Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the budget presented by the Minister of Finance. It is certainly a historic budget, since this is the first time that a female finance minister has presented a budget in the House of Commons.
The budget is 739 pages long. It is a lot of work to read through it all. The budget contains many new elements, measures and programs. In fact, it contains nearly $150 billion worth of new elements since last fall's economic update.
The Bloc Québécois tries to meet with as many people and business owners in every industry across Quebec as it can. We ask them what their needs are and what they think should be included in the budget. We try to compile that data and present it.
Since budgets are usually presented in March, we shared our expectations with the minister in February. I should also mention all of the work that was done by the Standing Committee on Finance, which also engaged in similar exercise.
Reading through the document, we can see that it reflects many of the Bloc Québécois's demands, and we applaud that. Aerospace is one example. This is probably the first time the government has explicitly recognized the importance of this industry to our economy, and it has included various measures, which we are very proud of. The budget also includes a number of measures for transportation electrification and for the environment.
Because we are going through a pandemic, this budget extends measures to support entrepreneurs who have lost revenue. These measures include the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy.
The budget also includes a stimulus plan with a number of measures that set the stage for future post-pandemic growth.
It also includes measures for the pharmaceutical industry and vaccine production capacity. I would remind the House that Quebec championed this in the 1990s and early 2000s. When Ottawa stopped supporting the industry, one major pharmaceutical company after another basically left Quebec. Now the sector is practically in ruins, but we must find a way to rebuild it.
Another interesting element of this budget is the fight against tax avoidance and evasion. What is being proposed is not revolutionary, but it is the first time that we see a clear indication that the government is going to fight against those who do not pay the taxes they owe. These are often legal, but definitely unethical, schemes. We have much to do to solve the problem, but a step in that direction has been taken. Several interesting measures have been proposed.
Naturally, if I were a Canadian outside Quebec, I would be pleased with the key measure in this budget, subsidized child care. Quebec implemented this family policy more than 20 years ago. It is more comprehensive than what is in the budget, and it works very well. It allows women to have a much higher labour force participation rate than before and higher than that of other provinces. It is a feminist policy that will stimulate the economy. I want to once again acknowledge Pauline Marois's initiative. She worked very hard to implement this measure in Quebec. It shows that having female finance ministers can lead to the implementation of very useful policies.
Earlier I was talking about our budget demands, which we submitted in February. There was nothing terribly surprising in there, but we did make two key requests. Much like the Government of Quebec, we called on Ottawa to fund health care according to the means it has available, in other words by covering a bit more than a third of the cost, or 35%.
The federal government is currently funding just 22% of health care expenses. If nothing changes, that will go down to 17% or 18%. We are in the middle of a health crisis. Health is more important than ever. This is the ideal time to correct this imbalance. Despite our calls for funding, we find nothing in this budget to fund health care. The only stop-gap measure is in Bill C-25. There are also standards for long-term care facilities in Quebec that will come with an envelope in a few years.
The budget is also missing everything we requested to protect the dignity of seniors. Over the past few years, there have been many policies to support every segment of the population except for seniors, who rely heavily on old age security. This pension has not been indexed for a very long time and it is time to make up ground. Many seniors live in poverty, and four out of ten seniors get the guaranteed income supplement. In other words, they do not have money to spare and rely on public supports.
We wanted there to be just one class of seniors, namely people aged 65 and older. In the budget, however, the government has created two classes of seniors, those 65 to 74 and those 75 and over. We do not agree with this. We wanted old age security to be increased by $110 a month to keep up with inflation and restore seniors' purchasing power.
We know what seniors are worried about because we went to visit them before the pandemic. We cannot wait to see them again. In the meantime, we speak with them over the phone or, sometimes, on a tablet or similar device.
Seniors do not complain, but rent prices are skyrocketing, whether in seniors’ homes or elsewhere. Seniors' purchasing power makes it difficult for them to make ends meet. The cost of food, utilities and basic necessities is increasing and we need to restore the balance. This is what we have been calling for, but the budget sadly does not have much in it, as my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles pointed out.
Upon reading the budget, we see that, in August, a one-time payment will be made to seniors aged 75 and up. That gives us a good idea of when the government plans to call an election, if that is what the Prime Minister wants. The government will therefore make a payment in August and then call an election.
The budget also provides for a 10% increase in old age security benefits for those aged 75 and up. However, this increase will be implemented in a future bill and will come into effect not this summer but the summer after, as though this is something that can easily be put off until later. In my opinion, that problem should be dealt with right now, but that is not what is set out in the budget. Also, I would like to once again remind members that these measures should apply as of age 65.
In that regard, an economic analyst for Radio-Canada, Gérald Fillion, wrote a very interesting article that was published this morning on the Radio-Canada website. It said, and I quote: “Two questions come to mind. First, why not increase old age security by 10% as of this year? Second, why do these measures apply only to seniors aged 75 and over? Why not those aged 65 and over?” Those are very legitimate questions that we too want to ask the government. The FADOQ network and seniors' groups in Quebec also spoke out against this approach.
Gérald Fillion made a number of points. He noted that, in Canada, people's income drops precipitously when they retire. The technical term is net pension replacement rate, which was 50.7% of pre-retirement income in Canada in 2018. Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, the rate is seven percentage points higher. In the European Union, it is 63%.
These data are from a study of 49 countries, among which Canada ranks 32nd, well behind countries such as Italy, India, France and Denmark, and just slightly above the United States, where inequality is surging. These statistics are alarming, so we must take action. Seniors were the first victims of the pandemic, but there was already inequality before the pandemic.
In his conclusion, Gérald Fillion said that, considering Canada's poor showing in the OECD ranking, it would have made sense for the 10% increase to begin this year and apply as of age 65 and for this issue to be free from electioneering. I could not have put it better myself.
The other thing we wanted to see in the budget, which Quebec also requested, as I was saying, is health care funding. It is not there, and that is plainly a political choice. It is not for lack of money.
In the budget, the government announced a $354-billion deficit for a slew of programs. It was entirely possible to get the money needed to fund health care properly out of that amount, so it is a political choice not to have done that. In the fall economic statement, the deficit was $382 billion. In the budget, it is $354 billion, which is a difference of $28 billion. That is the exact amount Quebec and the provinces are asking for in increased health transfers this year. That shows that it was entirely possible to do that, and it is a political choice not to.
As far as the debt is concerned, let us not forget that the federal government's financial situation is temporarily weakened right now because of the pandemic. We have astronomical numbers in front of us, but we see that the ratio will improve fairly quickly. For example, in the last years of the budget, in 2025-26, the ratio should return to 1.1% of GDP. The analysis does not go any further.
However, a Conference Board of Canada study found that the federal government's deficit would be cut in half by 2030-31. That is a significant decrease, but the Conference Board of Canada also points out that the opposite will happen to the provinces, which is troubling. The Conference Board of Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the finance ministers and the premiers are all saying there is an urgent need to act.
Ottawa is running a huge deficit during the pandemic, but it will recover quickly. However, the exact opposite is true at the provincial level, because of the explosion in health spending and costs. This is putting the provinces in an untenable situation, and there is an urgent need to act.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Conference Board of Canada and others have calculated that health transfers must be increased to 35% to balance the cost burden with projected tax revenues. It is simply a matter of increasing transfers to 35%. It has to be done. That was deliberately left out of the budget.
This omission is deplorable and completely unacceptable, but I believe it is part of a deliberate logic. When we read the budget, listen to the speeches and look at where the government is headed, everything points in that direction.
Ottawa seems to delight in ultimately putting the provinces in a position of dependency and ensuring that their position becomes increasingly insupportable.
At the same time, we see Ottawa saying that it will fund, support and back the provinces, but it will impose standards and have the final say over how things are done. The federal government is telling the provinces and Quebec that they will no longer have the flexibility to follow through on policies, but that it will. This means that if the provinces want to receive cash from Ottawa, they will have to yield to its way of doing things. They will become Ottawa's subcontractors, and Ottawa will determine the priorities. That is what is happening to long-term care facilities.
With regard to the child care system, Quebec is being told that there will be no conditions, but how long will that last? There were no conditions for health care, but now we have conditions and are getting peanuts. Gaétan Barrette, Quebec's Liberal health minister, once accused the government of “predatory federalism”, which is a serious thing to say.
What is in the budget? The budget contains a number of measures that create an infrastructure and enable the government to interfere in provincial jurisdictions. It contains a framework for mental health care, a framework for women's health and a framework for reproductive health. These things are all the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. There is also a framework for the extraction of the minerals critical to the green transition. Moreover, the government has once again brought up Canada-wide securities regulation, against the wishes of Quebec. The budget also talks about a federal office for recognizing foreign credentials, which is something that Quebec and the provinces have done. There is also mention of a Canada water agency that would be responsible for water management, as well as a federal framework for skills training. People talk about how good Quebec's skills training program is all the time. The Quebec National Assembly implemented a program modelled on what was done in Germany and other European countries. This is one example to learn from. As the leader of the Bloc Québécois said earlier today, students do not tell teachers how to correct their work, which is what the government appears to be trying to do.
This is all very troubling. All of these measures, frameworks and policies do not represent significant amounts in the budget, but they reflect the government's intention to set up the infrastructure to keep moving in this direction. The government's vision is to control specific areas that, according to the Constitution, fall under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has the power to spend, and that enables it to stick its nose into everybody's business, but as a result, we are becoming less and less of a federation with provincial autonomy and more and more of a centralized country where everything happens in Ottawa. The federal government could not care less about the provincial autonomy that Quebec holds so dear. It is draining resources away from the provinces. Given the increase in health care spending, the provinces have no more room to manoeuvre. If they want some breathing room, they need to turn to Ottawa, which will tell them how to do things. That is very troubling.
Earlier, I quoted what Gérald Fillion had to say about that. I would now like to quote Antoine Robitaille. This morning, he wrote a very interesting column in Le Journal de Montréal, where he said the following, and I quote:
However, as is often the case in Canada, when something seems necessary and desirable, the federal big brother ignores the constitutional rules and takes the lead.
A Canada-wide child care program obviously infringes on an area of provincial jurisdiction.
As I said, for now, Ottawa says it will not impose any rules on Quebec. We wonder how long that will last.
A little further on, Antoine Robitaille referred to the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe in last month's decision on the constitutionality of the carbon tax. Rowe was quoting constitutional expert Peter Hogg.
According to the latter, if in a federal nation paramount central power “completely overlapped regional power”, then that nation stops being federal.
In such a system, the provinces can exercise their jurisdiction as they please—“as long as they do so in a manner that the federal legislation authorizes”!
It is hard for a nation like Quebec to continue evolving in accordance with its own choices when this kind of dynamic prevails.
Antoine Robitaille uses the subsidized child care program as an example to expose the government's attitude and how it likes to do things here in the House. This is very worrisome for Quebec, which wants to have autonomy and do things its own way. I introduced a bill in the House a few weeks ago regarding a single tax return administered by Quebec. In committee, the Liberals told us that it was out of the question, that they could accommodate Quebec if they wanted, but it was too complicated and everything would be managed here, because that is how it works. Quebec will become a subcontractor. This is an unacceptable approach. Several aspects of the budget set the stage for continuing to move towards a country that is less a federation and more a central state. Obviously, for Quebec, this is completely unacceptable.
In closing, I just want to say that this is a difficult time for autonomists.