BERNIER, Maurice

Personal Data

Bloc Québécois
Mégantic--Compton--Stanstead (Quebec)
Birth Date
March 11, 1947
administrator, director - minister's office, public servant

Parliamentary Career

October 25, 1993 - April 27, 1997
  Mégantic--Compton--Stanstead (Quebec)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 4 of 47)

February 20, 1997

Mr. Bernier (Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, before answering the question from the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury, I want to comment briefly on his remarks. First, the hon. member acknowledges that the government and the human resources minister at the time, the current Minister of National Defence, made monumental mistakes which, unfortunately, were endorsed by the government.

Thanks to representations made by organizations looking after people with disabilities, and also by the official opposition, the government finally realized the enormity of these errors, and some changes were made in the funding provided to these organizations. I recognize it in the budget. In fact, it was announced last January. Corrective measures were taken to restore the situation to what it was before 1996, to restore grants to what they were in 1995.

It is difficult to take for granted that improvements such as these augur well for the future, that we should rest easy and assume that the federal government will propose other measures to improve the lot of the disabled, such as the integration fund, when we know that the government not only has a tendency to interfere in provincial jurisdictions, but that it is still actively doing so.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister willingly admitted to journalists-as can be seen in nearly all of today's daily newspapers-that the federal government was getting involved in areas of provincial jurisdiction, but only temporarily, and would withdraw within a few years. That is really thumbing their noses at people. They are telling us that the federal government is putting money into this just to bug the provincial governments and then, once they have created a need and people come back for more, they will take pull out and take their money with them. What a hateful thing to admit to.

In response to my colleague's question as to which priorities with respect to the disabled the federal government was to be responsible for, a commitment has been made, and it was made several times by the Minister of Justice, for instance, to amend human rights legislation to provide that employers would be obliged to adapt work stations.

The Minister of Justice said that once the government had dealt with the matter of same sex couples or sexual orientation and employment equity, it would introduce amendments to help people with disabilities enter the labour market. That was one of the proposals.

We, and this includes persons with disabilities, are still waiting for the legislation, because this is a very practical measure. In fact any measure, not just experiments, but any measure that will help people with disabilities get into the labour market will be welcome.

People with disabilities do not want to be treated like people who cannot participate in the economy and their community. They want the means to do so. This includes transportation that is adapted to their needs, which means adapting vehicles and adapting accommodation, but it also means special training programs.

So the federal government should reach an agreement as soon as possible with Quebec, as far as the Bloc Quebecois is concerned, but in fact with all provinces that want to patriate manpower training and labour market entry assistance, in order to come up with practical solutions and not just spend money on experiments or creating task forces.

"We do not want a lot of discussion". This was the message we got from people with disabilities, time and time again when my colleague from Fredericton and his colleagues travelled across Canada. They said: "We want no more reports, no more talk, we want action".

That is what they expect from this government, and I hope we will see further measures in the months to come.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   The Budget
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February 20, 1997

Mr. Maurice Bernier (Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on the budget speech. As some of my colleagues might expect, I have a number of comments to make on the budget measures that impact specifically on persons with disabilities.

The budget tabled in the House by the Minister of Finance this week contains a number of measures aimed specifically at persons with disabilities. The Bloc Quebecois will look at these measures to determine whether or not, in our opinion, the proposed measures meet the expectations of the organizations representing persons with disabilities and address to a reasonable extent the problems faced by persons with disabilities in Canada and Quebec.

Let me preface my speech on persons with disabilities by a few more general remarks. All observers agree that the budget tabled by the Minister of Finance this week is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The primary purpose of this budget is to be used as an election platform in the next campaign, to show all our fellow citizens across Canada and Quebec that this government did fulfil its commitments, so that it can, in all good faith, ask the voters to put their faith in it again and get re-elected.

In fact, the finance minister's budget is part of an advertising campaign launched by the government. Unfortunately, on closer scrutiny, we realize that it is misleading advertising. If the Minister of Finance, and his budget in particular, were subject to the Quebec consumer protection act, charges could be laid for misleading advertising.

What we must realize about this budget is that, what is important in this budget is not what it says, what it does not say or anything that was said previously. We know that the budget before us is nothing but a good news budget, aimed at convincing our fellow citizens that the problems are solved and that the deficit will be eliminated within a few years, thanks to the government's efforts within its own administration.

The reality is that the cuts made to social programs in the past three budgets, the cuts made to transfer payments to the provinces, will limit the provinces' ability to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged and, as a result, make our fellow citizens poorer than they were when this government assumed power in 1993.

That is the reality. That is not what the budget says, but it is the reality. The government acknowledges this, because it acknowledges that today there are 1.5 million children living in poverty, 500,000 more than when it came to power in 1993. The measures announced, moreover, do nothing to solve this problem in any way. We shall return to this point.

Essentially, this is a smoke-and-mirrors budget, which has only one objective: to convince our fellow citizens on the eve of an electoral campaign that all of the problems are settled and that we are now entering an era of prosperity. Two days after the tabling of the budget, nobody has been taken in.

We saw the reaction of most analysts, and I am convinced that the public's reaction will be similar. These people realized that, even though the finance minister tears his hair out every day during oral question period, even though he whines a lot, the plight of our fellow citizens is not getting any better.

Think about the disabled and take a look at the impact of the decisions made in that budget. Requests tmade for years by just about every organization representing people with disabilities were behind the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, in a unanimous report tabled in this House in December 1995. In other words, the official opposition and the Reform Party essentially supported the recommendations contained in that report.

It is worth taking a look at these recommendations, to see whether the government delivered. These recommendations provided, among other things, that the Government of Canada should designate a minister or a secretary of state to be responsible for the status of persons with disabilities. What was the government's response to that request? The Minister of Human Resources Development was designated as the person responsible for this issue.

Given the decisions made by that minister, and particularly the conception he has of his department's role, we can only conclude that people with disabilities are even worse off than they were when there was no one to speak for them.

Another recommendation provided that, each year, a report should be tabled in the House to review the status of requests made by people with disabilities. We are waiting for that report. I certainly hope that in the coming months we will see a document from the government explaining what has actually been done.

We also requested that a more liberal, in the good sense of the word, interpretation be allowed in the application of the tax credit so that the disabled could truly benefit. What we saw, and unfortunately continue to see, is a somewhat restrictive application, with the result that a good number of the disabled are not able to take advantage of the tax credits offered by the government.

It is one thing to say: "We are going to propose new tax credits, to improve existing credits". It is quite another to see how these measures are applied. In other words, how many people can take advantage of them? And, more to the point, how many people cannot take advantage of them, despite the fact that they are recognized as disabled.

Then, there are other recommendations concerning, for example, grants to disabled persons organizations; I will come back to this. The recommendations we made were partially taken into account.

Following this report, the then Minister of Human Resources Development, now Minister of National Defence, who must have been getting ready for his new role, literally threw the human rights committee's recommendations out the window. Not only did he not take them into account, but he literally gave them the axe. And since he is now the defence minister, I should say he used a bazooka to completely eliminate any grants to disabled persons organizations. This was the decision taken by the former Minister of Human Resources Development, now the defence minister, over a year ago. The disabled community was utterly dismayed.

Following protests by representatives of organizations and by the official opposition, which hounded the government in this House, a committee was formed. This committee tabled its report last fall and recommendations are also contained in the present budget.

Unfortunately, although the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury, who headed this committee, worked in good faith, and showed considerable openness to organizations of disabled persons, we in the official opposition spoke out against the committee because it included no representation from either the official opposition or the Reform Party. In our opinion, therefore, it was a partisan committee to which, fortunately, representatives of organizations for the disabled were added, and this has made it possible for it to come up with some recommendations which reflect reality.

Today, then, we find ourselves faced with a certain number of measures I would like, if I may, to comment on one by one, since that is the main purpose of my speech.

First of all, it is stated that the tax credits of the past will continue unchanged. They will continue, and the disabled will be able to take advantage of them, as in the past. But, as I have just said, if the Minister of Revenue and her officials continue to apply the various tax credits in a restrictive way, the net result will be that the disabled will be as badly off as they were in the past.

What we want from this government-and the Minister of Finance has not given us any reassurance in this area-is for someone to tell us how the tax credits referred to in this budget will be applied. This was recommended by both the human rights committee and the Liberal committee set up later. It had been decided to improve the tax credit for medical expenses.

Naturally, four or five measures are referred to. They speak of adapting vehicles, where expenses will be exempt up to a ceiling of $5,000, and the purchase of an air conditioner, to a ceiling of $1,000. By the way, the recommendation made by the committee chaired by the hon. member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury wanted this tax credit to apply to any kind of material assistance and not just to air conditioners, for instance. Surprisingly, the Minister of Finance took the example used in the recommendation and included it in his speech or his budget, without considering all the other equipment that is absolutely indispensable for people with disabilities.

I do not know whether this was an oversight or ignorance of the needs of people with disabilities, but air conditioners are fine, except that right now air conditioners are not terribly useful. There are a lot of other material aids that are just as important.

There is also a reference to access ramps. The purpose is, of course, to help people with disabilities when they have to leave their homes to go about their usual business like anyone else. If they have to go to class or to go work, they have to be able to do so.

There is also a reference to those who care for people with disabilities. These measures will be an improvement for all Canadians, with the exception of persons with disabilities in Quebec. Why do I say this? Because I know Liberal members will say the Bloc Quebecois is complaining again, that it thinks Quebecers are being mistreated by the federal government. Well, it is true. Today, during question period, I heard the Minister of Human Resources Development say that Quebec was getting more than its share of

federal funding, that Quebecers were cry babies and spent most of their time complaining with a full stomach.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   The Budget
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February 20, 1997

Mr. Bernier (Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead)

I hear our Liberal colleagues say that is true. I hope they repeat that during the election campaign.

I said, regarding the tax credits given for adapting vehicles, building access ramps and the purchase of specialized equipment, that a program already exists in Quebec, a universal program that applies to all citizens of Quebec, irrespective of their income, and covers the total cost of these special needs. This means Quebecers are going to pay twice: they will pay 100 per cent of the cost for residents of Quebec and part of the cost for people living outside Quebec, through the tax credit.

I hope that my colleague from Fredericton-York-Sunbury will respond to this request when it is his time to speak on the budget. I hope that the federal government will compensate Quebec for this measure, which, I repeat, will penalize Quebec taxpayers, since services will be paid for twice, and people with disabilities in Quebec are already totally covered for these needs.

Mr. Speaker, you say I have three minutes left. I want to use them to talk of the opportunities fund. There will no doubt be questions allowing me the opportunity to talk more about it. One of the things requested by groups of persons with disabilities was the retention of national standards on work adjustment programs and measures giving them greater access to the job market.

The Bloc Quebecois objected to this measure because it considers that manpower training, workplace adjustment and material assistance to people with disabilities are provincial matters from which the federal government should withdraw, as it says it wants to, instead of creating new funds to intervene in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

Even if we see that this fund could help people with disabilities return to work, its application is very limited. Let me explain.

First we must obtain the support of the groups representing the handicapped, the private sector and the provincial governments. Immediately it is clear that this fund could take months or years to see the light of day, if it ever does. So it is easy to set an amount when it will certainly never be spent. However, if it did get spent one day, it would be in areas of provincial jurisdiction and it would be an experiment. That is essentially what they are saying.

Apparently, the fund will be used to finance the development of strategies to eliminate barriers preventing Canadians from getting back onto the job market. Developing strategies will not resolve the unemployment problem, with a rate of unemployment of more than 40 per cent among persons with disabilities. These are not the kind of measures that will help them.

What the government should do, first of all and as soon as possible, is transfer manpower to Quebec and other interested provinces and put in place real training programs for persons with disabilities, programs that take their limitations into account by adapting work stations and, more importantly, ensuring that they can get jobs matching their abilities. That is what is required. Unfortunately, that is not what we find in this budget.

I realize that my time is up. I will conclude on this, but I would like to add that I hope to get a few questions to give me an opportunity to elaborate.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   The Budget
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February 18, 1997

Mr. Bernier (Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead)

Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead, Mr. Speaker.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Indian Act Optional Modification Act
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February 18, 1997

Mr. Maurice Bernier (Mégantic-Compton-Stanstead, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, you are perhaps assuming the outcome of the next election, which is why you designate me with the name Compton-Stanstead. In fact, after the next campaign, my riding, which has been altered considerably and separated from Mégantic, will be called Compton-Stanstead.

I see you therefore as a visionary, who already acknowledges not only that I will be re-elected in the riding of Compton-Stanstead, but that the Bloc Quebecois will be here in full force after the next election for its well known purpose of defending the interests of Quebecers.

My colleague, who wants to hear nothing but the truth, is perfectly right, and that is what I am going to try to do in the next few minutes. I am going to try to explain what the truth is in connection with Bill C-79.

First of all, if I may, I will take a few moments of my time to congratulate my colleague, whose performance as Indian affairs critic is recognized by all those involved in this question, which is such a touchy one and so important, not only for the future of the aboriginal communities, but for the future of our respective communities, I would say, that is the people of Quebec and the people of Canada.

We cannot treat this question lightly, as the Liberal government has already done for decades, ever since Canada began, I would

say, by denying reality. In recent years, we have witnessed a study without precedent in this area, and I would say without precedent anywhere in government activity.

I am of course referring to the Erasmus-Dussault report which was tabled only a few months ago. This study took years to complete. It thoroughly examined aboriginal issues and proposed a comprehensive plan in its recommendations. That was and still is what made the Erasmus-Dussault report unique, that it proposed a comprehensive plan to deal with aboriginal issues.

I would also like to say that in addition to the hon. member for Saint-Jean who has done and still does an excellent job in this respect, the Government of Quebec has also made an effort in the past to understand the expectations and demands of the First Nations in Quebec. I am referring to the government of former Premier René Lévesque.

This was the first government in North America to recognize the First Nations for what they were, peoples who had and have a different culture, who want to develop this culture as part of their lives, not only for the benefit of their own communities but also for the benefit of the other communities around them. In Quebec we were the first, as a people and as a government, to recognize that fact. I think that is an important point.

We should also remember, setting all political considerations aside, that the Quebec government, the Liberal government under Robert Bourassa in the 1970s, was also the first government to negotiate an agreement with a First Nation, with the Inuit in Northern Quebec on the development of James Bay, an agreement which although not perfect, set a historical precedent. As a result, a First Nation was considered a legitimate party, with the authority to decide on behalf of its people, which led to the James Bay agreement, an agreement which has been quoted as an example on many occasions in the past and still is today.

I mentioned these two positions to point out that as a people, we may wish to consolidate our future. As a people, we may wish to develop our potential while respecting those who live around us. This is the example that should be taken from the earlier positions of the Government of Quebec in the case of native communities.

What we have before us looks more like a botch. In other words, following the conclusion of the Erasmus-Dussault commission, which cost over $50 million in tax money and produced a report of thousands of pages including hundreds of recommendations proposing a comprehensive plan, the Liberal government arrives with a bungled proposal on the eve of an election. This government does not want to go into another election without being able to say it has done something for the native population. Thus we have Bill C-79, which uses a piecemeal approach to try to resolve a number of problems.

This is not the way to go about it, and I consider it almost an insult to the native peoples. This is not the way to resolve the government's problems with the native peoples. It must first recognize their existence and the importance of the Erasmus-Dussault report and the riches it has to offer and then sit down with these communities to define their future.

This is the only logical and intelligent way to proceed in this matter as in all matters. This is what my colleague from Saint-Jean is proposing on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois.

We will not agree to support a bill that does not even start to honourably address the claims of the aboriginal nations. The government and its minister must get into the habit of sitting down and talking to people. They must sit down with the native groups, see what they and their representatives want, and how they would like the necessary changes in the relations between the federal government and the communities to be planned.

Is the hon. member of Saint-Jean, who has convinced his colleagues, including myself, of the validity of this proposal, now alone? Are we the only ones to take this view of resolving the problems of aboriginal communities? No.

I need not repeat what my colleague, the hon. member for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup mentioned earlier. We all know that the Liberal members of this House can be hard of hearing, to say the least, and have a hard time understanding sometimes, which means that we have to repeat the same things over and over if we want to at least be heard by this government and try to get our point across.

On this issue, it is important to remind the House that 542 of the 610 aboriginal communities, not only in Quebec but across Canada, oppose this bill; 85 per cent of the First Nations categorically reject the proposal put forward by the minister in terms of process.

I will close on this last remark I just made: 85 per cent of aboriginal communities, of the First Nations have rejected the process put forward by the minister. Be that as it may, the minister, and his government, stubbornly want to press on. The minister and his government are going to botch this bill purely for electoral reasons, in order to be able to claim during the campaign that they have started working on the aboriginal issue. We condemn this today and will continue to condemn it during the next election campaign.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Indian Act Optional Modification Act
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