Madam Speaker, 20 minutes to comment on Bill C-30 is quite a lot. On the other hand, 20 minutes to comment on the budget and this government's financial management is not much.
In Bill C-30 we find elements related to equalization, and I shall look at those in particular. We also find elements related to the Canada Pension Plan, with which we agree, and elements related to the GST rebate for municipalities, with which we also agree.
However, we are worried about the fact that the health and education sectors were not included in the Liberal government's new approach. And in fact, we know the reason well. It is simply an election strategy; they are seeking to create an alliance above the provinces, above Quebec, in order to be able to get around provincial jurisdictions.
The final element is one which relates to extended deadlines, permitting the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to recover unpaid taxes over a 10-year period, and we agree with this as well, with the exception of the air security tax. We are opposed to this tax, whose need has not yet been demonstrated, unless it is to increase the already large, indeed amazing, surpluses of the federal government.
Looking at equalization in particular, it clearly illustrates the approach of this government. Whether headed by former Prime Minister Chrétien, or the new PM and former finance minister, when it comes down to it, their approach to real problems involves only cosmetic measures that do not solve the underlying problem. Instead, they increase it by giving the impression to Quebeckers, and to Canadians, that they are trying to respond to their concerns, yet this is totally false.
As far as the overall budget and the overall policy of this government is concerned, their approach is to increase Ottawa's power over the provinces, and particularly over the Government of Quebec.
Looking at the equalization formula proposed in Bill C-30, we see first of all that the new formula does not in any way respond to the concerns and needs that have been made clear on a number of occasions by the provinces, Quebec in particular.
Then, as far as the overall transfer of funds from the federal government to the provinces is concerned, we can see that it resolves nothing whatsoever. These continue to decrease year after year.
Finally, and this makes no useful contribution to the debate on fiscal imbalance, we see that there is too much money in Ottawa for the responsibilities the federal level has under the Constitution, and not enough in the provinces, and in Quebec in particular, particularly for health, but also for education and social housing.
Not only does this equalization formula resolve nothing, it also takes away, for the next five years, money from those who are institutionalized. Through the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, the federal government has made a unilateral decision to impose this equalization formula on the provinces.
There is something totally aberrant about our having had to vote on Bill C-18 only a few weeks ago, to extend the present equalization formula for one year, supposedly to maintain payments during the negotiations with the provinces. So we voted on that bill—Bill C-18 if I recall correctly—and then, on March 24, along they came with a budget including a unilaterally imposed formula.
This is another example of the government's incompetence, of the fact that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and this House cannot make a decision. A few weeks ago, they probably really thought that they could reach an agreement with the provinces and Quebec before the election. They saw that the provinces were standing up and that Quebec had demands that it wanted the federal government to meet. Mr. Séguin, Quebec's Minister of Finance, repeated it when he tabled his budget, shortly after the federal government had done the same thing; if memory serves, this was on March 30. When the federal government realized that it could not easily impose its views on the provinces during negotiations and that an election was coming, it decided to unilaterally impose its formula for the next five years.
This decision alone is totally unacceptable. The Prime Minister talks about the democratic deficit. This is a perfect example. The federal government did not care at all about the provinces and it did not negotiate seriously. It did not take into consideration the provinces' needs and demands; instead, it unilaterally imposed its own vision. As I said, this alone makes Bill C-30 unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois.
The federal government did not at all take into consideration the concerns of the provinces. Most of the changes made by the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and the Liberal government of Canada are cosmetic.
The government also did not take into consideration the unanimous proposal made by the provinces, whereby the equalization formula should be based on the performances of the ten provinces, as opposed to those of five provinces, as is currently the case, since this formula excludes one rich province, with the result that Quebec is losing several hundred millions, if not a few billion dollars.
This should have been taken into account, as was the case in the past. This is not something new. For several years, the federal government's equalization formula was based on all ten provinces. It is probably when this formula began to benefit the provinces and Quebec, as it should, that the federal government changed the rules of the game to ensure that it would not have to pay too much money in these areas of responsibility.
Property tax was not considered an element of the tax base as it should have been. In the budget, it was suggested that property value would be taken into account when determining the wealth of the various provinces. In British Columbia, property value is extremely high. So, that would have a huge impact on Quebec. It would mean somewhere around $400 million in equalization.
Therefore, it was suggested that property value would be taken into account. That would be the case, for instance, in British Columbia. However, public servants who appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance told us that it would not really be done that way since experts—probably friends of the government—had argued that the value market could not be factored in, as it would lead to bias, distortions, and things like that. So, a halfway compromise was reached, but, in reality, absolutely nothing was solved.
I hope B.C. residents are shocked to realize they were used in that way. In Quebec, we are shocked because our demands and requirements were not met. Whichever way you look at it, Quebec stands to loose over $1 billion. Not only have we lost $1 billion, but we will continue to lose money through transfers.
Let me give the House some figures to illustrate what is really going on. In 2001-02, Quebec's equalization payments totalled $4.690 billion. In 2002-03, they decreased to $3.985 billion, as seen in the budget plan, a $705 million drop. In 2003-04, we are down to $3.802 billion, after another drop of $183 million. In 2004-05, we will get $3.761 billion, and that includes the $150 million in fiscal rebalancing the government has announced in the budget, which is the only real increase. In fact, it is not an increase at all, but a reduction of the decrease Quebec feared. So, for these three years, we are expecting a reduction of close to but not quite $1 billion in equalization payments from the federal government to the Government of Quebec.
Compared to the October 2003 estimates, however, these figures tell the whole sorry tale. In October 2003, transfers to Quebec were estimated at $4.662 billion, as I said, but now they are estimated at $3.985 billion, a $677 million decrease in one year.
In 2003-04, in October 2003 to be more specific—less than five or six months ago—Quebec expected to get $4.525 billion in transfers. Now, according to the budget plan, we are down to $3.802 billion, a $723 million drop.
We should accept this? That is impossible. For people who defend Quebec's interests, it is impossible to accept this. This year, with the shenanigans that the government has announced—the cosmetic part—there is a slight increase of $70 million, but, once again, this is compared to a decrease of $41 million. Thus, the government simply alleviated the decrease, thinking it would distribute a goodie to the provinces, and to Quebec in particular. In total, from 2002 to 2005, the decrease will be $1.330 billion. This is totally unacceptable.
The parliamentary secretary tells us that equalization increases and decreases, depending on economic times. The problem is, this is the only existing formula that takes the needs of the provinces into account.
In the past, the federal transfer was mostly based on the needs and investments of the provinces. For example, the Canada assistance plan ensured that, for every dollar put in by Quebec, the federal government would put in a dollar. Since we had—and still have—poverty problems that were slightly higher than the Canadian average, Quebec would be imaginative and invest based to its people's need. The federal government had to follow; it was the rule.
The federal government changed the rules of the game with the Canada social transfer. Now, it is not based on the needs, but on the percentage of the population. Consequently, whatever amount is transferred to the provinces, Quebec is always receiving a little less than 25%.
Within the Canadian federation, equalization is the only way to take the needs of the provinces into account. However, we told you that the formula is inadequate. The provinces, particularly Quebec and the Minister of Finance of Quebec, said this several times. The federal government cannot deny it. Even recently, I believe that Minister Couillard said that the fiscal imbalance problem was a parasite in the relations between Quebec and Ottawa. This is the reality. Liberals can turn a blind eye and put their heads in the sand, but Quebeckers are not fooled by this situation.
If equalization does not meet the provinces' needs, the formula will have to be reviewed. At present, the transfers for health and social programs are not in keeping with the needs. They are calculated on a per capita basis, and that is that. That is the greatest injustice in the year we have just completed.
On one hand, the federal government makes a lot of fuss about announcements it has already made three times. It is like the case of highway 175—and they think we are fooled. The Prime Minister is holding off the election call so he can make announcements that have already been made. We have heard that they will be going to the Chicoutimi region, probably, I suppose, to help the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, who must be in serious difficulties. They will announce again, for the third time, the investment in highway 175. It has already been announced by Mr. Chrétien and by Mr. Landry. They think that people will not see it is all a flimsy fabrication. Probably they will do the same thing for highway 30. I am just waiting for that. The election call has been delayed so they can announce again the things that have already been announced three or four times.
That $2 billion in transfer payments to the provinces promised by Mr. Chrétien, which the former minister of finance pretended not to be able to give, just like the new Minister of Finance, in order to set the scene economically and financially to enable the new Prime Minister to announce it, has finally been announced. It has even been passed in the House, finally. Thus, $2 billion in transfer payments will go to the provinces, on a per capita basis. Quebec will receive a little under 25% of that, around $460 or $470 million.
At the same time, we are told that, for the same period, there will be $2 billion less in equalization. They would have us believe that they have taken $2 billion away but that the same amount will be given back in transfers. Now look: Quebec receives half of the equalization budget. We therefore have lost half of the $2 billion amount, while we get $470 million through the Canada health and social transfer.
No one is fooled. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec have been the big losers in this Liberal shell game. People know it.
Overall, transfers are decreasing in amount. To give one example, a figure that came out last week in the committee chaired by Jacques Léonard, who was president of Quebec's treasury board. He is very familiar with the public finances of Quebec but also has a very clear picture of federal public finances. It was found that, between 1994-95 and 2002-03, the revenues of this government—with the present PM as Minister of Finance—rose 45%. That is nothing to be sneezed at when there is so much talk of belt-tightening.
Obviously, they used part of this money to increase their bureaucracy. Operating expenditures increased by 39%. I would remind hon. members that, at the time, inflation was around 16% and the population of Canada increased by a little less than 4%. If memory serves, the figure was 3.9%. So the increase was not because of increased needs.
In fact, the needs did increase in the provinces, but not the needs for federal bureaucracy. It was merely a Liberal strategy, of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and all those who followed him, to keep on building up the power of the central state in order to create a unitary state, by strangling the provinces financially.
The proof of this is that, while revenues increased by 45%, while bureaucratic expenses increased by 39%, government transfer payments to Quebec decreased by 7.6%. That is the truth. That is the reality. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.
The machine was beefed up, they made themselves indispensable, and they strangled Quebec financially. They will pay for that at the next election, if only they get their act together and call one.
They are wondering, “Will one week be enough to try and convince Quebeckers and the rest of Canada that we are a good government?” Well, of course not! They have been there 10 years. Taking stock of those 10 years, we realize that in the absence of a strong opposition, they are simply all over the map.
Therefore, in terms of overall transfers to Quebec, we are looking at a net loss of 7.6%. And just to give you some idea, with regard to health, when our present Prime Minister became Minister of Finance, for every tax dollar taken from our pockets, in Quebec as in the rest of Canada, he would transfer 4.5¢ to the provinces. Today however, for every tax dollar he gets, he transfers a mere 2.7¢. Which means that he takes in more and more money, while giving out proportionately less and less to the provinces and to Quebec.
What this means is that, ever since the Liberals have come to power, ever since the former finance minister and now Prime Minister has held the reins in finance, Quebec has been cut by a total of $10 billion. This represents a drop of $1,300. Small wonder then that the provinces and Quebec have been hard pressed to make ends meet. The sheer fact of having been able to eliminate the deficit is a miracle in itself under such circumstances.
This cannot go on forever, though. It is already no longer the case in a number of provinces. Ontario is in a deficit position, B.C. as well. Most of the Atlantic provinces have deficits. As for Quebec, it is experiencing—to use the finance minister's expression—some difficulties with its budget. This year, with sales of some assets, it has managed to balance the budget, but assets cannot keep on being sold.
The responsibility for this lies with the federal government. In this case, neither Mr. Charest nor Mr. Séguin are responsible. They have been strangled financially by this government, as the previous Quebec government was, and as the provincial governments currently are. We have a strike in Newfoundland, and a strike in the B.C. health system. There is not a single politician who would be in favour of a strike in the health sector, knowing what public opinion is on this. Yet they have to make hard decisions.
Having been involved with unions, I can tell you that I have seen governments forced to make hard choices. Sometimes they have to stir up confrontations, as was the case in Newfoundland and British Columbia. They are, however, not the ones responsible for the situation; the federal government is. There is nothing whatsoever in this budget to suggest that any corrections will be forthcoming in the next few years. In my opinion, the people of Quebec are going to have a very clear understanding of just how much it will be in their interests to send as many Bloc Quebecois members to Ottawa as possible in the upcoming election.
So that is what there is in Bill C-30. What is not in the bill, and in the budget, is equally deplorable. As far as employment insurance is concerned, $45 billion has been diverted, while people on the North Shore and in other areas are starving. For months, forestry workers in the northern part of Lanaudière have not seen a cheque. The sawmills have suffered because of the softwood lumber crisis, which is not settled even though we won. The Americans have still not opened their borders to us, and we have not got back the $2 billion they collected illegally.
Employment insurance reform is necessary, and the money is there. Now, on the eve of the election, the Liberals say it is coming. Let them table the legislation, since they are taking their time to call the election. We will vote in favour of a substantial improvement in employment insurance. If the Liberals do not do this, people will remember that, in 2000, the President of the Privy Council went to the Saguenay and told the construction workers, “We are going to improve the employment insurance system”, and then nothing was done.
I could go on and on. I have examples concerning families, the guaranteed income supplement, the sponsorship scandal, and gun control. And as for the sales of Petro-Canada stock, we cannot foresee exactly what will happen with that. Commissions will be paid out. That is worth about $3 billion. What brokerage firm will be hired to sell this stock? Probably some friends of the government. And so it will be exactly the same thing that happened in the sponsorship scandal.
Not only are the federal Liberals—the Liberal Party of Canada—more interested in defending the interests of the Liberal Party than defending federalism, but worse yet, they defend the private interests of certain friends of the government. Regarding the sale of Petro-Canada stock, we want to know who is going to sell the stock and how the brokerage firms will be chosen.
I did not have time to address the issue of tax havens and CSL International. I do not know if members had an opportunity to watch the program, Enjeux . The headquarters in Barbados is just an empty shell, and that is close to the line of illegality, in my opinion. But we will dig into that at another time. With all of this, I simply want to say that the real democratic deficit is the fact that Quebec is being strangled. The only answer for that is the sovereignty of Quebec, and the coming election will be a step toward that sovereignty.