Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on Finance for allowing the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, or the CSN, to express its opinion on Bill C-10. The CSN represents 300,000 members across Canada, the majority of whom are in Quebec, and in all sectors of activity.
During the current financial crisis and recession, the Conservative government finally resigned itself to tabling a budget that included an economic stimulus package. Although there is money in this stimulus package, the CSN feels that this budget remains unacceptable and unfair for the unemployed, older workers, women, and Quebec. Furthermore, attacking the right of public service employees to negotiate their wages is completely unacceptable.
The budget proposes no new approaches to basic issues such as equalization and federal transfers for social programs, support for the failing economic sector, employment insurance, the tax burden, climate change, in addition to attacking fundamental rights.
The changes announced to the equalization formula last fall, and then confirmed in the budget, are major and unacceptable for Quebec, which will lose a billion dollars this year and up to $2 billion next year. As a result of this unilateral amendment of the equalization formula, Quebec is losing the only good thing that really came out of the partial resolution of the fiscal imbalance in Budget 2007.
Still in relation to equalization, Ontario benefits from an amendment to the equalization program that should also apply to Quebec. Hydro One dividends would be considered as a source of revenue under the corporate tax base rather than the natural resource base. The CSN feels that such provisions under equalization should also apply to Hydro Quebec's transportation and distribution activities.
Furthermore, federal transfers under health, post-secondary education and social assistance have increased less rapidly in Quebec than elsewhere, in recent years, because they are no longer based on needs and cost sharing, but rather on the number of residents per province. Let us not forget that the Government of Quebec is still awaiting the additional $800 million that would restore federal funding to 1994-95 levels, in real terms, in post-secondary education.
Finally, there are clear signs in this budget of the very real continued existence of the fiscal imbalance. First, there is the federal government's desire to move forward with the implementation of a pan-Canadian securities commission, with complete disregard for constitutional jurisdictions of Quebec in that area. There is also the initiative to directly grant loans to municipalities going over the heads of the provinces.
The CSN notes that the budget is inequitable in its treatment of the various regions of Canada, not only with regard to federal transfers, but also with regard to support for the various economic sectors, without ensuring equity between the regions. The only major budget initiative related to manufacturing concerns the auto industry, and therefore, the economy of Ontario.
Although 129,000 jobs were lost in Canada in January, it is extremely disappointing to note that the employment insurance program contains almost no substantial improvements, particularly with regard to eligibility.
Following numerous negative changes to the EI program with the 1990s reforms, we are now experiencing a major economic crisis for the first time with a plan that is ill-equipped for the situation. The CSN is still asking that the two-week waiting period be abolished, that significant improvements be made to the eligibility rules and that there be a 60% income replacement rate based on the 12 best weeks for the reference period.
Furthermore, the CSN has long demanded a financial support program to allow older workers who have lost their jobs to make ends meet in the time between when their EI benefits run out and their retirement benefits kick in.
Despite the recession reducing federal revenue, the government has decided to go forward with new tax cuts that could impose budget cuts to get out of the recession. If the tax credit to support the construction industry seeks to play a role in the economic stimulus plan, the general tax cuts for individuals is instead an ideology seeking to reduce the role and size of the state.
The CSN has calculated that the new cumulative tax cuts introduced by the Conservatives in fiscal 2009-2010, including those in the most recent budget, total $82 billion. For 2009-2010 alone, this economic strategy will deprive the government of $29 billion.
The CSN condemns the fact that this budget, like its predecessors, is making it even more unlikely that Canada will reach the Kyoto Protocol targets. The Canadian government continues to grant financial assistance to the oil and gas industry when even the OECD suggests abolishing them. The recent budget continues this trend: the government is offering hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a carbon capture project, yet another initiative that will benefit the oil companies.
Lastly, I would have a few words to say about the fundamental rights that are being undermined by bill C-10.
First of all, there is the issue of federal public servants' pay increases that have been capped at 1.5%. In the case of the CSN and its affiliate, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, an agreement was reached for a 2% increase for 2009-2010. We are witnessing a denial of the right to negotiate, as recognized by international conventions.
As for pay equity, we believe that the bill is an affront to women's fundamental rights and the recognition of the value of their work. The government is even redefining the notion of “job class”, allowing it to limit the concept to “female predominant job group”. The government is making this right negotiable, rather than requiring the implementation of true pay equity programs.
We are calling on the government to remove the pay equity provisions from bill C-10 in order to adopt truly proactive legislation at a later date.