Mr. Speaker, in this budget the government has attacked the most vulnerable members of our society. Unfortunately, the elderly and the unemployed had less clout than the Liberal Party's backers. This is unacceptable, and some day, Quebecers and Canadians will remember this.
We strongly condemn the $7.5 billion cuts in social programs especially as they affect unemployment insurance. A slow recovery, with little stimulus for employment, is hardly the answer to the tremendous economic problems facing us today.
The safety net introduced by Canadians is now, more than ever before, absolutely essential to the survival of individuals, families and communities that are in need. And now, when we need it most, the minister has decided to weaken the safety net.
The budget has attacked all aspects of the unemployment insurance program: benefit periods and rates have been reduced; to qualify for unemployment insurance, a person must have worked at least 40 weeks in his first job; and it now takes 12 weeks instead of 10 to be eligible for benefits. A measure that will be particularly hard on seasonal workers, for instance.
Incidentally, Serge Côté and Normand Anctil of the group for interdisciplinary research on regional development in Eastern Quebec at the University of Quebec in Rimouski have just published a study conducted with the co-operation of with the Minister of Human Resources Development. According to the study, 25 per cent of the unemployed in Rimouski are seasonal workers, and the figures is 50 per cent in the rest of the region, which means they represent 37 per cent of UI claimants. The study also found that 83 per cent of seasonal workers would prefer regular, steady jobs, which puts the lie to the stereotype that these workers are lazy and perfectly happy the way they are.
The minister has cleverly camouflaged cuts in benefits as a way to help low-income women, while at the same time invading the privacy of these women, who will be entitled to more benefits only if they can prove to UI employees-who are not always very understanding or forthcoming-that they have dependents and are the sole breadwinner. Moreover, women whose only fault is to try to get a second income for the family will be discriminated against, since they will suffer a reduction in their payments.
The Minister is thus launching a policy of intrusion into women's private lives, refusing them the right to live or cohabit with whoever they please, very often solely to save money and make ends meet.
What about social housing? During the election campaign, the Minister had personally promised that a Liberal government would, as it should, guarantee to one million Canadian families decent housing at a reasonable price. Looking at his budget, we realize that he forgot that promise. In 1989, $133 million were allocated to public housing. In 1993, the amount is down to $41 million and, in 1994, it will be nil, no money being allocated to new social housing projects.
What is worse, the government is refusing that municipalities use the infrastructure program to build social or co-op housing. Yet, building housing units is profitable in many respects. Because they are saving on rent, people can spend more; social expenses for shelter, soup kitchens or protective lodging are reduced; they offer greater security to low income seniors who cannot afford private foster homes.
The Minister should look around, because the situation is disastrous. In my riding, you can tell people are getting poorer by the fact that 40 per cent of households must spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. Senior citizens who are going to be affected by the elimination of the tax credit or the changes in their pension plan, as we now know, will see their situation deteriorate.
While the government is making cutbacks and is overlooking job creation, their friends can live in peace. In fact, the contribution made by businesses to government revenue over the last ten years has decreased. If only the minister had the courage to establish a minimum corporate tax, like the one in United States, taxpayers would pay less and might even benefit from a lowering of taxes without any changes required to our social programs.
At a time when the GST is a nightmare for all Canadians, the minister, once again, has spared the holders of some $25 billion worth of listed shares when he could have gained substantial revenues by taxing them.
I want to take a closer look now at some aspects of the expenditure plan of Canadian Heritage. The budget announces that the red book is going to be fully implemented, including an investment of $60 million over a period of three years in the cultural sector. That is great news if you think it involves new money, but such is not the case. In fact, as it is said in
Plan, these initiatives will be "funded through internal departmental reallocations".
The government cuts with one hand and reinvests with the other. The left hand does not know where it will cut and the right one does not know where it will reinvest. I hope the Holy Spirit will enlighten the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and that this new trinity will inform this House as soon as possible.
The estimates for the Department of Canadian Heritage are all the same: they give us very little indication about where the government is heading. On that point, the Minister of Canadian Heritage should make the Cabinet understand the importance of culture not only as part of our national identity, but also as a major driving force behind our economy, and increasingly so.
It is unfortunate that the federal government's inconsistency should have such an impact on major institutions such as the CBC and Telefilm Canada at a time when the main industries of the future are telecommunications and entertainment. The cuts of $100 million will be maintained for 1995 and 1996 for CBC and, during the coming years, the Corporation will have to deal with a structural deficit which will amount to $169 million by 1996.
The Minister of Finance is saying to CBC: Make the cuts yourself, take on that responsibility. Like Pontius Pilate, he is washing his hands of the whole question.
Moreover, the government keeps on repeating that it is guaranteeing CBC a five-year budget, but one should remember that, during the last campaign, this same government was promising that it would maintain social programs. Barely four months after the Liberals' coming to office these solemn promises have vanished into thin air. You understand now why we are working so diligently to bring about Quebec's sovereignty, so that we will not be around three years from now, when this government goes back on all the promises it made over and over again.
As far as Telefilm Canada is concerned, this budget maintains the 10 per cent cut in its operating budget announced by the previous government. As a result, for 1994-1995, Telefilm must give $10 million back to Treasury Board. The overall cut of more than $116 million over five years is maintained, at a time when the emergence of new technologies and specialty channels create an almost limitless demand for cultural material of Quebec and Canadian origin.
The Liberal government could not come up with a better idea than clipping the wings of such an essential cultural agency. However, to have us believe that culture is of great concern to them, the Liberals exempted Telefilm Canada from a further 5 per cent cut.
On behalf of the francophone and Acadian communities, one must rejoice in the reinstatement of the Court Challenge Program, the abolition of which they had condemned. It is thanks to this program that the right to be educated in French in Canada was recognized. However, I would like to point out that even though the courts have upheld this right, its formal recognition still leaves a lot to be desired in Canada.
In another connection, I would like to add that the Minister of Canadian Heritage recently allotted enormous amounts of money for the promotion of a failure, Canadian federalism. Here are a few examples.
Communications strategies, $16 million; negotiation of constitutional amendments for native people, $27 million; Knowing Canada Better Program, $6 million; for a better understanding between Canadians, $15 million; Canada Day, $3.6 million-48 per cent more than what was anticipated; the 125th anniversary of Confederation, $22 million; forty-two medals commemorating the 125th anniversary, $1.3 million.
Time is running out and I would be remiss if I ended my speech without saying a few words about amateur sport and especially about the Athlete Assistance Program. The Minister of Canadian Heritage went to Lillehammer where he met athletes and gave an interview on television. In answer to questions by two Quebec gold medallists, Gaétan Boucher and Sylvie Bernier, the minister admitted that the athlete assistance policy would have to be reviewed.
The last budget increase for that program goes back to 1985. To compensate for the loss of buying power due to inflation since then, benefits under the Athlete Assistance Program should have been raised by at least 43 per cent. What did the heritage minister do? He accepted a budget cut of 7 per cent which will bring average benefits to individual athletes down to $5,100 a year from $5,500.
The federal government lost no time in claiming the gold medallists of the last Olympics in the name of national pride and rewarding them with the country's highest decoration, but as for helping them on a day-to-day basis, they force them to live below the poverty line.