Madam Speaker, I would like to start by reminding hon. members of the purpose of the debate we are engaged in today.
The debate is on a motion tabled by the federal Minister of Human Resources Development, that a committee of the House be directed to consult broadly, to-as the motion says-analyse and to make recommendations regarding the modernization and restructuring of Canada's social security system.
If this motion were tabled in any other Parliament, we would be inclined to think it was good news. In the normal course of events, a government may wish to review its social programs in order to improve them, to make them more productive, as they say, and provide more protection and security for those in our society who need it most.
Unfortunately, I have the impression that today, this motion is not good news for Canadian men and women. There may be are some disturbing developments if we consider that since the very beginning of the election campaign, the focus has been on the economy, to the exclusion of all other issues in this country.
As you know, Madam Speaker, whenever we talk about the economy, financial problems and challenges to social choices, the prime concern of the people who engage in this exercise is to cut social programs. The government must take on a very heavy financial burden to honour its commitments to the most vulnerable in our society, as expressed in the social programs put in place over the years by a succession of parliaments.
Inevitably, because of the very size of this budget item, whenever there is talk of cutting back and restructuring, social programs are the obvious target for all these people who can lobby the government and the Minister of Finance.
Listen to what the wealthiest members of the business community have to say about tackling Canada's budget problems. Most of them would tell you: Cut social programs. Too many people are abusing these programs. Too many people are getting around the system and drawing benefits without being entitled to them.
They will tell you also this is common practice and that there are welfare recipients in the provinces who abuse the system. They describe one or two or three cases of fraud with a great deal of emphasis, to show the system works and how taxpayers' money is wasted. That is the kind of answer you get, Madam Speaker, when you put this question to the people in our society who are well off.
When do you hear a wealthy businessman, the member of a wealthy industrial dynasty, say that 2,384 cases of fraud in such and such an area or over a year or over two years, together represent a quarter of a tenth of half of what he saves in income tax in his family trust or through tax shelters to which he has access? We have reached the point in this country where whenever a welfare recipient or a unemployed worker is caught in the act of trying to save his daily pittance and is tempted to defraud one of the social programs, such cases are given a lot of publicity. Every time they are right there on the front page, grist to the mill of people who argue against helping the neediest in our society.
Tell me, Madam Speaker, when do you hear people wonder, worry, or rebel because some succeed in saving-I use the term saving out of politeness-taxes through all kinds of legal and sometimes not so legal ploys? In any case, our society treats like heroes those who manage to avoid paying taxes.
There are even companies putting ads in the newspapers saying: "Come and see us. We are experts on tax shelters. You do not want to pay any taxes? This is the place to come". Our society is now at the point where it puts on a pedestal those who somehow succeed in avoiding paying taxes and giving their due to the tax man. On the other hand, every time a welfare recipient
living well below the poverty level manages to defraud the system, there is a general outcry right across the country.
In this context, and at this stage, we are concerned by the minister's initiative. We are concerned because we know those who support the members opposite. We know the economic interests which have brought this government to power; its supporters are among the wealthiest in our society and they have direct channels of communications, not with the secretaries of state, but with the senior ministers in the Cabinet. It is those people who hold real power and who influence the decision process.