August 23, 1988 (33rd Parliament, 2nd Session)


Donald James Johnston

Independent Liberal

Hon. Donald J. Johnston (Saint-Henri-Westmount):

may seem odd to you, Mr. Speaker, and to other Members of this House that 1 should have appeared this evening to speak to Bill C-144, but I simply could not resist the temptation. It is well known that I have had major objections to the constitutional proposal, and the Meech Lake Accord, which Members of this House have supported in vast numbers and which is designed to limit the federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction. It seems to me that I should get into this debate about child care. The federal Government, through its taxing and spending power, has the opportunity to establish effective standards and criteria to ensure that child care becomes a reality and responds to the needs to which so many Members of this House have spoken.
I have heard people like my colleague from Saint-Denis and others who would not be expected normally to be involved in these issues recognize the significance of child care, as we all do.
However, some Members are indulging in what I would call intellectual schizophrenia. On the one hand, they support the Meech Lake Accord which tells us that the federal Government will no longer have a role to play in establishing national standards attached to the spending power. On the other hand, they say that we should be telling the provinces that they should be applying standards which meet the demand of Canadian families. Sadly, we cannot have it both ways.
It is perfectly clear to me, as 1 look at Bill C-144 and at the position taken by the Conservatives, that this is very much in the spirit of Meech Lake. I thought I might have to wait many years to turn to Members of this House with whom 1 have had many arguments and be able to say: "Obviously, I was right".
Canada Child Care Act
I did not realize it would be handed to me immediately with Bill C-144.
Bill C-144 is totally in keeping with the spirit of Meech Lake. The federal Government is to tax. The federal Government is to state broad objectives. The federal Government is going to leave it to the provinces to meet the needs of Canadians. It may be different in every province. There will be no national vision. There is a total absence of a national will, about which our former Prime Minister spoke both before the joint committee of the two Houses and the Senate. There is a total absence of a national will to establish effective criteria from coast to coast to ensure that the obvious child care needs of Canadian families are met. This is the spirit of Meech Lake.
I raise this because Meech Lake is not yet a reality. A Senator from the other place said: "This is a seamless web and, if one pulls on one of the strands, the whole thing will unravel". That may be his view, but it should not be the view of Canadians who witness this debate and see for the first time that the federal power, the right in fact of Members of this House of Commons to discuss the social needs of Canadians, is going to become totally academic. Almost no aspect of Canadian life which touches individuals on a daily basis is not within the exclusive jurisdiction under the existing Constitution and by virtue of the judicial interpretation that has been given to that Constitution over many, many years.
Education is totally within provincial jurisdiction. Child care is totally within provincial jurisdiction. The granting councils of which we are so proud that do matching grants with the provinces are totally within provincial jurisdiction. It is only the spending power of the federal Government which has permitted the Government of Canada to establish standards and to provide funds that have protected Canadians, that have helped Canadians, that have reached down to Canadian individuals and provided that balance which is so essential in a federation. However, all of a sudden we are looking at a child care Bill, and we are all concerned. We are transferring billions of dollars to the provinces and as long as it meets some vaguely defined national objectives, agreements yet to be established, we will be satisfied. Well, I am not satisfied, and from the debate in this House I do not think Members are satisfied, either.
I know that Canadians would not be satisfied if they realized the extent to which our capacity as a Government, a federal Government, and this place, to reach into the households of Canadians to help them where they need help with some kind of national standards, is being gutted and destroyed by the constitutional amendment which is moving like a Juggernaut through the process at the present time.
I think it is fortunate that this debate has arisen because we should recognize that we cannot have it both ways. We are going to have a country where we will tax and they will spend, where we will make suggestions but they will decide what the national objectives are to be and what standards are to be applied, and I should say apropos that:

August 23, 1988
Canada Child Care Act
In the speech he made at the National Assembly, Mr. Robert Bourassa, the Premier of Quebec, said without hesitation that national objectives will be set in consultation with the provinces.

He made it perfectly clear. He hid nothing.
Why are we deluding ourselves? Mr. Bourassa believes that national objectives will not be established in this place. The program will be established by the Parliament of Canada out of the provisions of the Meech Lake Accord, after the provinces have decided what those national objectives are to be. That is the way of the future. Let us not fool ourselves. I think it is wrong.
Many here may think it is right, and I know many who do. That is a legitimate decision and I accept that. If Canadians from coast to coast want the provinces to assume entire exclusive jurisdiction in all matters that affect the daily lives of Canadians in terms of education, research, health, unemployment insurance which never would have been under federal jurisdiction had Meech Lake been in effect in 1940, then they are entitled to it if they want that. However, my concern is that they are unaware of the implications of the constitutional amendment.
This particular legislation with which we are dealing underlines those implications. There are many others. Those who wish to challenge my interpretation of Meech Lake on this subject are perfectly free to do so. However, I can assure you that there are many authorities who would support me, including the Premier of the Province of Quebec himself, according to his words, and others with whom I have had conversations at the provincial level regarding Meech Lake.
Let us go into this with our eyes open. Either we accept that this is the way of the future or, for those who say I am wrong, let us urge the Government once again to make a reference to the Supreme Court to find out what the full implications of the limitations on the federal spending power are-

Full View