House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must first inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurentides.

It is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-54 to extend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. Of course, this bill extends the period during which equalization payments may be made. When we hear this word, it sounds very complex. What is the formula? On what basis is the distribution made? There is a whole lot of discussion about that.

Oddly enough, before the last election in Quebec, there was less money for equalization. After the election, the money started coming in. Some will say it was unintentional. Personally, I would say that the timing was perfect. That is the name of the game. There is always a dilemma with respect to equalization. Why? Because this is the way Canada, and the federal government in particular, has decided to redistribute wealth throughout the country.

Redistribution of wealth means that some provinces receive equalization payments while others receive nothing. Quebec is a recipient province. I long for the day when Quebec will no longer be a recipient. The reason is simple: to receive equalization is an indication of a flagging economy. It is true that unemployment is higher in Quebec than elsewhere. Take for example the GM plant in Boisbriand, which closed down. This closure affects the ridings of my hon. colleagues from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles and Laurentides as well as my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. This is a fine example of distribution of wealth across the country. All the automobile manufacturing is in Ontario. But all the raw material is in Quebec. That is how wealth is distributed.

In order to reach that balance at the end of the year, the federal government decided to redistribute money. Some provinces have more money than others. Ontario does not receive any equalization payment because it has big companies, big manufacturing plants and big car plants. We have none. We have to be content with some small parts plants. And yet Quebec is one of the biggest producers of aluminum and magnesium in the world. These products are used to build cars, but they are no longer built in Quebec. There are no more plants. The Liberal government chose to close the Boisbriand GM plant. That is a fact.

The other way to try to reach a certain balance is to redistribute wealth through equalization payments. Today with Bill C-54 the government is renewing the way equalization payments are calculated. As we know, there is a lot of debate and discussion on how they are calculated. There were discussions when the Parti Quebecois was in power in Quebec. The debate is still going on. Questions are being asked by the Liberal government now in power in Quebec. Other provinces are asking questions too. They want to review the way these infamous equalization payments are calculated.

Without warning, the government has decided to renew the agreement in this respect because the House might not be sitting before the existing legislation expires. Today the government is rushing through an extension without discussing the principle of equalization. That is a fact. It will not be discussed because there is no time. A system that is challenged by every province is going to be extended.

Why is it challenged? I will give one example. Because, among other things, in order calculating the average, the richest provinces are not taken into account. The wealth of the richest provinces is not assessed to determine which are the poorest and which ones must benefit the most. They are taken out of the equation. Only some provinces enter into the calculation. I will tell you which ones later. These provinces are used to calculate, among others, equalization payments.

You will understand that to redistribute wealth one should be able to put in the balance the richest provinces and the poorest provinces. One should give to the poorest ones and take a little bit more from the richest ones. That is a fact.

By taking a little more from the wealthy, I mean taking more money from the federal government and giving more to the poorest. Anyway, the wealthy will not get any. If we were calculating this way, it would cost the federal government $3 billion more.

This is why the calculations are still done using the old system because they do not want to redistribute wealth according to the newly established formula. I have made this comparison because it is not easy to understand for those who are listening to us. They are not all administering provinces.

Let us look, for example, at the old age pensions and the way the government calculates the increase in the cost of living. The cost of living corresponds to the average family cost of living. Do not tell me that the cost of living is the same for the elderly as it is for the average family. They do not have the same eating and the same driving habits. However, their housing and drug costs are much higher for them than for the average family.

Thus, when the Canadian government increases the amount of the old age pension, it uses the traditional formula. It does the same thing when redistributing the money among the provinces. Provinces are now asking that the redistribution be according to a new formula, and seniors from Quebec and Canada should ask the same thing, to ensure that the government is not calculating the increases according to an average family cost of living.

In recent years, the cost of living for seniors has risen drastically. That is the reality. What is the reason for this? The cost of housing has gone up a great deal, and prescriptions cost more as well, while food and transportation are down.

Governments benefit from this. One example: the Old Age Pension, which is pegged to the cost of living. In some quarters of the past year, no increases have been necessary, because the average cost of living has not gone up. There is to be a small increase coming up shortly, but it is still less.

For these reasons, the distribution of wealth needs to be reconsidered. Discussions must be reopened on how the wealth is shared with seniors, so as to bring their pensions into line with actual accommodation and health care costs.

The same thing goes for the provinces. Equalization payments must be increased so that the poorest provinces, those with less resources, can benefit more, which is the principle behind equalization payments. Provinces with fewer resources ought to benefit more from the equalization system than the extremely rich ones.

Everyone must be included. We must not do as the Liberal government has done in its calculations for equalization: take just a handful of provinces and do an average. They use Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

The others are excluded, purely and simply because they are sometimes too rich. Thus calculations for the equalization payments are simplified. To repeat, if true wealth were calculated, that is all the resources of the richest provinces compared to those that have the least, there would be $3 billion more in equalization payments to the poorest provinces.

Quebec and some others would benefit, most definitely. Hon. members will understand why the potential recipients complain about the way the calculation is being done.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-54, but not to the principle of equalization payments. We are opposed to the fact that it is being brought up at the last minute, without any discussions with the provinces, the ones concerned by the system of equalization payments.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, who explained this very complex issue of equalization in the little time he had. I hope that people listening have understood, because I think he is a born teacher.

We are wondering why the government is presenting this bill at the very last minute, in a panic. Ever since we resumed sitting after the summer break, we have been wondering. What is going on in Parliament?

The government proposes measures, then backs off, moves forward and then no longer makes any decisions and everything stops. Why is it so and why is the Bloc Quebecois against the principle? We are not against equalization, we are against the principle.

Within the time allocated to him, could my colleague elaborate?

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Jonquière, for her question.

Naturally, we all realize that, if Bill C-54 is being rushed through the House, it is because the Liberal government has decided to adjourn the House; that means we will soon be on a break until the next election. This is all due to the fact that one man has decided to call an election, the member for LaSalle—Émard, as leader of the Liberal Party, next spring, in 2004.

Of course, in the meantime, the member for LaSalle—Émard has no intention of coming here to answer questions that we could ask in the House, about equalization for example, to find out about his position on the new way of distributing equalization payments among the provinces in Canada.

Since it is quite possible that the House will not have time to sit or adopt a new equalization policy, the government is simply extending the former policy, which was supposed to expire next spring.

The government is really not taking any chances: it is extending the policy without consulting the provinces. This is the part that is hard to accept, because this is only one of many similar cases. I will not list all the disasters that have happened in this Parliament over the last few weeks; I know the journalists are taking care of that.

The truth is, however, that it is hard for members from Quebec, like my hon. colleague from Jonquière, my hon. colleague from Charlevoix, my hon. colleague from Laurentides and my hon. colleague from Sherbrooke to protect the interests of Quebec when, every time we are about to address an issue, the government introduces a bill and tries to ram it through the House in order to avoid any discussion and especially to avoid any question being put to the next leader of the Liberal government.

That is the grim reality. These days, we discuss things with members, ministers and a Prime Minister who no longer have any power, who can tell us whatever they want, knowing full well that the member for LaSalle—Émard has publicly said that he would review all the decisions made by the current government.

How can we talk about equalization with the finance minister when the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has stated that he would review all the decisions made by the current government?

So, it is not easy. This is why we oppose Bill C-54. It is not that we are against equalization, but we do not like the fact that the provinces were not consulted beforehand and that we cannot put questions to the member who will be running the next government.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, clearly that member and the Bloc have not read the bill. The bill has nothing to do with the issue he has raised. This is an insurance policy. Currently, the Minister of Finance is meeting with his counterparts. As members know, they met on October 10, they are continuing these discussions and they will meet again.

As far as what will happen in the future, that is something we are anxious to resolve. Obviously, by March 31 we want to have the agreement in place. However, in the unlikely event that we do not have an agreement, this insurance policy will ensure that moneys continue to flow to Quebec and the other seven provinces.

The fact is, without this legislation, there will be no money, and I am sure that member will have the audacity on April 16 to stand and say “Where is the money?” There is no money because his party is holding up Bill C-54. We need to have this in place as an insurance policy.

We have two tracks here. One track is negotiating with the provincial governments. The meetings have gone very well, and I again emphasize that.

If we do not have an agreement at the end of March, although unlikely, I assume that member would support insurance just as he would on his house or his car? He gets it not because he hopes he will have to cash it in, but for protection.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I still want to thank the Liberal member for his question.

The role of the Liberal government is to negotiate equalization with the provinces now. We, in the Bloc Quebecois, are willing to come back to the House at any time at the request of the new leader of the Liberal Party to pass a bill on a new equalization agreement. I challenge him to do the same thing, to convince his colleagues to come back to the House when a new agreement is reached with the provinces, an agreement that would be satisfactory for everybody in Quebec and in Canada.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, National Defence; the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River, Foreign Affairs.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his speech, as well as my other colleagues who, over the course of the day, took part in this most important debate for Quebec and for the other provinces who need it.

We know that the equalization formula is renegotiated every five year. Now we are practically being told that if we do not vote in favour of this bill, we will no longer receive equalization payments. This makes absolutely no sense. First, it is antidemocratic. Second, when the government tries to extend a period simply by introducing a bill, saying that we will continue with the same system just to protect the future prime minister, it is unparliamentary.

We must be able to sit down and negotiate these things here in this House. This is part of the job of the Prime Minister and of all the ministers, but it is not being done. Everything is frozen here. Parliament is paralyzed because a new prime minister is coming. It may be paralyzed for the next six months to satisfy the future prime minister. This cannot work.

Right now, the problem is that we have two prime ministers. It is just awful. When the Liberal caucus meets on Wednesday morning, there is another caucus meeting in the afternoon with the future prime minister. This cannot work. It paralyzes everything. One undoes everything that the other one does.

At this time, instead of adjourning the House as they want to do to satisfy the future prime minister, they should heed our request and renegotiate the equalization formula to take into account several factors that may have never been taken into account before.

As my colleague clearly said earlier, some plant closures, like the GM one, have put the employees through hell. Some of those employees even had to transfer to Ontario. They have had two years to get settled and work in Ontario and now they are been laid off once again. They now have more debt because they had to buy furniture and to settle into their new apartments in order to be able to benefit from their pension in the long run. This happened to a lot of them. I am not only talking about two people, but about a good number of them who had to relocate to Ontario. All of them, without exception, are now losing their job. They will have to come back to Quebec without a pension and without anything. That does not make any sense.

We can appreciate that we have problems, and those problems should be taken into account. There is also the whole issue of employment Insurance. Billions of dollars are being accumulated at the expense of the unemployed, but that is not being taken into account. These people are poor and we are the ones supporting them and trying to help them. What do you think they do when they are not eligible for EI benefits? They go on welfare and we are the ones in Quebec who have to take care of them. We are the ones who pay for the training programs to send them back to work.

We do not mind that, but it has to be taken into account in the equalization payment calculations. We have to be able to provide those services. It is very often because of equalization that we can create programs to help those people.

We cannot forget either that Quebec has established very wide ranging social policies. We are providing day care for $5 a day. We are providing our people with services that the other provinces are not necessarily providing. That has to be taken into account.

The system needs to be renegotiated, because a number of changes are required. What the government is doing right now is saying, “We are just going to pass this little piece of legislation to extend the agreement until 2005”. This will give the future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, time to decide on a negotiating position, form his new cabinet and enjoy the good life. In the meantime, this place is at a standstill.

I have been in Ottawa 10 years now. I celebrated my 10th anniversary just a few days ago. When a bill is introduced, we work long and hard on amendments and committee reports. It can be 10 years before a piece of legislation is amended. I was the critic for the environment before my hon. colleague from Jonquière and, as she knows, it took us 10 years to review the Environmental Protection Act. It was finally done. Can you imagine? This is a long and difficult process.

Here we have a piece of legislation extending for an additional year an agreement due to be renegotiated now. The situation of the various provinces, changes taking place and cuts made by the government must also be factored in somehow.

The fact is that when the government makes cuts here and there, the provinces bear the brunt of these cuts and have to dip into their own budgets to make up the difference.

That is not factored in when calculating equalization payments. As a result, the population is getting poorer, and seniors are getting poorer. Today, people live longer, as we know. This must be factored in, and these people should be able to live well, because they worked all their lives. When they retire, they practically live in poverty because their income is insufficient. Imagine the situation of someone living to be 90 years old. We are living better longer thanks to our health systems, but it is not much fun to live one's last years in poverty. This must be factored in.

With respect to employment insurance, the government must stop saying it is not helping itself to money and stealing from the unemployed. Only four out of ten qualify for employment insurance. The rules have changed such much and they are so strict now that access to benefits has become nearly impossible. Young people joining the labour market must work 920 hours before then can even qualify for employment insurance for the first time.

In Quebec, we also have many seasonal workers, and that has to be factored in. We have to take the time to sit down and renegotiate and we have to do it immediately. Do we have a government right now, or not? If there is a real government in power right now, then its representatives should sit down with their provincial counterparts, who will be more than willing to oblige, because it is high time that equalization was renegotiated.

No one is in a better position than the provincial governments to tell the federal government what is happening in the provinces. This has to be factored into the equalization formula and the government has to stop stealing billions of dollars from the EI fund to service the national debt. The money has to be reinvested and purchasing power given back to the public. There needs to be an end to creating two classes in society.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Come on.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

It would be nice if he listened, since I listen to the minister when he speaks.

We are currently creating two classes in society: the very poor and the very rich. It cannot work that way. In my riding, the GM plant closed and that affects me personally. There was also the big fiasco with the Mirabel airport. How do you think that affected the area? How many people were working, who are now unemployed or have had to relocate to find work? It is an unbearable situation in society and it is a difficult experience to go through. The Nike company laid off 150 people when it moved production to a less expensive country, such as Mexico, where the cost of labour is very low.

These are things we are all aware of. We know how this works in each of our ridings. We can bring something and help them in their equalization formula.

I think that this bill goes against parliamentary democracy in this House and I think that today we have the means to sit down with the provinces and rework the numbers to find a formula that is fair for everyone, in order to reach an agreement that will last another five years. This agreement has to be made immediately and we have to stop trying to satisfy the future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, and do our work as parliamentarians right now.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this debate would be wonderful if it were held at another time. The reality is the legislation before the House is an insurance policy to extend--

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Charlevoix.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

My colleague from Laurentides gave an excellent speech in this House and had to do some research. Unfortunately, you will find that there are not enough members present to listen to the quality of her speech. Since we are about to ask her questions, I would like there at least to be a sufficient number of members present to hear the answers to the questions that are asked.

Mr. Speaker, I call for a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Since we do not have a quorum, call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am told we now have a quorum. I will ask the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance to continue with his question or comment.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

October 30th, 2003 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill has four clauses and they are not very long. The problem is that the Bloc has failed again to read the bill.

The issue here is an insurance policy with regard to equalization. It is to ensure that in the unlikely event that we do not have an agreement by March 31 that the payments to the provinces, including Quebec, will continue to flow.

We talk about sincerity. If the Bloc members were really sincere, they would realize that the government did not cut equalization even during program review. This has been a cornerstone of the government.

We have had a successful meeting between the Minister of Finance and his provincial counterparts on October 10.

The member for Niagara Centre understands the bill completely which is why he supports it. He does not understand why there is a problem and I do not understand either.

The fact is that it is insurance. The discussions are ongoing and if Bloc members have any valid issues with regard to equalization, that is fine. However, this is not the bill dealing with that. It is simply dealing with insurance.

However, Bloc members will stand up on April 16 and scream if money is not flowing to Quebec because they did not support this insurance policy which is Bill C-54.

I know it is hard, but could we stick to the issue? If Bloc members want to talk about something else, they can do it at another time.

I would like to ask the member, if we do not have an insurance policy in place, is she going to say to the House that it is fine, no money to Quebec? Obviously not.