build a future in keeping with our expectations and dreams.
This motion illustrates two different ideas of Canada's social union. The Bloc continues to talk about the right to opt out with full financial compensation. The governments in our federation have proposed a new vision. This vision is working, and the framework agreement of February 4, 1999, has implemented it. It has led to the creation of a new model of federal-provincial cooperation, the “race for the top” model. This model will first lead governments to agree on priorities and objectives.
This model proposes a flexible approach based on cooperation, and it reinforces the ability of governments to work together to achieve shared goals. It promotes consensus-building, innovation and experimentation, with consideration for diverse needs. This model has already been put to the test, and we can all be proud of it.
I am fully convinced that Quebeckers, like other Canadians, want to join this collaborative effort, and that all of us will be better off as a result.