Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by taking this opportunity to congratulate all my colleagues who were elected to the House of Commons on October 25, in an election which must be seen as crucial for the future of Quebec and that of Canada without Quebec.
I also take this opportunity to thank the constituents of the great riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, the Quebec agri-food technocity, for the trust they have shown in me by giving me a clear dual mandate: first, to fight most vigorously to protect their interests and those of Quebec as a whole and, second, to pave the way for Quebec to attain full sovereignty to put to rest once and for all the constitutional issue.
Quebec sovereignty is no longer a mere matter of the heart or patriotism. It has become a matter of practicality.
Following the constitutional negotiations of recent years, sovereignty has emerged as the only way to allow our two nations to stop arguing endlessly about the Constitution and start dealing with the real issues.
What are those real issues? First, to undo the harm done by overly liberal budgeting in recent years, especially at the federal level. Second, to promote economic development and competitiveness. Third, to create lasting employment. And fourth, to really tackle the problem of growing poverty in Quebec and Canada.
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that a beneficial restructuring of the relations between Quebec and Canada did occur, such that we would end up with two sovereign countries. Their relations would then be free of any constitutional dispute and a common economic space would be maintained out of mutual interest, not as a favour, as the other side usually says.
That is what the sovereignty plan is all about. It is directed against no one, especially not our Canadians friends. Our plan has a resolutely global reach. It is legitimate, progressive, open and totally in tune with the times.
Until the people of Quebec decide democratically to take their destiny into their own hands, the Bloc Quebecois has received from them the mandate to protect their interests. And whether you like it or not, the Canadian democratic process has given us the role of official opposition in this chamber of Parliament.
As my leader has repeatedly said, the Bloc Quebecois will assume the role of Official Opposition with all the fervour we have come to expect from it, especially in the last four days, because the fight against poverty and unemployment, for example, is universal. Whether you are a federalist or a sovereignist, you must fight these evils.
Equity also has a universal definition and the Bloc Quebecois will act on the basis of this concern for fairness. For Quebec first of all, because the inequity in federal spending is most flagrant in its case, and elsewhere if required.
Mr. Speaker, you will understand that, as the Official Opposition, we will often be working towards the Bloc Quebecois's ultimate goal, which is to pave the way for sovereignty for Quebec.
Where public finances are concerned, no one in Quebec or Canada has any interest in seeing the already catastrophic state of the federal government's finances deteriorate further. Canada and a sovereign Quebec will have to assume their share of the federal debt.
The same goes for international trade. It is definitely in Quebec's interest, beginning with Quebec's duly elected representatives in the Bloc Quebecois, to ensure that the international agreements recently concluded in its name are beneficial. Under the rule for successor states, a sovereign Quebec would inherit the commitments already made by Canada.
So in these two specific areas, public finances and international trade, we have seen recently that both Quebecers and Canadians really need a vigorous official opposition.
Quebecers and Canadians need a strong opposition because the federal government, the present Liberal government, intends to solve the Canadian government's financial problem using the same approach that it criticized the previous government for, namely putting the burden of fiscal reform on the poorest members of our society. As my leader said, that is unacceptable.
Modernizing and restructuring the social security system as suggested in the speech from the throne, knowing that this reform comes from the same senior civil servants, these great mandarins, one of whom has now become the new member for Hull-Aylmer, these great mandarins praised to the skies by this government, such a reform simply means cutting social programs.
We see the same sinister intent in a publication on Canada's economic challenges issued last week by the Minister of Finance. What do we find in this new bible of the federal mandarins? We read that Canada spends more on social assistance than its major trading partners. It says that our unemployment insurance system is more generous than average and creates major disincentives to work. Major disincentives to work-I find that downright odious.
This is despicable because, as the Leader of the Official Opposition said two days ago, nobody goes to the unemployment office for the fun of it. Nobody in Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, is proud to be unemployed or on welfare. And everybody wants to enjoy the fundamental right to work. When I read this document and the recent statements made by our friends across the floor, I get the impression that I am reading old stuff written a century ago by ultraconservative economists.
This document from the Department of Finance also mentions that our public expenditures related to health care are higher than others, without noticeable results. I was flabbergasted to see this kind of statement in the Department of Finance's document, because those are precisely the people who, not long ago, were saying that our health care system was the best and the cheapest in the world. Now they are contradicting themselves and, because they want to please some ultraconservative economists met recently at a seminar, they are prepared to make cuts to health care programs.
We can now better understand the meaning of the comments made last December by the hon. member for Hull-Aylmer, who is himself a former mandarin, and who alluded to the possibility of a 20 per cent cut in the health care budget. We can also better understand the meaning of the throne speech.
I am absolutely flabbergasted to see that, in less than three months, this government has violated the basic principles underlying its electoral platform. This government was elected on the basis of false premises regarding, among others things, social programs. It has also reneged on its monetary policy. We now know only too well what has become of the promises made by the Liberals. Shortly before the Christmas holidays, the Minister of Finance appointed Mr. John Crow's successor, namely his assistant and advisor regarding monetary policy who is also obsessed with fighting inflation.
It must be remembered that, among the G-7 countries, Canada was the most adversely affected by the recession of the early nineties. Canada was also the first one affected among the industrialized nations of the world. Why is that? It is precisely because of this obsession with fighting inflation regardless of the consequences on employment and on jobs in general.
Today, even though inflation pressures are still weak, and while Quebec has only gained back a quarter of the jobs it lost and the economy has not reached its full potential, the Liberal government is refocusing its monetary policy to fight inflation instead of aiming for a fair balance between price stability in the long run and employment growth in the short run. These same people are now telling us that with their infrastructure program, they will be able to create thousands and thousands of jobs. Contradictory measures like this infrastructure program only go to show the inconsistencies in the Liberals' policies.
Such policies are contrary to what the Liberals talked about during the election campaign and even before that, when they were the official opposition in this House.
Let me remind you that on November 26, 1992, both La Presse and Le Devoir quoted the present prime minister as saying:
For several months now, we have clearly indicated that we are proposing a growth policy based on low interest rates. And if the Canadian dollar should weaken, we can live with that''. That is what the present Prime Minister had to say only two years ago. Today, he is doing exactly what he was blaming the Conservatives for. The present prime minister also said:People are becoming obsessed with the anti-inflationary policy''. Can you believe that. The Liberals themselves have developed an obsession for the same monetary policies they used to criticize.
Earlier this week, the Minister of Finance even said about the throne speech: "We will be worthy of the trust Canadians put in us". He mentioned that the speech from the throne would break the vicious cycle of "cynicism and deception Canadians felt about politics".
This kind of approach, this kind of backtracking will not do anything to break the cynicism that exists towards the old federalist parties; it is there to stay.
And there will still be cynicism about the tax equity issue since nothing leads us to believe that the Liberals will do something about that despite having complained loudly about the unfairness of our tax system during all these years. The government does not have the political will to eliminate all the tax loopholes and all the tax breaks that some people benefit from. We always point to the same problem, and with good reason. Just as the Conservatives before them, the Liberals probably have their hands tied by Canada's richest families who contribute to their election fund.
There are plenty of examples of unfairness and inequity in our tax system, Mr. Speaker. Here are some of them. In 1987, the most recent year for which this kind of data is available, 90,000 Canadian companies made profits totalling $27 billion and paid no taxes at all. There is no in-depth study on this but in 1991, according to the Auditor General, a minimum of $16.1 billion in revenues found their way to various tax havens. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax revenues are lost through the family trusts which we talked about earlier this week.
Here is another example of unfairness and inequity in our tax system. In 1991, 368,000 taxpayers with a total declared income of $60 billion, that is an average income of $163,000 each, paid a federal income tax of only 18 per cent. That was their real tax rate because of all the tax loopholes. But isn't the basic rate 29 per cent, Mr. Speaker? This is shameful.
On the other hand, a certain Ms. Pauline came to my riding office last week. She is on welfare and her income is about half the poverty threshold in Quebec as well as Canada, and she received a letter from Revenue Canada asking her to pay her income tax like any other taxpayer. Mr. Speaker, that is nothing short of outrageous.
Two days ago, the Auditor General reported a number of cases of profligate spending and misuse of public money. I noticed two cases which are striking enough to demonstrate the urgent need for tax reform to achieve greater equity instead of wasting money.
Investment Canada spent $132,000 to set up a new office, kitchen and bathroom for its new president, while her predecessor had an office in the same building with the same conveniences. Mr. Speaker, $132,000 is the equivalent of the annual income of four households. It is utterly disgraceful. The Auditor General also pointed out that because of a loophole in a deduction concerning natural resources, the government lost $1.2 billion in revenue, mainly in the oil and mining industries.
What is this government waiting for before they settle once and for all these problem that plague Quebec and Canada alike?
That is where we can find money to get the public finances in order. That is where we should go to reduce the revenue shortfall of the federal government, which over the years has generated an accumulated debt of over $500 billion. These are the persons we should be after, not the less fortunate like Ms. Pauline in the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot.
We should not cut transfer payments to the provinces either. When will those opposite realize that, in the end, it falls on the backs of the same taxpayers. I will give you just one example taken from the Quebec public accounts. All the measures taken since 1980 either to reduce or freeze transfer payments to the provinces have cost the government of Quebec over two billion dollars. Who had to provide for this shortfall in federal transfer payments to Quebec? The women and men of Quebec, of course, because they are the same taxpayers. All this to say that shifting the burden onto the provinces is not a way to improve the fiscal situation.
Given these shameful and odious fiscal inequities and the disastrous state of federal public finances, the Bloc Quebecois reaffirms the need to proceed with a public examination by Parliament of all federal budgetary and tax expenditures. We do not want a media circus of unending consultations which would only postpone a necessary reform. We do not want piecemeal reform. We do not want a little something here and a little something there. We want an in-depth examination by Parliamentarians of federal fiscal policies and expenditures.
One last point before I conclude. There is another thing barely mentioned in the speech from the throne, and that is the GATT agreement. Instead of wasting his time arguing about impossible changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the way he did after the House of Representatives passed the NAFTA, the Prime Minister of Canada should have focused on the final sprint toward a GATT agreement. The Bloc Quebecois welcomes the conclusion of the eighth GATT round, and I say this without reservations. The Bloc, like Quebecers generally, takes a global perspective, an attitude that is entirely compatible with nationalism and sovereignism, as I indicated at the beginning of my speech.
However, although we welcome the conclusion of the Uruguay round, we are not satisfied with Canada's performance in this area, especially in the negotiations on agriculture, in the course of which article XI-2(c)(i) of the GATT rules, an article that was vital to agriculture in Quebec and Canada, was dropped.
This article was vital because it ensured the survival and effectiveness of the supply management system in Canada's dairy and poultry sectors. The Canadian government gave up this article without obtaining anything in return. That was the worst part, like the government's financial situation. Nothing was obtained in return, while countries like South Korea, Japan, the United States, France and Belgium privately obtained exemptions that were included in the eighth GATT Round.
Why did Canada not obtain an exemption? Because it failed to take a firm stand and because the Prime Minister, unlike Mr. Clinton in the United States, Mr. Mitterrand and the Japanese and South Korean prime ministers, did not get involved in the final sprint to protect article XI-2(c)(i) and the interests of Quebec and Canada in this area.
The Bloc Quebecois does not blame the Canadian government for losing. These negotiations involve more than 110 countries, and it stands to reason that we cannot win on all fronts and might have to give up some of the items on our list. However, the Canadian government and the Prime Minister failed to do everything they could have done, which makes matters worse.
It is public knowledge that the Government of Canada is about to cave in once more and renege on its commitments in negotiations on the GATT rules with the United States. For instance, in negotiations with the United States on border tariffs that will replace article XI, the government is poised to make concessions on tariff levels that are supposed to protect the dairy and poultry sectors.
Unfortunately, the Canadian government has also caved in to unfounded rumours that U.S. borders would be closed to exports of durum wheat from the Canadian prairies.
In concluding, the Official Opposition deplores the lack of vigour shown by the government in defending the interests of Quebec and Canada and the lack of any concern in this respect in the throne speech at the opening of the 35th Parliament.
As the Official Opposition, the Bloc Quebecois intends to keep a close watch on further developments.