Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence.
Every time the Bloc takes a step forward, it takes two steps back. Last week the Bloc members voted in favour of my private member's bill, which called on the Prime Minister to make an official apology for the injustices committed against Italian Canadians during the second world war. I very much appreciated the Bloc's support. But today I am very disappointed by this motion, which begins as follows: “That this House acknowledge that federalism cannot be renewed, since 20 years after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord—”.
I think it is the Bloc that cannot be renewed. Its first leader, Mr. Bouchard, renewed himself a few months ago by admitting that the concept of separation is dead. He said it was time to work with Canada and forget the idea of separation. That is a renewed concept. After 20 years, finally, someone admitted that they should forget the idea of separation and work on strengthening the Quebec nation.
The Bloc has been in the House of Commons for 20 years, since the Meech Lake accord failed. It has not changed anything in those 20 years, except to deprive Quebec of a place at the federal government's decision making table.
The motion continues: “—Quebec still does not have the power to choose three justices on the Supreme Court of Canada—”. That means that the Bloc does not have the power to choose judges. There is no doubt that the Bloc, in eternal opposition, will never have the opportunity to choose judges.
The Liberal government has always consulted Quebec. Federal members from Quebec have always made sure they took part in those consultations.
The motion also states that Quebec does not have the right: “—to opt out with compensation from federal programs in its areas of jurisdiction—”. The Bloc has never given an example when that has happened. Under previous Liberal governments, several transfers of responsibility took place, for instance in the area of employment and training, and in health care.
When infrastructure money was transferred to the municipalities, we travelled all over Quebec. I remember, because there was a press conference with Jean Charest and Paul Martin. Two minutes after that press conference, there was another press conference with Mayor Gérald Tremblay and Jean Charest. The Prime Minister of Canada did not attend that press conference, out of respect for the provincial government's jurisdictions.
There were immigration transfers with full compensation. There is also education. The federal government gave permission for trade officers to be in embassies all over the world.
And we should not forget the increases in equalization to make up for what we did not exactly pay for these transfers of responsibility.
I will now move on to the fourth part of the motion, which says that Quebec does not have “a real veto over constitutional amendments and its status as a nation still has not been recognized in the Canadian Constitution”. What is the best tool Quebec has right now? It has a real right of veto with the notwithstanding clause.
The people of Quebec want their members to build a stronger Quebec and to work on substantive issues that affect them.
The Bloc has wasted many opportunities to stand up for Quebec's best interests.
In other words, we in the Liberal Party worked very hard to ensure that Quebec had a credible voice on the federal scene. Our party always shared Quebec's values of mutual help and support, and that is why an asymmetrical agreement on health care was signed under Paul Martin.
Today, our party shares Quebec's position on the environment, which is that 1990 should be the reference year and there should be massive investments in green technology. Our party shares Quebec's values when it comes to culture, economic and regional development, health care and freedom of association. We believe in a federalism of convergence where networks of jurisdictions and responsibilities are built between the private sector, NGOs and municipalities. This federalism is possible, and we invite Quebeckers to join with us to make this Canada a country they can identify with.
In moving this motion, the Bloc is once again wasting an opportunity to stand up for Quebeckers' best interests. It could have defended the gun registry today and called on this government to promise to maintain Canada's free universal health care system.
The Bloc could have taken responsibility and could have held this government accountable for dividing Canadians over its petty ideological policies. Over the past month, 11 women's groups and associations lost funding after they criticized the government's maternal health policies for the G8.
Other organizations also lost funding from a government that was looking to score political points with its core supporters. The government hid behind our soldiers to avoid having to answer direct questions about the transfer of Afghan detainees. It caused a rift between Canadians in urban and rural regions by refusing to take a firm stance on the registration of firearms and all other issues.
What makes this even worse is that, from the beginning, the separatist movement and the Parti Québécois never supported the Meech Lake accord. They wanted this accord to fail, and did everything they could to ensure it was never signed. When negotiations fell through, they blamed everyone else and claimed that the Canadian federation would never work.
This House voted to recognize Quebec as a nation within a united Canada in 2006. Four years later, the Bloc is declaring that federalism has failed. This argument is inconsistent.
Quite simply, this motion is unnecessary and does nothing for the people of Quebec or the province of Quebec. It is not good for Canada, and I will not support this motion.
Hon. Joseph Volpe (Eglinton—Lawrence, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I wanted to participate in this debate because I was one of the members who sat in this House at the time of the Meech Lake accord and the subsequent agreement. I know there was only one member of the Bloc who was also in this House. So, when we talk about this motion in relation to Quebec's position in Canada or outside Canada, we must also be familiar with the political situation at that time.
I wanted to participate as a Canadian citizen, as a member of Parliament, and as former minister of the Government of Canada. At the time, there was no Bloc Québécois. There were only Mr. Mulroney's Conservatives, the Liberals and some NDP members. At the time, Mr. Lucien Bouchard was one of the most influential ministers in Mr. Mulroney's cabinet. He was Mr. Mulroney's éminence grise on constitutional issues.
I was here in the House where the member from Montcalm currently is. As a member of Parliament, I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Lucien Bouchard when he talked about Quebeckers' aspirations and his vision of a united Canada. He was to me—I speak as a member—an individual who had a certain kind of presence, who wanted Quebec to enter a more welcoming Canada, but also a Canada focused on building a future together.
I recall one of my colleague's thoughts at the time. If Mr. Bouchard had continued a little longer, in fact, some of the members of the Liberal Party might have been convinced by his speech. Some things were accomplished. We can say that Mr. Bouchard changed the dynamics of the House by creating the Bloc Québécois with members of the Liberal and Conservative parties. He had a vision. Today, the same Mr. Lucien Bouchard, former minister of the Government of Canada, former premier of Quebec, says that this whole experience is no longer required and that there already is a place for Quebec and Quebeckers within Canadian federalism, a place that the rest of the world envies.
The Europeans are studying the Canadian experience and are wondering how to achieve the kind of federalism found here in Canada, how to protect the culture, language, tradition, history of various nations and still be part of a great nation, an ambitious nation, a progressive country, a country that has earned everyone's respect. It is the same question Mr. Bouchard was asking himself. With no malice, I wonder why today Mr. Bouchard is no longer part of this Bloc Québécois that is very different in its aspirations and ambitions from twenty years ago.
As an individual, I was experiencing a very strange situation at the time because there was talk of a Canada that was in danger.
What was my role as a citizen? At that time, as a citizen and a member of Parliament, I agreed to improve the concept behind the Meech Lake accord.
Some people here, even Bloc members, will recall that the Charlottetown Accord had been negotiated by the present Quebec Premier and other people, including senators from Quebec, true Quebeckers, who always wanted the best for the people of their province and of Canada too. Together, they designed an accord to attract attention, to reinforce the conviction and the participation of all Canadians.
As a citizen, I felt compelled to promote Canada in the context of the Charlottetown Accord. That accord gave even more than the Meech Lake accord to Quebeckers.
During the referendum, I chaired 17 public conferences in my Toronto riding. Most voters were in favour of the Charlottetown Accord. They wanted to say yes to all Quebeckers and all Canadians who shared the vision of a strong and united Canada respecting all differences.
After that, I had the privilege to be a member of Mr. Martin's cabinet. We always talked about the role of Quebec within Canada. We discussed ways of moving forward, as a united Canada, to meet the challenges of Canadians, in Quebec as in all other provinces, from all cultures, traditions and nations. Quebeckers were included in our plan.
The other ministers and myself reviewed all previous demands from Quebec and the demands of that time. When we talk about immigration today, we see that there is a Canadian model and a Quebec model. I dare say that the Quebec model has a strong influence on Canadian immigration. That was an innovation of Canadian federalism. It is an innovation that Europeans want to emulate.
We also see Quebec as a leader in public health. That is thanks to the funds the federal government transfers to the provinces.
I want to finish in just a few moments and I want to do it in English. I only have a moment or two. It is important to keep in mind that when one talks about Quebec, the Québécois and a nation, there are many who speak another language in that province and who have just as much of a desire and ambition to be a part of a new Quebec and a new Canada. That has to be reflected in any motion.
This motion is very narrow. It restricts. It has no ambition. It has no future. It excludes rather than encompasses, includes and grows. I try very hard to speak in French if I can, but in English I must say that I cannot support this. It is not because I am speaking in English, but because there is not room for everyone in a Bloc Québécois view of the world and of Canada.
Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate today in the debate on the opposition motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois. It is an exciting subject for me. I will take this opportunity to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges who is, in my opinion, an example and symbol of Quebec democracy.
The riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges has almost always belonged to the Liberals, at least until 2004. With the sponsorship scandal, Quebeckers woke up. They saw things clearly and they decided to place their trust in the Bloc Québécois. They were sure of being well represented. The member defeated the Liberal minister, and in the next election, in 2006, she defeated a very high profile candidate, who is now the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. In the last election, she defeated a senator. So for us, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges is a symbol that tells us that the Bloc Québécois has very secure roots and that there is a reason why Quebeckers have marked a little x on their ballot, democratically, for the Bloc Québécois candidate for six consecutive elections.
I have listened to the speeches by members of the House of Commons. They have to stop saying that the Bloc Québécois is not an acceptable party because it wants to divide Canada. Quebeckers have made a democratic choice. They are the ones who have the last word, and who decided to choose us. When they no longer choose us, it may be because they have already said yes to the country we want to have. But as long as we are here, we will speak for Quebeckers, we will represent them, and most importantly, we will stand up for any consensus that is reached in the National Assembly of Quebec.
I would note in passing that it is the supreme democratic governing body of the Quebec nation. There are bills and positions, whether they come from the government, the Liberals or the NDP, that do not have the support of the members from Quebec to respect these consensuses. A consensus of the National Assembly of Quebec means that all parties in the National Assembly, the Liberal Party, Québec solidaire, the Parti Québécois, federalists and sovereignists together, are united. They are united in telling the federal government that what it is preparing to adopt, that what the Liberals are preparing to do by supporting the Conservatives, is contrary to the consensus of the democratic governing body of Quebec.
We have to stop downplaying things and softening the edges. I was just listening to the speech by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, who has a lot of experience. He has seen and heard many things. He has witnessed historic moments, but he has to stop saying everything is fine. Everything is not all that fine. I know some people would like the Bloc Québécois to die or disappear, but as long as Quebeckers want us and choose us, we will be here to represent them, strong, with all the principles we have, and most importantly with our passion for Quebec, our passion for standing up for the Quebec nation.
Last Saturday, the newspapers were talking about a conference I attended. It was a very well organized conference, with intellectuals, very educated people, who have put their minds to it and shared the fruit of their efforts, which is: we have tried everything. We tried the Meech Lake accord and the Charlottetown accord, two accords that wanted to share a little more power with Quebec and treat it like a nation. And they both failed.
I was particularly interesting to hear what two speakers had to say, one of them being Ms. Andrée Lajoie, whom some of you may know. She graduated in law and political science from the University of Montreal and Oxford. She explained to us that the Canadian Constitution is more the constitution of a unitary system instead of a federal or confederal one, and that it gave the federal government five different possibilities or ways to control the provinces.
I am a young member of Parliament, which does not necessarily mean I am young. I have not been a member of Parliament for a very long time, and I do not know by heart these five possibilities. Ms. Lajoie taught me there are five, and she urged us to make them known. That is what I would like to do during my remarks today.
The Canadian Constitution gives the federal government five legal ways to amend the Constitution unilaterally. The power of disallowance is certainly obsolete by now, and it has been seldom used, but it is still there. There is no guarantee it could never be used again.
There is also the declaratory power. Ms. Lajoie told us it has been used 472 times since 1867, twice since 2000, 118 times in Quebec only. I was anxious to know what this declaratory power is. It has been used for tramways in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa, local bus systems, hotels, restaurants and theatres. As a matter of fact, it can be used in a lot of situations we find in Quebec.
There is also the power to acquire public properties. Expropriation is an unfortunate example for many people in Mirabel. Their lands were expropriated to build an airport.
And then we have the spending power allowing the federal government to spend in a normative way in provincial jurisdictions.
The fifth possibility is based on interpretative theories, especially implicit jurisdiction, paramountcy, residual jurisdiction, national importance, and state of emergency.
The Supreme Court frequently makes use of these possibilities in its decisions. When we hear, read and peruse Ms. Lajoie’s speech, we realize we should better explain to Quebeckers the real meaning of the sharing of powers between the provinces and the federal government. The number of sovereignists would probably rocket up very quickly.
The goal of Bloc Quebecois members is to teach and convince. Our movement is young, and it may take time to build a country. Contrary to Mr. Bouchard, I think Quebec will become a country in my lifetime.
I also found another speaker to be quite interesting. Stéphane Paquin is a lecturer at the Institut d'études politiques in Paris and also teaches at the Université de Sherbrooke. He explained something very important to us; the fact that almost every international treaty will have local, regional or provincial consequences. There were reasons that the European Union, when negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada, insisted that the provinces be present at the negotiating table, and one was that it is interested in having access to government contracts. Because these government contracts are under provincial jurisdiction, the European Union wanted the provinces to sit in and participate in the negotiations. That is the trend with new treaties.
Canada is signing new treaties, but Quebec will feel the impact. Again, if we were masters in our own house, masters of our own country, Quebec would be at the table negotiating free trade agreements with other countries according to its values, culture and distinct character.
I would like to finish by saying that sovereignists are not people who are against Canada, rather, they are people who are for Quebec. Our fondest hope is to belong, to hold our country's reins, to be able to share and live side by side with the nation of Canada and have trade relations, as we would with other countries. I believe that if Quebec were to make that choice, Quebec-Canada relations would be much better and nationalist discussion would flourish within Quebec and would no longer be up for negotiation because Quebec as a nation would have chosen its country.
Ms. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry for her good words. The amount of work I do in my constituency is huge and I go about it diligently. I keep at it. It is a round-the-clock job that is a pleasure to do. I count myself fortunate to be able to do my job.
I was listening to hon. members speak. I remember 1990. I remember the Meech Lake accord saga because, at that time, I was beginning to form my ideas as I came of age. The first newspaper article that my father put under my nose on my birthday was a critique of the Meech Lake accord; that was on June 18, 1990. It is quite interesting that, at the time those discussions were taking place, I was also in the House as a political staffer. I was able to listen to discussions from both sides of the House on Quebec's claims.
So here are my views on the future of Quebec in Canada.
This year, in fact, marks both the 20th anniversary of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the 20th anniversary of the Bloc Québécois being in the House of Commons. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I humbly invite our dear House of Commons colleagues to consider the results of the Canada-wide poll conducted for the Intellectuels pour la souveraineté du Québec and the Bloc Québécois. The document is quite eloquent. In the study's findings, members should easily recognize the answers to their questions about the constitutional expectations of Quebeckers.
We have to point out that those who still think that federalism is “reformable“ would do well to equip themselves with incredible patience because Canadian public opinion has regressed in 20 years.
Publishing this opinion poll at this time is most appropriate and allows us to clarify the visions for Quebec in the future. We have two roads before us. There is the road on which we are currently travelling within the Canadian federal framework, with no other vision than the status quo, which, for Quebec, means moving backwards. The other road, sovereignty, remains the only possible one.
Quebec is marching towards sovereignty, and today we have the opportunity to remember the road of federalism on which we have been travelling for so long, for too long.
There are three attributes of sovereignty: the capacity to make legislation, the capacity to act and speak on one’s own behalf on the international stage, and the capacity to levy income tax.
The Quebec nation cannot build a future for itself on the basis of a perpetual “no”.
I thank the Bloc Québécois for allowing us to hear colleagues from all over Canada express their views on the constitutional issues of concern to Quebec.
Why is the future of Quebec in Canada less certain than people think? It is an illusion to believe that Canada is prepared to step back and concede any power whatsoever to Quebec and the provinces. Canada has always continued over the years to build itself and to falsely claim powers which, for the most part, will never be ceded back to Quebec and the provinces.
There are certain historical landmarks from the time of the conquest in 1763 until 1867, which I will not be addressing in my speech but which are important all the same. I invite my colleagues to study them to find answers to their questions about relations between the British colonial government and its French-speaking colony.
Since the Canadian Constitution came into force on July 1, 1867, the interpretation of its text, particularly as regards the powers and the roles of each level of government, has been the subject of incessant quarrels and discussions.
The government did this at a time of crisis, in 1942. Previously, the federal government did not levy personal income tax or provide employment insurance.
Despite the promises of renewed federalism in 1980, in 1982 the federal government signed the forced patriation of the Constitution from the Parliament in London, adding to it an amending formula which now allowed it to appropriate powers in other fields, with the consent of certain provinces but without a decision by either of the founding peoples. Quebec will not sign the Constitution.
In 1982, Quebec experienced a fundamental setback. From 1960 to 1976, Quebec had claimed a veto to guarantee the long-term security of the province.
As Georges Mathews notes:
|| The Constitution of 1982 enables the federal government to take over provincial jurisdictions bit by bit as long as the anglophone majority agrees. With the new amending formula, Quebec has less power than the four Atlantic provinces combined, which have less than a third of its population.
In the wake of another promise, this time in 1984, to integrate Quebec into the new Constitution with honour and enthusiasm, a new round of negotiations began. The federal government and the provinces agreed to accept Quebec's basic conditions.
To answer my colleagues opposite, Quebec's basic conditions were the following: a recognition of Quebec as a distinct society; a constitutional veto for Quebec and the other provinces; the right to financial compensation for any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction; increased provincial powers with respect to immigration; and that three judges from Quebec be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada by the federal government on nomination by the Government of Quebec.
Robert Bourassa wanted Quebec and the provinces to be given exclusive jurisdiction over language. He wanted more power over labour and communications. The position of anglophones in Quebec is difficult to understand and the accord therefore enshrined duality. Quebec wanted to limit the federal government's spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
In 1987, despite an initial agreement that seemed to echo the Meech Lake accord, the provinces had three years to get any agreement in principle approved by their legislatures. It was then that this attempt to reconcile the demands of Quebec and the provinces failed and revealed a clearer picture: the rest of Canada refused to recognize the specificity of Quebec.
We must remember that for the first time since 1867, Meech Lake symbolically gave Quebec explicit recognition of its specificity. We must also remember that, contrary to what English Canada might believe, Quebec did not get everything it wanted. It was Quebec that ended up making substantial concessions before signing the accord.
Robert Bourassa agreed that the federal government could impose its conditions within provincial jurisdictions. That was a major concession. According to professors Andrée Lajoie and Jacques Frémont:
|| What may appear at first sight to be a federal government concession to Quebec and the provinces will be revealed, after more detailed examination, as a major victory for Ottawa, who will thereby finally be able to do what it has been attempting for years, namely to acquire the constitutional authority to invest and, to all practical purposes, control every area of exclusively provincial jurisdiction.
In 1992, the Charlottetown accord was defeated. In 1997, still without Quebec, the premiers of the nine other provinces rejected the unique character of Quebec society in the Calgary declaration, which we do not hear much about, because it did not become an interpretive clause in the Canadian Constitution.
In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that if there was a clear majority vote in favour of the secession of Quebec, the government would be required to negotiate the terms of secession in good faith. In 1999, the government introduced the Clarity Act, which changed the rules. Once again, the federal government reminded Quebec that it was in control, that it had control over one of its provinces.
My colleagues have spoken about other events in recent history, so I will not repeat them. However, as I just showed, there are certainly no cure-alls to be found in the Canadian Constitution. No matter where you look, and despite the existence of any agreements, the government could invoke any number of reasons to unilaterally make a decision without the agreement of Quebec or another province.
Mr. Steven Blaney (Lévis—Bellechasse, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate on the motion moved by the hon. member for Joliette.
The hon. member for Joliette raises some points that I would like to address as a Quebecker and federal MP for Lévis—Bellechasse serving my constituents and the Quebec nation.
First of all, I have no intention of supporting this motion for two reasons. First, it precludes reforming Canadian federalism and prevents Quebec from showing what it is capable of within Canada.
The second reason is because it does not recognize the improvements to and the evolution of federalism since the Meech Lake accord. I firmly intend to oppose this motion.
I think this motion gives us the opportunity to put things back in their historical context and in order to do so, we have to go back to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982. At that time, the Liberal government of the day unilaterally repatriated the Constitution, without Quebec's consent.
Even though I am a proud Quebecker who wants Quebec to grow within the Canadian federation, I cannot accept that. It was unacceptable at the time and it remains so today. And I am not the only one to think so. Many Canadians think as I do that patriating the Constitution unilaterally had adverse consequences of which we are still feeling the effects today.
The former Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield, from Nova Scotia, said this about the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982 by the federal Liberal government, led at the time by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
|| No Quebec premier in human memory would have accepted the 1982 Constitution. In 1982, English Canada forgot its history. We abandoned our tradition of not changing the rules that govern Quebec without Quebec's consent. I thought then and I still think now that the 1982 exercise put Canada as a country in jeopardy.
The unilateral patriation of the Constitution was particularly egregious as the process was supposed to be based on the willing consent of all parties.The quotation continues:
|| Ottawa not only missed an opportunity for constitutional renewal following a positive vote in the referendum; Ottawa also betrayed francophone Quebeckers who voted for constitutional renewal.
That is what happened in 1982. It showed contempt for the nation of Quebec. It was unacceptable, and it was the doing of a federal Liberal government.
What led us from the unilateral patriation of the Constitution to the Meech Lake accord? The Meech Lake accord was a Canadian plan developed under the leadership of a Conservative government. That is the reality.
Unfortunately, what I find paradoxical today, is that sovereignist members are introducing a motion that sings the praises of the Meech Lake accord to high heaven. Just like the federal Liberal members, they all found themselves on one side of the fence and opposed that accord. They dug its grave, no question.
Today, we see that the members of the Bloc have thrown in the towel, while still keeping their hands on the benefits of Canadian federalism and relegating Quebec to the opposition benches. I am sharing my opinion and hon. members are free to take a different view.
This motion gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to a great Quebecker and a great Canadian. He had his finest moment here on May 1, 1987, when he informed the House that:
||—the Premiers and I reached unanimous agreement in principle on a constitutional package which will allow Quebec to rejoin the Canadian constitutional family.
|| This agreement enhances the Confederation bargain and strengthens, I believe, the federal nature of Canada. Although it remains to be formalized, it represents in the judgment of First Ministers from all political stripes and from all areas of the country an historic accomplishment.
Of course, members will recognize the words of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, who said this here in this House on May 3, 1987. He also drew a parallel with a statement by another former Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who said:
|| The governing motive of my life has been to harmonize the diverse elements which compose our country.
|| Surely, that is the wish of every Member on all sides of the House. That is our policy, our purpose--building a stronger Canada for all Canadians.
That is the Meech Lake accord. It is a Canadian proposal prepared under the leadership of a Conservative government, with a vision that would bring Quebec back into the Canadian federation with its full consent. People recognized that it was a unique and unprecedented gesture. I am thinking in particular of Roger Tassé, who was the main author of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said that, of course, like any agreement, it was not perfect, but it was certainly as good as the 1982 amendments. It was a major constitutional accord that was a defining moment for Canada, resolved matters left unresolved in 1982 and brought Quebec back into the constitutional fold, an accord that had been signed by 11 Canadian first ministers, an unprecedented achievement.
That is what we had under a Conservative government. We had a Canada that worked, a Canada with a place for everyone. That was until people came along and sabotaged the Meech Lake accord. Now, 20 years later, it is important to tell people that those forces are still at work here in the House. We must remember that the Conservative government played a crucial role in helping Canada and Quebec continue to thrive.
I have a quote here from a member who is still in the House. This is from the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for a time. He said:
|| After Meech we would have had stability for a very long time. And the worst constitutional error in the history of Canada was probably Mr. Trudeau's campaign against Meech.
That was a current member of the Liberal Party acknowledging the problems that sabotaging the Meech Lake accord created. People definitely have strong feelings about it because what happened was unacceptable and we are still suffering from the after-effects.
So here we have the centralist Liberals who torpedoed the Meech Lake accord and people who threw in the towel. I am not throwing in the towel. We have made real progress over the past 20 years and under the leadership of our current Prime Minister. Canada can evolve and Quebec can evolve within the Canadian federation.
A prime indicator is the recognition of the Quebec nation, which is similar to one of the clauses in the Meech Lake accord about recognition of a distinct society. We recognized that Quebec is not only a distinct society, but a nation. That happened here in this House. Where there is a will, there is a way, and this is a good example of what we can accomplish when we want to move federalism forward. That is one very good reason why I oppose the motion.
Our government, like the majority of Quebeckers, is betting on Quebec remaining within Canada. We believe that Canada and Quebec can continue to work together and make it a winning proposition. That has been the underlying principle of our policies since 2006. This policy is supported by concrete action consistent with the vision of a modern and confident Canada, resolutely turned towards the future. In the Canadian federation, no partner is made to renounce its very nature. On the contrary, we believe that each partner, with its own assets and strengths, contributes to our collective nation building. That also applies to Quebec which, with its flourishing culture, rich identity, vigorous economy and dynamic entrepreneurs, plays an important role in this country, allowing us and Quebeckers to maximize our potential and to realize our legitimate aspirations.
Quebeckers, together with other Canadians, have risen to the challenge. Our government intends to continue in that direction for the benefit of all Canadians. Canada poses a collective challenge, to which each of its components is asked to respond. This objective has been defined by some with a slogan that is also a program: unity in diversity.
This objective is being met by practising a federalism that respects the responsibilities of each of our provincial and territorial partners and takes into account the major issues of our time.
Our government favours an approach based on open federalism, an approach that recognizes that the federation, far from being static, is constantly evolving in order to adapt to change and the realities of the modern world. This approach allows the federation to better respond to the challenges faced by the provinces and territories and gives results for all Canadians.
For example, we worked with all the provinces and territories to implement Canada's economic action plan last year and we are continuing with that process.
In the last two years, Quebec's economic performance was remarkable, thanks to the Quebeckers in the House who supported the economic action plan. The best example of this is that right now, the lowest unemployment rate in Canada is in the Quebec City region, a region represented by a majority of Conservative members.
Investments from the economic action plan have been made in all ridings in Quebec, regardless of political representation. In all regions and all major cities in Quebec, the economic action plan will provide benefits in terms of infrastructure and culture, for workers, businesses and the forestry sector. The economic action plan gives concrete and tangible results, and puts Quebec in a relatively enviable economic position.
In terms of infrastructure, we committed to taking immediate action to start work and to accelerate funding for projects for the 2009 and 2010 construction seasons.
The economic action plan offers a series of concrete measures, agreed to by premiers and territorial leaders on January 16, 2009, to make substantial investments in the budget to support the economy in the short term and also prepare it for longer-term challenges.
This plan is achieving the desired results. Canada made it through this global recession better off than all the G7 nations. I have a hard time understanding why the Bloc members are against this economic action plan, which is fundamentally good for Quebec. It is clear. Quebec, as part of Canada, is in one of the most enviable positions in the G7.
Recent developments in the economic situation indicate that the action plan has helped stabilize the national economy and has helped restore economic growth. Economic growth means economic independence and autonomy. The Conservative members have helped make our country economically independent. More than 285,000 jobs have been created since July 2009. Consumer and business confidence has significantly improved and has returned to its previous levels.
We have some work to do in the House to ensure Quebec's economic prosperity. I can say that the team of Conservative members and senators from Quebec can be counted on and are doing a great job. We need only look at our remarkable justice initiatives that Quebeckers very must appreciate.
I want to come back to the economy. In the end, demand has increased much more than in all the other G7 countries. This shows that people are regaining confidence in the economy.
Thanks to the economic action plan, taxes were reduced. That is another measure taken by the Conservatives. Quebeckers are paying less taxes at the federal level because the Conservatives lowered taxes and the GST. Let us also not forget EI benefits, which were extended for the unemployed. Then, there are thousands of infrastructure projects that are underway across the country.
In Quebec's CEGEPs, record investments were made in science and technology. Industries and communities are benefiting from a strong support, and some exceptional measures were taken to improve access to financing.
Over the past year, the government has also signed agreements to allow provinces, territories, municipalities and private sector partners to implement shared responsibility initiatives. We are talking about an investment of $47 billion in our economy, in addition to the provinces' contribution of $15 billion. For Quebec, this means that, in addition to the economic action plan, federalism has provided some major benefits, but also tools for the Canadian federation as a whole.
In 2010-11, Quebec will continue to benefit from large federal transfers, since federal support for the provinces and territories has reached unprecedented levels and will continue to grow. For Quebec, it will total $19.3 billion in 2010-11. The moneys that Quebec will receive from the federal government will reach unprecedented levels.
I can reassure my colleagues by telling them that Quebec Conservative members supported these measures. Unfortunately, members opposite did not do so, and that is very regrettable. Among other things, Quebec is getting $280 million more than it did in 2009-10, which was already a record year. Let us not forget that Quebec is getting close to $6.8 billion more than when the federal Liberal conservative government was in office.
Quebec has never received as much as in the recent past, with a Conservative government in Ottawa and with Conservative members from Quebec who think that the province can continue to do very well within the Canadian federation and be an active player.
This increased long term support helps ensuring that Quebec has the necessary resources to provide essential public services, while contributing to the establishment of common national objectives in health care, post-secondary education and other important parts of Canada's social security net.
As for the wealth distribution system of equalization, it is important to remember that Quebec received $8.6 billion, almost $3.8 billion or 78% more than in 2005-06. And for the Canada health transfer, Quebec received $6.1 billion, which is $294 million more than last year. The Canada social transfer was $2.6 billion.
That means that even though our government has experienced some economic turmoil, we maintained transfers to the provinces in order to allow our provincial partners, and Quebec in particular, to maintain overall services. In addition, contrary to our colleagues on the other side, we did not make deep cuts at a time when our partners needed money. That is what I wanted to point out.
I would have liked to talk about what we are doing in terms of knowledge and innovation, as well as what we are doing for workers. Today I believe that we need to remember that, essentially, the Meech Lake accord was a project undertaken by a Conservative government that wanted Quebec to fully and of its own accord rediscover its place within the Canadian federation.
I gave the example of the Liberal Party of Canada, which sabotaged the Meech Lake accord, as did the sovereignists, who did not want it to work because it would allow Quebec to continue to grow within the Canadian federation. I believe that this accord had a noble objective, and I applaud those who crafted it. It is understandable, for obvious reasons, that I have no praise for those who killed it. The Conservative government will continue to practise an open federalism that recognizes Quebec as a part of the Canadian federation.