House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was israel.

Topics

Liberal Members
Statements By Members

October 10th, 1996 / 2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, since Parliament resumed nearly four weeks ago, the official opposition has vigorously defended the interests of the citizens of Quebec and Canada. The same cannot, unfortunately, be said for the Liberal MPs from Quebec.

Since we started back this fall, the federal Liberals have been making shameless use of the period allocated for statements by members to denigrate the policies of the Quebec government, the Quebec premier, and all of the sovereignist spokespersons. Liberal members are resorting to these dodgy tactics at the rate of about two statements a day under Standing Order 31, about 20 per cent of their speaking time.

The federal Liberals are so obsessed with dumping on Quebec that they are no longer fulfilling their role as members of the government party. No doubt their antics are explainable by the

suggestion by Quebec opposition party leader Daniel Johnson that they might want to make political hay-

Liberal Members
Statements By Members

2:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I must now give the floor to the hon. member for Kent.

Ethanol
Statements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rex Crawford Kent, ON

Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise today to announce the groundbreaking of the world class Chatham ethanol plant next Friday. Ethanol will provide new prosperity for corn growers and it will boost Ontario's economy.

The first phase of the ethanol plant will start next week, through the efforts of many, especially our minister of agriculture.

Ethanol is a win-win proposal for our environment, farmers and long term economic growth.

I am equally proud of this government's intestinal fortitude and determination to ban MMT, the nasty American fuel additive. Alternative fuels are the wave of the future. I urge all hon. members to fill their vehicles with MMT free ethanol.

The Deficit
Statements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Discepola Vaudreuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Minister of Finance has announced that the deficit for the fiscal year which ended on March 31 of this year was $4.1 billion less than projected. Apparently, if conditions continue unchanged, the Canadian deficit will be completely eliminated by the year 2000.

In reaction to this, the Bloc Quebecois has chosen to continue to spread half-truths, saying, and I quote: "Once again you are going to hit the least well-off and go after the unemployment insurance fund".

On the other hand, Quebec minister Bernard Landry is delighted with the news, and has been quoted as saying: "Having said that, it is positive overall and the trend must continue".

How can the Bloc Quebecois continue its unfair criticism of our strategy to tackle the deficit, when its boss, the PQ, is congratulating us on our work and offering us public support. If things continue in this vein, their presence in Ottawa will be hard to justify, particularly when the next election comes around.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the Minister of Finance has forecast a $7.3 billion drop in the deficit for 1996-97, if we take a good look at his figures, we see that the cuts in transfer payments to the provinces are responsible for at least 25 per cent of this reduction, and that the minister is using the surplus in the employment insurance fund, which, in itself, is responsible for 70 per cent of this deficit reduction.

My question to the Minister of Finance is this: Will he admit that 95 per cent of his deficit reduction is financed by the employment insurance fund and cuts in transfer payments to the provinces?

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, first of all, transfers to the provinces represent between 20 and 25 per cent of our spending. Therefore it stands to reason that when we make cuts, we cannot cut 25 per cent just like that. We have to cut fairly across the board.

Now, we gave the provinces two years notice to give them time to adjust, while we made cuts immediately. I also want to say that the cuts we made in our operations were far more numerous than the cuts in provincial spending.

As far as the employment insurance fund is concerned, first of all, we must create a reserve to protect ourselves against a possible decline in the economy, and second, as the auditor general said in 1986, it is part of our consolidated revenue fund, so it is treated as such.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Minister of Finance. This is the first time we have had a clear statement from the government that the surplus in the employment insurance fund-the premiums paid by workers and employers-has been taken by the government to finance its expenditures. At last we have the confirmation we tried so many times to obtain in the past, but to no avail.

Since the Minister of Finance seems so willing to give me the right answers, I would like to ask him whether he is prepared to admit that if he had not cut transfer payments to the provinces, today a province like Quebec would have no deficit at all, so that Quebec's deficit is what Ottawa has downloaded on Quebec?

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it may well be that when the Bloc finance critics ask questions, the Leader of the Opposition is not always listening. I have often

quoted in the House the auditor general's report for 1986 in which he insisted that the government return what was known then as the unemployment insurance fund-now we say employment insurance-to the consolidated revenue fund. So this is not news.

Second, as far as Quebec is concerned, thanks to the drop in interest rates, Quebec got $625 million more over the past two years than it expected, and this year, I gave Bernard Landry $600 million more than Jean Campeau had counted on, so that adds up to $1.2 billion.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, members on the government side should not get so excited. The figures are there in the budgets. Everybody knows that transfer payments to the provinces have been cut. Ask the Minister of Finance, let the backbenchers ask the Minister of Finance and he will confirm this is true. It is all there in the budgets: Transfers, including those to Quebec, were cut substantially with the implementation of the Canada social transfer. So think about it, before you celebrate. Look at your budgets.

And now for our question. Since 95 per cent of the deficit reduction announced by the Minister of Finance came out of the employment insurance fund and transfers to the provinces, as he confirmed in his answer to the first question-the minister made no attempt to hide the fact-and since 95 per cent of this attempt to reduce the deficit is paid for by the provinces, by the unemployed, by workers and employers, what was the government's contribution, other than a meagre 5 per cent of this reduction, in other words, between 350 and 400 million dollars?

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, when the Leader of the Opposition starts talking about figures, he makes a few mistakes. It is quite clear that the federal government has borne the largest share of these cuts.

Let me give you an example. For 1994-97, although transfers to the provinces dropped by a total of $4.1 billion, we cut twice as much in our own operations, in other words, $8.3 billion.

Second, I think that as far as Quebec is concerned, it is quite clear that in 1996-97, transfer payments to Quebec will total $10.9 billion, more than for any other province. Quebec, which accounts for 25 per cent of the Canadian population, will receive 31 per cent of the transfer payments. Equalization payments alone will give Quebec $3.9 billion, which is 45 per cent of the total amount of equalization payments.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the opposition makes small mistakes, the government and its finance minister in particular make big ones.

The finance minister's deficit reduction efforts are more than timid. And his job creation efforts are non-existent. After the recession in 1982, it took only three years to restore employment and labour force participation to their prerecession levels. Today, six years after the last recession, the Canadian labour market is still 879,000 jobs short. This is a disaster. Yesterday, while recognizing this is a disaster, the minister still replied that his government will not do anything about it.

How can the Minister of Finance admit that the job market is in a disastrous situation and refuse at the same time to put in place real measures to improve the employment situation in Canada?

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this was discussed yesterday. The government has put in place several measures that have had a very positive effect in terms of job creation, be it the funds allocated by the former Minister of Human Resources Development to create jobs, summer jobs for young people or funding for research and development or for foreign trade.

Also, it should be pointed out that the vast majority of economists in Canada agree that lower interest rates have had a huge positive impact on the private sector's capacity to create three quarters of a million new jobs in Canada since we came to office.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conference Board itself recently declared that the job situation in Canada was a disaster, that the real unemployment rate in Canada was not 9.4 per cent but rather 12.5, when one includes those who have given up looking for work. The Chamber of Commerce of Canada shares the view that this is a disaster. Something can be done to help, which leads me to ask the following.

Will the Minister of Finance undertake before this House to substantially lower the contributions of employers and employees to the unemployment insurance fund and call an emergency meeting with the provinces to discuss the implementation of real job creation measures? In case he has forgotten, I remind the minister that employment is a national emergency.

The Deficit
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, since coming to office, we have reduced the burden of unemployment insurance, now called employment insurance, by $1.8 billion. This is a huge amount and possibly also one of the reasons why job creation has taken off.

That said, there is no doubt that the employment situation across Canada is of concern to us, as it is to the Government of Quebec. We have great hopes that the summit scheduled for the end of the month will be a success.

We have a problem, and I do not mean only the federal and provincial governments. All industrialized states have this problem. We must look into it. I, too, am concerned.

The hon. member referred to the recession. Clearly, Canada has suffered greatly from the 1989-92 recession being so intense and so long. In fact, its impact is still being felt. It will have to be looked into. I welcome the hon. member's questions because I think we should work together. The issue was raised at the finance ministers' meeting. This is one of the reasons why the infrastructure program is being extended.

Having said that, I would like to ask the finance critic for the Bloc Quebecois, if you will allow it, Mr. Speaker-

The Economy
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday a number of us sat patiently through the presentation by the Minister of Finance but his economic statement failed completely to address the principal concerns of Canadians. The finance minister failed to address the needs of the 1.4 million unemployed, the two to three million underemployed, and the one out of four Canadians who are worried about their jobs. He failed to address tax relief, the principal route to job creation.

Why has the finance minister failed to deliver what Canadians really want: lower taxes and more and better jobs?