Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to see how the opposition motion dealing with "the government's lack of vision and lack of concrete measures relating to job creation policies" draws the members' attention to this problem, which is a very real one, as
we saw during the election campaign. The interest shown here is much greater than in the case of previous motions calling for the striking of committees. It seems that on the government side, they are either getting highly specialized in that area or just falling asleep. The motion before the House today is giving rise to an interesting debate, and so it should.
As a matter of fact, the two major tasks the government was supposed to tackle to meet voter expectations after it was elected, were control of expenditures and job creation.
The budget tabled by the Minister of Finance was a blatant indication of this government's failure to give itself enough room to manoeuvre and make the cuts required to invest in job creation. Because of this budget, Canada still has to pay a risk premium on the money it borrows abroad. I think that this is proof enough of the lack of efficiency and commitment on the part of the present government in the area of job creation.
The most blatant betrayal of their election promises can be found in the job creation field. I read somewhere in the Liberal Plan for Canada , which is not ten years old but only six months old, that unemployment was a waste of human and economic resources. And that the top priority for a Liberal government would be job creation.
And yet, this Liberal government is offering nothing more than an infrastructure program. It will take a lot more than a project, which might create 45 000 temporary jobs, to give hope to the 1 565 000 Canadians who are out of work, 437 000 of them in Quebec. The government's action does not reflect the sense of urgency to create jobs they talked about during the election campaign. Why is it? I think it is due to a lack of vision on the part of the government. It is unable to show the kind of vision necessary to face these tremendous times we are going through.
The structural changes brought about by the globalization of the economy make the conventional wisdom obsolete. To meet their objectives, the Liberals are counting on the economy recovering on its own. For the Canadian economy to reach its full potential, the annual growth rate should be above 4 per cent over the next four years.
The few measures taken now will not be enough to meet this objective; they are mere window dressing.
The initiatives undertaken by the Liberals only touch upon the problem and the government refuses to do something about structural unemployment, which prompted the minister of Finance to say that it would be unrealistic to think that the unemployment rate would drop below 8 per cent within five years. Is it no longer urgent to create jobs?
What would have been the building blocks of a stringent and efficient policy to fight unemployment, which is a waste of our very own human resources? The first building block would have been to restore consumer confidence.
The election campaign restored hope among Canadians and Quebecers for some major changes, including a change in attitude for the government, and voters thought they finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, Canadians and Quebecers learned that the estimated deficit of the Liberal government would reach an all-time high, at $39.7 billion. They cried wolf for several months and came out with a miserable little policy.
Second negative signal, going after the unemployed instead of unemployment. Following the unemployment insurance reform, you will have to work more weeks in order to be entitled to less weeks of UI benefits, and those benefits would, in several cases, be reduced. Given that, the people in Quebec and in Canada have no reason to regain confidence and to decide, for example, to buy a house.
A young couple with no job security, where both spouses hold seasonal jobs, will understand from the messages sent concerning UI reform that, in a year or two, they will not be able to get the income support provided by the unemployment insurance program, because of the increased number of weeks claimants have to work, and for that specific reason they will decide not to buy a house. It would be totally irresponsible to decide otherwise.
The government sent another negative signal when it decided to wait until 1995-96 before reducing the unemployment insurance premiums from $3.07 to $3, which proves that the Liberals do not feel the situation is very urgent. To send a positive signal to Canadians and Quebecers, they would have had to freeze the premiums at $3 in 1994-95, and not only starting in 1995-96.
No, job creation is not really an obsession for the government, it is not even a priority, if you ask me.
Indeed, the government itself is undermining the confidence of consumers by recognizing that these measures will only have a minor effect on unemployment, since it is said in the Budget that unemployment will hover around 11 per cent in 1995.
In my last years at university, an 11 per cent unemployment rate would have been so totally unacceptable that people would have taken to the streets. In those days, unemployment was at 3, 4 or 5 per cent and even then, it was considered unacceptable. We are now told in the budget speech, which reflects the official position of the government, that we can live with an 11 per cent unemployment rate. This demonstrates, I think, that the government is not up to its responsibilities and, above all, to its campaign promises.
I think one rare encouraging signal in the Budget is the permanent renewal of the program enabling people to use RRSP funds to buy a first house. However, as I have just said, employment insecurity dampens the enthusiasm of many.
Another building block of a stringent policy would have been to send a clear message to the government machinery as a whole that the government is engaged in a ruthless battle against unemployment. Instead, the Governor of the Bank of Canada is replaced by another of the same philosophy. The monetary policy of the Bank of Canada is praised even though it is responsible for the fact that the recession was harsher in Canada than in the United States.
The demagogic struggle which the Bank of Canada has led and is still leading while the Canadian economy is plummeting has contributed to kill whatever confidence consumers had in the future of their economy. We must stop being afraid to be afraid and achieve a new dynamism. It is not with this kind of message that we will succeed in making progress.
If you compare the United States with Canada today, you will understand why the Americans are far better off than we are. Between 1989 and 1992, the United States pursued a monetary policy aimed at containing the recession and stimulating economic recovery. American monetary authorities are willing to accept an inflation rate that is higher than ours. There is an economic principle that says that if you fight inflation, unemployment will go up, and vice versa. This principle is long-standing and very fundamental since it is taught in any introductory course in economics. So, we have been very dogmatic and the results of that are obvious in the situation we are facing today.
The third building block of a measure that could have been adopted is a job creation policy specifically directed towards the main groups of unemployed Canadians that should be put back to work.
I have been sitting on the human resources development committee for a few weeks and I am very surprised by the way people talk about how we are going to get things from the disadvantaged. We are always on the defensive, whereas we should take advantage of a department like the Department of Human Resources Development to initiate positive measures, to turn to people who are doers and who will help us turn the situation around instead of simply guarding the status quo.
The primary group that should be targeted is young graduates, people between 20 and 35 years of age. Nowhere in government commitments is this group mentioned as being the target of structural projects.
There could be other structural projects, but there is one example that we have been focussing on in the House for a long time, and I think that we will keep coming back to it. The Bloc Quebecois would like the high-speed train project in the Quebec-Windsor corridor to be carried out. The realization of this project could have a ripple effect similar to that of the great hydro-electric projects of the 1970s. We feel it is essential that Canada and Quebec invest in railway infrastructure for transportation of goods and passengers.
We have a vast territory and the maintenance of the road network is very costly. Moreover, developing a competitive economy while banking on individual transportation is not an environment-friendly solution. The Bloc Quebecois is not opposed to restructuring the railway system if this helps increase its profitability. However, we have to proceed while taking into account possible alternatives instead of abandoning this mode of transportation bit by bit.
Rail transportation is not just nostalgia, it can also be a major development tool, as much for Canada as for Quebec, and it is urgent that we become aware of that and take action accordingly. Canada and Quebec must therefore adopt an efficient public transport policy.
The Quebec City-Windsor high-speed train project would cost about $7.5 billion over a ten year period, but 70 per cent of it would be funded by the private sector. The remaining 30 per cent, about $2.3 billion, would be funded by the Quebec, Ontario and federal governments. By getting involved in this HST project, this government would help stimulate a $5.3 billion investment by the private sector, not counting the spin-offs.
During construction, tax revenues generated by the project would amount to $1.8 billion. Thus, the funding provided would soon be recovered. The HST requires less funding than the infrastructure program and is an investment rather than an expenditure.
This investment by the federal government would not increase the Canadian debt and would help make VIA Rail profitable. It would create almost 120,000 jobs annually, including 80,000 direct jobs in the construction of the infrastructure and the manufacturing of equipment for the HST, and 40,000 indirect jobs upstream and downstream from the project. It would reduce unemployment insurance costs for the government.
In 1991, the Ontario-Quebec Rapid Train Task Force made a comprehensive feasibility study. Extensive public consultations concluded that people in the areas affected by the rapid train project would support it. It has been said many times that the Quebec City-Windsor corridor is crucial and that it is important that the cities in that corridor be made more effective in order to succeed in a competitive market.
Since the committee concluded that the project is relevant, a committee with representatives of the federal, Quebec and Ontario governments was set up to make a cost-benefit analysis of different technologies. The Bloc Quebecois advocates the implementation of an environment-friendly technology. The HST would reduce government spending. It would provide intercity transportation at a much lower cost than an expansion of road or air transportation services. This is a good example of a
streamlining of expenditures which would have a positive impact on job creation.
The multiplier effect of the HST project would contribute to strengthening of local economies. In Europe, it has been demonstrated that the HST can be an engine of growth for job creation and economic renewal. It would attract hotels, office buildings, convention centres, restaurants and other commercial and tourist activities.
During the election campaign, the finance minister acknowledged the structural erosion in Montreal and made a commitment to look for ways and means of solving this problem. He made the following diagnosis: the industrial structure of Montreal is obsolete and fragile and it is not being replaced by new, dynamic, and technologically interesting manufacturing industries. Why is it that the government does not take any action consistent with this diagnosis?
The HST would be an industrial force for Canada and Quebec. Our standard of living and our competitiveness depend on decisions we make now. We cannot sign away our future by rejecting the high-speed train or any other infrastructure project of this kind. Time is running out. If governments act right now, we will have a strategic lead on the North American high-speed train market. There are 20 projects of this type in the United States, a market estimated at more than $200 billion for the next 15 to 20 years. If we are the first on the market, our businesses will benefit from exports of technology.
The Canadian government must have a long-term vision and restart the economy by implementing innovative projects. The high-speed train seems to be a much better way to create jobs creation and increase competitiveness for a lower public investment level.
Furthermore, we must also ensure that productivity gains made by using new equipment, for example, in forestry, do not benefit only investors. These people have a right to make profits, but we must at the same time invest in tomorrow's forests, thus allowing the workers who were replaced by machines to work in tree planting, which will prevent in the medium-term stock shortages like those which fishermen are cruelly experiencing at the present time.
If we do not learn from the fisheries example, we will face the same problems in forestry 20 years from now. Above all, we will cause a serious social crisis in regions where traditional forestry communities have maintained a balance between production capacities and the growth of the forest. Given the new machinery now in use, other means must be developed to counterbalance the increase in production, or tree felling, through adequate forestation techniques. A skilled workforce is ready to take over such trades, but these people will never enrol in high-technology training programs. They are qualified for forest jobs, which I think we should provide them with.
Canada's slow recovery from the recession is also indicative of the inability of the federal system to face the increasingly deep changes sweeping the global economic order. Jurisdictional conflicts, overlap and duplication, and bureaucratic centralization all contribute to our slow responses and to the inefficiency of the measures taken. Think of the infrastructure program! I agree that this program is very good in itself, but when it takes three governments to decide whether or not a stretch of sidewalk should be laid in a village, I think efficiency is definitely lacking.
On top of jurisdictional conflicts, unemployment is a problem which is even more apparent to me on my riding tours. The unemployed need training programs, but the whole array of programs confuses them, not for lack of the required brochures, not because civil servants neglect their jobs, but because too many governments play a part in this jungle, and we have not really developed the tools which would allow us to reach the unemployed in serious need of adequate training programs.
There are 1.5 million unemployed in Canada, but only some 600,000 available jobs. That imbalance stems from the system's inability to adapt rapidly to emerging manpower needs.
Moreover, Canada has not solved its regional disparity problem, in spite of all the efforts made during the last 30 years: federal-provincial agreements, federal economic intervention in provincial fields of jurisdiction, and grant programs. Again last week, the whole issue of regional development in Canada came up once more, because we turned away from real solutions, which require assigning responsibilities, powers and the appropriate level of government's ability to tax.
The problem has not been not solved since the solution lies in deep structural changes which have yet to be settled after 30 years of constitutional debate. Some will say that Canadians do not want to hear about the Constitution. However, they want to put an end to the personal difficulties encountered by those unemployed individuals searching for jobs, whom they meet everyday. It is for us to propose solutions. Social program reform is part of the same logic that brought about the disastrous conditions we are experiencing today.
To conclude, I feel that the government should learn from the past. In order to allow his country to emerge from the Great Depression of the thirties, President Franklin Roosevelt did not hesitate to look for new ways to restore confidence among Americans. He undertook important programs, such as the one in the Tennessee Valley, which restored the confidence of the American people. Essentially, one only needs to have the
political will and the necessary vision to put Quebecers and Canadians back to work.
To build a society, one needs the participation of all human resources and a revolutionary change in attitudes and practices in order to allow each segment of this society to build its development on its strengths.
The present government was not elected to act as the steward of Canada. It was elected to turn things around and to give to Quebecers and Canadians a sense of pride in their achievements. There is still time to act.