Mr. Speaker, I will share my speaking time with the member from Richmond—Arthabaska.
During the last election campaign, the Conservative Party made a commitment to Quebeckers to practise a new federalism, an “open federalism”, it said. A promise was made to respect the areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Unfortunately, with this budget, one cannot but conclude that the commitment has not been kept. Unlike what our colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse said a little earlier today, this promise to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces is for the time being only a promise. In fact, we have not seen it written down.
For the benefit of this House, I have identified the numerous intrusions into Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction. Already I am sorry to have shared my speaking time, because I am not convinced that the 10 minutes allotted to me will be enough.
First of all, let us discuss the much talked about allowance of $1,200 for child care. This is a social policy falling clearly within Quebec jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois, made a proposal in good faith, for a refundable tax credit, which respected Quebec jurisdictions, since the federal government is entitled to levy income tax as it wishes. Unfortunately, for a reason that has not been explained and for which we still have not had an answer, the government did not take this approach, did not follow our recommendation and preferred an inequitable method—some of my colleagues will talk about this later on—a method furthermore which amounts to interference in Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction.
The Conservative government also proposed a pan-Canadian securities commission. Once again, this falls right into Quebec’s area of jurisdiction. All the previous Quebec governments have always refused to allow the federal government to interfere in this area of jurisdiction. Again today, in this budget, they come back with this proposal which they already know Quebeckers do not want. When I raised the question in the House, the minister encouraged me convince the Government of Quebec that it should give up this area of jurisdiction. It is always that old attitude , “Ottawa knows best; we will show you how to do things”.
Let us talk about the fiscal imbalance. The government made a commitment to fix it. We are giving it the benefit of the doubt, and this is why the Bloc will support this budget. Some things, however, remain worrisome The document presented with the budget often refers to the obligation to be accountable and to pan-Canadian standards. The social union project is even openly mentioned, which Quebec rejected in the past. The Bloc Québécois will remain vigilant in this area. The fiscal imbalance should be fixed simply by making unconditional transfers of tax fields to Quebec, which it may use as it chooses.
In education, certain measures which fall within Ottawa’s fields of jurisdiction have been taken. We salute them. For example, the elimination of income tax on income from scholarships and bursaries. The Bloc has long been asking for this, and it is happy to see the Conservative government concurring with its arguments. What is not so good, however, is the increased interference in Quebec affairs. For instance, funding is being increased for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and so forth. Once again, instead of transferring the money to the governments of Quebec and the provinces, which are in great need of it to rectify the underfunding of the universities, the Conservative government has kept the same old Liberal practice of opting for visibility by directly subsidizing the research agencies, instead of doing its work and giving the money to the Government of Quebec, which greatly needs it.
If there is one area of jurisdiction in the Constitution which is exclusively that of Quebec and the provinces, it is surely health. We recognize that, on certain issues and in emergencies, the federal government has a role to play, for example, in ordering quarantines and in the inspection of food and the conditions of animals. Despite Quebec’s repeated demands for the transfer of responsibilities and the money that goes to the health research institutes, the Conservative government is still not responding, despite its promise to respect Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction.
That is so much the case that this budget provides for money for a Canadian cancer strategy. I must remind hon. members that this is blatant duplication, for a Quebec strategy already exists. If the Prime Minister had wanted to honour his commitment, he should have transferred that money so that this could be done in Quebec City, in compliance with provincial jurisdiction.
Immigration is another fine example where the federal government should have been tending to its own jurisdiction instead of once again interfering with that of Quebec. This government is planning to invest $18 million over two years in an agency for the recognition of foreign credentials. Yet professional credentials are the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces. They have nothing to do with the federal government. Even if we agree with the idea of recognizing credentials, that has to be done in Quebec City, not in Ottawa. That fact has to be respected.
On the other hand, something that is under federal jurisdiction is the question of the refugee appeal division. We are talking about the paltry sum of $10 million to establish a refugee appeal division. That was passed by the House in 2002, but it has still not been created. The Conservative government has made no provision for it. In other words, when it is time for the Conservative government to do something that is under its jurisdiction, it does not do it, while it jumps in with both feet when there is a chance to meddle in Quebec’s affairs.
There is the same kind of problem with job training. For years, the Government of Quebec has been asking and calling for the job training agreement that was signed to be honoured. Nonetheless, that has still not been done in the budget. The federal government has decided to reserve certain client groups for itself and it is infringing on Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction. It is perpetuating duplications. And yet on December 11, 2002, in the National Assembly, all members unanimously called on the federal government to withdraw from that area of jurisdiction. That promise is still not being kept by the Conservatives.
This is particularly surprising because it is hard to believe that the federal government knows what it is talking about when it talks about job training. Among other things, apprenticeship grants are being proposed. We are told that the trades in question are of strategic importance for the economy. However, the federal government does not have the knowledge to make those choices. That must be determined in Quebec and the provinces.
The budget also contains a section dealing with sport and healthy lifestyles. Once again, the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over health and social services. The provinces are being told how to manage their money when that job should be done in the provinces and Quebec.
If the head of government, the Prime Minister, really wanted to practise open federalism, he should give the Government of Quebec the complete right to withdraw, with full compensation, in all these areas—including amateur sport—so that it can work in its areas of jurisdiction.
In conclusion, we have to say that for the moment, the new open federalism is a very theoretical thing. In practice, the same old habits of the previous government, which told us what to think, “Ottawa knows best”, are still being followed.
Either the government has no intention at all of honouring its commitments to Quebeckers—and it will thus be deceiving those Quebeckers who believed its promise—or this government has got off to a false start, this government has made a youthful mistake; that is what I would hope. In that case, it will correct the situation very quickly and will respect Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction. In any event, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that it does. If it respects our areas of jurisdiction, we will support it; if it does not, it will find us standing in its way.