Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion tabled in this House by my colleague from Saint-Albert. The hon. member for Saint-Albert sits on the Public Accounts Committee, which I chair, and I want to let him know that I share his point of view on the sorry state of our public finances and on the finance minister's inability to resolve Canada's public finance crisis.
I also agree with him that the government should table in this House a detailed plan to show how it intends to balance the budget as well as its action plan schedule. The Bloc Quebecois, however, does not agree with the ways advocated by the Reform Party to balance the budget. The Bloc Quebecois does not share Reform members' vision of the role government should play in the economy either.
In our opinion, the government must not only create a healthy competitive climate encouraging people to develop skills and do their best, but also protect society's poorest and most vulnerable and help them get out of the vicious circle of poverty and dependency. Where are we as taxpayers today, a year to the day after the election of a Liberal government? The two papers tabled last week by the Minister of Finance simply note the deterioration of Canada's public finances.
The minister merely describes the state of government expenditures and revenue without proposing any vigorous action plan to correct the situation and substantially reduce the deficit. Yet, the red book, which all ministers misquote almost daily to save face in response to the questions asked by the Official Opposition during Question Period, contains many promises, and I quote: "The basic elements of our approach include fiscal responsibility and fairness, deficit reduction, and a balanced and stable monetary policy".
The deficit forecast for this year is still close to $40 billion, more precisely $39.7 billion, while the forecast for next year is $32.7 billion. Even if the Liberal government met its target of reducing the deficit to $25 billion in 1996 and 1997, it would add $97.4 billion, almost $100 billion, to the $500 billion-plus debt already accumulated.
Even if the government met its goal of 3 per cent of GDP in 1996-97, it would still raise the debt to over $600 billion. Is that the deficit reduction promised by the Liberals in the red book? It is more and more unlikely that the government will succeed in keeping the deficit below the $40 billion level this year and below $33 billion next year.
The government recognizes at last, but a bit late, that the increase in interest rates, which was partly offset by the recovery this year, will entail additional cuts of up to $4.7 billion in 1995-96 and $9 billion the following year if it is to reach its objective of a deficit of no more than 3 per cent of the GDP before the end of its term.
Can we honestly talk about fiscal responsibility as the government promised in the red book? According to us, it looks more like chronic irresponsibility. In such a context, the red book looks more and more like a jumble of wishful thinking prepared just to seduce some disillusioned constituents throughout the election campaign. In that same red book, they also talked about fiscal equity.
Well, let us talk about it. The government's budgetary approach is based on the social security reform, that is on cutbacks in transfers to provinces and in social programs that will merely penalize welfare recipients and students, the unemployed and the elderly. The overtaxed middle class, which historically served as the milking cow for government taxation, is not reassured when even the Prime Minister talks about a possible hike in taxes, as opposed to what he promised during last year's campaign, and when the Minister of Finance is juggling with the idea of taxing RRSPs.
Naturally, this government lacks imagination in the fiscal area as in all other areas of management. They also promised a stable and balanced monetary policy. Interest rates have increased since spring and should increase some more during the coming months because you have to reduce the deficit if you want to relieve the upward pressure on interest rates and give more flexibility to the Bank of Canada so that it can, in turn, lower interest rates. So goes the vicious circle of indebtedness.
We in the Bloc Quebecois agree that government finances must be overhauled to reduce the risk premium Canada pays on interest rates, mainly on foreign loans. The government's budget policies should aim for a far more substantial reduction in the federal deficit. The Liberals are not on the right track and will not be able to keep their campaign promise of a balanced and stable monetary policy.
The red book says, and I quote: "A number of government programs and tax expenditures-some of which have been identified by the auditor general-are inefficient, poorly managed, or motivated by purely economic reasons. Just as we are proposing new measures to grow the economy, we will examine such programs with the objective of reducing waste and inefficiency and promoting economic growth. Expenditure reductions will be achieved by cancelling unnecessary programs, stream-
lining processes, and eliminating duplication. This effort will take place in partnership with provincial governments".
How ridiculous this sounds when we read it again today, a year after the Liberals came to power. Ridiculous, especially when we compare the red book with the two instruction manuals it spawned last week: A New Framework for Economic Policy and Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate . Upon reading these two documents, which list a set of principles and indulge in a lot of wishful thinking and which are to be used for consultation purposes, we realize that, for the government, social security reform remains the cornerstone of deficit reduction and of improving the state of government finances.
According to the Minister of Finance, improving the state of government finances will be achieved, as we said earlier, through cuts in unemployment insurance, student loans and social security. The jobs and growth strategy, says the minister, is based on the following main themes: encouraging Canadians to adapt to change; rethinking the role of the state; putting the economy on the right track; and creating a healthy fiscal and monetary climate by reducing the deficit to 3 per cent of GSP by 1996-97, the ultimate objective being to balance the budget.
Aside from a few very general principles, the government's new policy framework merely reminds us once again of the red book's objective which is still to reduce the deficit to 3 per cent of GDP before the end of the government's mandate. There are no concrete proposals for meeting this objective, aside from a number of haphazard budget cuts.
Given the sorry state of Canada's finances and the resulting prohibitive foreign debt, the Liberals' target of $39.7 billion in 1994-1995, again barely under the $40 billion mark despite the strong economic recovery, strikes the Bloc Quebecois as overly cautious and irresponsible in view of the size of the problem.
In order to point up the reduction in the deficit, you will recall that the Liberals overestimated the deficit in 1993-1994, the last year the Conservatives were in power, at $45.7 billion. The real deficit that year, however, was $42 billion. Without a change in policy, the government told us, the projected deficit that year would have been $41.2 billion. In our view, the minister's deficit reduction objective is still not high enough.
In a context of economic recovery, with Canadians willing to do their part, what kind of leadership is it to lower the deficit from $41.2 billion to $39.7 billion? This is a paltry $1.5 billion-it is laughable, really. The minister is not even certain that his timid attempts to improve the situation will achieve their purpose. As he told us last week, these two documents will be submitted for consultation. I, for one, have always believed that the government was elected to make decisions and to manage. The Liberals are trying to change the art of governing. For them, it seems to mean consulting.
Not only has it set its sights too low, but the Liberal government is erratic and hesitant when it comes to specific measures to eliminate an uncontrolled debt that has become uncontrollable under their leadership.
To reduce the deficit, the government must find enough manoeuvring room to meet its budget goals, which we find, as I said earlier, a little too ambitious based on the following measures. The government promised to tackle waste, duplication and mismanagement in order to reduce operating expenditures. Yet, year after year, the Auditor General finds numerous cases of waste and mismanagement. Many of his recommendations are not acted on. What about program assessment? Program expenditures now exceed $120 billion, while most federal programs evaluated cost less than $250 million.
No large-scale program has been evaluated yet, either in government departments or Crown corporations. On what basis and under what criteria will the minister responsible for reviewing all government programs conduct the promised review? Will this review integrate the Auditor General's recommendations? We do not know any more than that.
You will agree with me that the measures proposed by the Minister of Finance to create a healthy financial climate are not exactly innovative and ambitious. As the Bloc Quebecois already said, the minister only describes the government's balance sheet without proposing any concrete measure to reduce the deficit.
The reform of social programs remains this government's framework to reduce the government deficit. Although the government made a commitment not to increase taxes, the minister says in the document that "broadening the tax base is preferable to raising tax rates". What does this position mean for the future?
In the same document the minister says that given the scope of the measures needed to meet its deficit-reduction goals, the government must contemplate tax initiatives. This means that we must expect new tax increases at some point.
Tax breaks on retirement savings, or RRSPs, represent almost $15 billion, $14.9 billion to be more precise. The Liberal government must be tempted to eliminate RRSP deductions, which would reduce its annual deficit by 37 per cent in one fell swoop, without any additional streamlining effort. RRSPs account for 55 per cent of all the government's tax expenditures including the credit for charitable donations, the tax credit for research and development, the exemption for injured workers' compensation, and the largest, making up 55 per cent of the total, is RRSPs. How tempting to eliminate just one, that one, which would affect only one group of taxpayers. Only one group of taxpayers would be targeted and in one fell swoop more than half the tax expenditures would be eliminated.
The government is preparing us for this type of cut that will affect mainly the middle class. When he says that he must consider tax initiatives, the minister is surely thinking of RRSPs.
No offence to the member for St. Albert, with whom I agree, but the government has no detailed plan on how to balance the budget and will not table such a plan, nor does it have a timetable and a clear vision of the government's role in the economy.
To conclude, I will add that this government does not seem to want to keep its commitment not to raise taxes, it is vacillating and only as a last resort did it admit that it had to make more cuts to achieve its future budget objectives.
This government prefers to re-examine government programs instead of tackling the machinery of government as such. This government promised us "jobs, jobs, jobs" in the 1993 election campaign. Today, it tells us only about cuts and reducing the deficit. Its rhetoric varies depending on the prevailing circumstances, you will agree.
This government observes and consults. It gives the people no concrete measures except for cuts in social programs and in transfers to the provinces. It is counting on the economic recovery in order to avoid making painful decisions, which will be even more painful because of its indecision.
This government no doubt has a work plan that it is developing in secret while its leading lights consult left and right. Even the Prime Minister is consulting the health stakeholders to define the health care system for the next century in the absence of the provincial premiers and health ministers.
In the end, the Toronto Star 's allegations are being confirmed: the shortfall of the next two fiscal years will be recovered through made up for with cuts in social programs. That is what this government's political agenda boils down to. I believe that Quebecers and Canadians deserve better.