Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I thank your predecessor in the chair for having permitted me to give my maiden speech in its entirety so as not to be interrupted by question period. That makes it easier for me to break the ice uninterruptedly. I also thank the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for sharing his allotted time with me.
First, with your permission, I would like to say a few words of thanks to the people in the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska, who placed their trust in me on June 28. I have made a commitment to represent them proudly and diligently. I can state without boasting that several matters have already been settled and others are in progress. One of my priorities was to open offices in the three major centres of my constituency, which I did quickly.
Richmond—Arthabaska has nearly 98,000 inhabitants, working in fields as diverse as agriculture, business, health care, construction and mining. We also have major industries such as Cascades and Domtar.
Among the events that should not be missed are the Warwick cheese festival, Danville's festival of art in the streets, Victoriaville's new music festival, the Laurier Museum—a place that heard Laurier's voice ring out a number of times, la Poudrière de Windsor, the Asbestos mineralogy and historical museum and the cranberry interpretation centre at Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. These are only a few examples.
Now, of course, I am getting to the heart of the matter. First, I would like to say I am pleased with the adoption of the Bloc Quebecois amendment to the amendment to the throne speech by all parties in this House during the address in reply. Thus, thanks to the sensitivity of the Bloc Quebecois, which vigorously defends Quebec's interests, provincial jurisdictions will be thoroughly respected. I also hope that what some call financial pressures and Quebec calls the fiscal imbalance, will be alleviated.
Not just Quebec but all the provinces and all parties in this House, with the unfortunate exception of the Liberal Party recognize the existence of the fiscal imbalance and the need to correct it. The minority government, in its throne speech, has remembered its commitment to review equalization. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to solve the problem of Quebec's treasury.
While Ottawa accumulates $166 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Conference Board, which is certainly not a sovereignist organization, Quebec and the provinces are being forced to reduce their services. For example, in Quebec, the government has increased day care service fees by 40%. The $70 million investment over five years planned for school libraries has been put off indefinitely.
In my riding, the fiscal imbalance represents a shortfall of some $28 million every year until 2007-08. Imagine the positive impact of the annual injection of that much additional money on health and education.
The federal government has almost three weeks to do something about it. The time has come to take action. At the October 26 meeting between the provinces and the federal government, we expect nothing less than concrete solutions, such as sharing tax fields.
As usual, as I said from the start, the Speech from the Throne is full of wishful thinking. Right now, the majority of MPs in my region are members of the Bloc Quebecois. We recently created an Estrie—Centre-du-Québec caucus, which the member for Drummond is part of. We presented the priorities of our respective constituents at a press conference just before the current session of Parliament began.
One of our priorities was the necessity of an independent employment insurance fund. Imagine our disappointment —although I cannot say we were surprised—to see this very terse commitment in the throne speech that the “Government will continue to review the Employment Insurance program to ensure that it remains well-suited to the needs of Canada's workforce”. Note the very non-committal term “review”. So the unemployed, who have already seen $45 billion looted from their employment insurance fund, have again been shunted aside.
What about the anticipated improvements? What about the loosening up of the eligibility criteria? The government owes many people answers, among them the seasonal workers, the victims of the discriminatory 910-hour rule, who are often young, female or elderly, all of whom have been let down.
We also have concerns about the agricultural producers, concerns the federal government does not share. Protecting supply management system is not even touched upon in the speech.
Nor does it propose any additional support to the dairy producers affected by the mad cow crisis, although the recent federal announcements are patently inadequate. There is no direct assistance to compensate for plummeting cattle prices, nor any program of interest-free loans, yet this is what producers have been asking for.
Some $141 million is needed in Quebec, while the federal measures total a mere $15 million or so.
My paternal grandfather, after whom I am named, was a dairy farmer. My area of Quebec, Centre-du-Québec, is a major dairy farming area with over 1,500 dairy operations. They contribute more than 16% of Quebec's milk production. The mad cow crisis affects dairy producers in particular, as we know that 25% of their cows each year become cull cattle, whereas the federal program compensates them for no more than 16% of their herd.
There is not a word in the throne speech on this, just as there is nothing about the American missile defence shield. The Bloc Quebecois is vehemently opposed to Canadian participation in the shield. The federal government needs to consult parliamentarians so that they may vote before any decision is reached. Any involvement in the missile defence shield would be just one more slap in the face to the Quebec people, who refuse to be associated with anything to do with the militarization of space.
Seniors have also been forgotten in this speech. It talks about increasing the guaranteed income supplement but there is nothing about full retroactivity for the seniors who have been denied it. Let me salute my colleague, the member for Champlain, for his work. Thanks to him and the Bloc Quebecois, many Quebec seniors are now receiving the guaranteed income supplement.
It would have been appropriate to deal with the issue of increasing gasoline prices. Anybody who owns a car—and I believe the majority of people in the House do—has been aware of the problem. We may be able to afford to put gas in our car, but others, who need to travel for their work, are having a much harder time of it.
Giving the Competition Act more teeth and creating an agency to monitor petroleum prices, as the Bloc Quebecois has been advocating, would have been tangible signs of the government's willingness to help drivers, especially truck drivers, taxi drivers and all those who need machinery for their daily work.
Finally, the Speech from the Throne does not address the issue of parental leave. The federal government must stop procrastinating regarding the agreement in principle it has with Quebec, it must put an end to proceedings in the Supreme Court and transfer the over $700 million a year to Quebec without delay.
The federal government might think its throne speech was poorly received only by the opposition parties here in Ottawa. It should know that it was also very poorly received by all the parties in the Quebec National Assembly. There is a real consensus. The following comments appeared in Le Devoir on Thursday, October 7, yesterday:
“It's a big nothing.” That is what the Liberal minister Benoît Pelletier said. “Multiple encroachments,” said PQ member Daniel Turp. “Very clearly, the speech was in the tradition of Trudeau and Chrétien and their centralist views,” said ADQ leader Mario Dumont.
Quebec's distinctiveness is obvious, once again. Of course it will be fully manifest when Quebec becomes a country in its own right.
The federal government ignored the people's will in this arrogant throne speech. However, as we saw yesterday when the Bloc Quebecois' amendment to the amendment was passed, the government's arrogance has fortunately been tempered by its minority situation.
For our part , we will continue fighting against centralization and encroachments.
Topic: Speech from the Throne
Subtopic: Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply