Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to the budget brought down yesterday by the Minister of Finance. I want to take this opportunity to inform the public that although the Minister of Finance promised to do something about the debt and tax reform when he brought down this budget, he failed to keep his promise.
Yesterday, the Minister of Finance started his budget speech by identifying Canada's two major problems. First, the Quebec referendum and second, the debt. Upon reading the budget I have to conclude that the Minister of Finance is only considering Canada's problems. Of course Quebec seems to be a problem for Canada. What is the Minister of Finance doing and what has the federal government been doing for the past 20 or 25 years? The federal government considered the problem, looked at it, examined it, thought about it, but did nothing to resolve it.
This is somewhat the case with the debt as well. For 25 years, finance ministers have been looking at the debt. Both Liberal and Conservative ministers, including Mr. Lalonde, Mr. Wilson and Mr. McEachen have had a look at it. Each one has said, "It is really too bad, we spend more in Canada than what we earn. It is too bad. We should reduce the deficit. We must reduce the debt". And if we take a look at the tables, we see that Canada's debt has been growing for the past 20 to 25 years. We looked at the tables produced by the Minister of Finance following his budget, and the debt continues to grow.
So Canada is looking at its debt problem as it is looking at the problem of Quebec, at what for it is the problem of Quebec. I think that one of Canada's greatest weaknesses is that it looks at its problems, but never resolves them.
There is another problem in Canada as well, which the minister has failed to identify. It is a problem he raised in many speeches during the elections-the problem of jobs, the problem of unemployment. During the elections, Liberal Party material spoke of jobs, jobs, jobs. Today, there is no more talk of jobs, the word is debt, debt, debt and cut, cut, cut. The problem of the unemployed is far from the mind of the Minister of Finance.
Looking at my own region, my city, my riding, an industrial area which has been under direct attack for about ten years, all the restructuring, modernization of businesses, new technology, have left unemployed people who had worked for big business for years, earning average or even above average salaries. These people have been unemployed for a year for a lack of specific policies to help them get retrained. Now they are turning to welfare.
This budget contains nothing for the unemployed. It contains absolutely nothing to give them hope for the future. There is indeed talk of possibly reforming unemployment insurance while at the same time cutting the program by 10 per cent. There is also talk of reform providing for the unemployed to train for new jobs.
This seems to be a roundabout way of presenting minister Axworthy's famous unemployment insurance reform, a two-tiered unemployment insurance system, what someone in my region described as generous UIC and miserly UIC. Some people in Canada will have to make do with the miserly version of UIC. When I look at the finance minister's budget, it is these people I think of. What is new in this budget for the unemployed, persons on welfare, fully trained young people trying to find jobs?
Training is not the issue for young people. For young people, it is a point of fact: they are trained in leading edge technologies. Take the young people trained in technical fields at the Jonquière CEGEP, for example, they have been trained in every advanced technical area. These people should not have any trouble finding jobs because they are competent and have all the necessary training. But they cannot find jobs. Why not? Because there are no jobs.
There is no work for people looking for it. Even to restore employment to levels we had before the economic crisis, we would have to create 400,000 jobs in Canada. With those jobs, we will find ourselves where we were three years ago, and furthermore, this does not include newcomers on the job market.
I was surprised when the Minister of Finance said that Canada's two biggest problems were Quebec and the debt and that he did not mention unemployment.
Now to the budget: what is the verdict? This morning's papers ran stories on people who are happy and who say the economy will finally have room to breathe. That was the title of an editorial from La Presse . Before the budget, people were saying that these were hard times, that Canada was on the road to bankruptcy and that its credit rating was going to be downgraded. After the budget, people are now saying that things have improved, and accounting associations have given the Minister of Finance a mark of 80 per cent. Therefore, all is well. But who is telling us that this is because of the budget?
Big business, banks and brokerage houses that sell Canadian bonds, in fact, all of the people who gain from the system. They are well paid and work in a sector where the economy is well developed: the financial sector. While this sector often does not generate much wealth, it plays with it, taking a cut from it in passing. Those people are happy.
Two insights into this comment. Firstly, these people are happy because they see that the budget contains a solution to the debt problem. Curiously, a budget that appears to close certain debt-related gaps is enough to make the other problem-that Quebec is one of Canada's major problems and may scare off potential investors-disappear. They are not saying that Canada has succeeded in solving the Quebec problem, but that Quebec is simply no longer a problem. That is something I have noted.
What do ordinary taxpayers think about the budget? I have the impression that they simply feel relieved because they avoided major cuts this time. Of course, they will pay a little more for gas. Dairy producers in Quebec will see their subsidies reduced, by $2,000 or $3,000 in some cases. It is still a significant amount. Some taxpayers may have to pay a little more in taxes but, in general, taxpayers feel that they have avoided the worst.
But what about all the others, those who have been forgotten, that I mentioned earlier, those looking for jobs or trying to improve their socio-economic status in Canada? Those people are not praising the budget in newspaper headlines. They are not heard. They are silent.
In the last few years, Canada's major newspapers, whether in Quebec or in English Canada, have been paying significantly less attention to those people than they did in the 1970s. Probably because owners have succeeded in selling a little more their philosophy that the state should intervene less and less and let the disadvantaged and less fortunate in society fend for themselves.
This philosophy has spread to the newspapers where everyone has good things to say about the budget. Where are the budgets that used to take care of the less fortunate without excessive spending? This is not done anywhere in this budget.
And there are other things that must not be forgotten. We must not forget that, according to the Minister of Finance, this budget was aimed in a way at restructuring Canada to a certain extent through decentralization. They said that Canada was too centralized, that it was too costly, that they wanted to shift some responsibilities to the provinces.
They are transferring certain things to the provinces. In the next two years, they will transfer $7 billion to the provinces for health, education and social assistance. We note, however, that they are not really decentralizing but rather transferring problems. This is not a transfer following negotiations in good faith on restructuring Canadian federalism.
More importantly, this budget will not bring about tax reform. RRSP provisions will be tightened a bit. The large corporations tax rate will rise from 0.2 per cent to 0.225 per cent, which amounts to only $145 million. The surtax on profits will go up from 3 per cent to 4 per cent, which represents $350 million over three years. There will be a temporary tax on banks.
A tax which will raise about $100 million total, from all banks, when the Royal Bank of Canada alone turned profits of $1.2 billion this past year. What is $100 million as compared to the aggregate of all bank profits? Peanuts.
Why does the Minister of Finance come up with such a measure, a proposal which is almost insulting to those who pay taxes? Actually, I think this may well have to do with the public perception of a shockingly low level of taxation. Next year, the banks will again turn huge profits. Given the current interest rates and the streamlining efforts of the past three or four years, banks stand to make huge profits. So, you can expect more hoopla in the press. What will the Minister of Finance have to say? He will be able to say: "But we did impose a temporary tax on them, a special tax to bring in $100 million". That is one hundred million dollars in taxes on profits perhaps as high as $10 billion.
That is a mere one per cent. It is somewhat insulting to those who often have to pay as much as 40 or 50 per cent of their incomes in taxes. Of course, they are probably among the wealthy.
The fact of the matter is that the budget before us has not put our fiscal house in order as it should have. The tax shelter issue remains unresolved, as do the ones raised on the French television network newscast Téléjournal , last week, where the situation of two individuals earning $100,000 was compared. One hundred thousand dollars is not peanuts. These are wealthy people. The salaried worker would pay $40,000 to $43,000 in taxes every year, while the self-employed person earning just slightly less, thanks to all kinds of tax loopholes and tricks, and with deductions for children, would end up paying $22,000 in taxes.
When Canadians see things like that-even though they often have little sympathy for those who earn $100,000-when they compare the two situations, they realize that there is something wrong with our tax system.
Consequently, we feel that this budget is unacceptable because it does not include a major tax reform.
Let us now turn to the debt. Again, it would be one thing if there were some concrete results, but such results are not obvious. The Minister of Finance, who is not making whimsical predictions, currently estimates that the debt will be somewhere around $500 billion this year, and that it will reach about $603 billion in three years. Therefore, regardless of what the minister does, the debt will increase by another $100 billion. The interests on that debt will increase from $42 to $50 billion. As well, the deficit will remain around $24 billion in 1996-97.
So, the government talks about reducing the debt, but Canadians who are watching, and who may be prepared to make sacrifices, cannot help but think: "Sure, but the debt is still there. It will still grow. We will still have to pay high interest rates on it". Where is the improvement?
Canadian taxpayers will be even more sceptical when they find out what these assumptions are based on. These forecasts are based on the prediction that the economy will continue to grow after 1997. Therefore, the debt will continue to rise even if the economy is doing well or continues to do well over the next three years.
The budget also forecasts interest rates. I am a little surprised to see the Minister of Finance forecast interest rates two years in advance when he often fails to forecast accurately two months in advance. Whatever. Nevertheless, the budget does have to contain some numbers to make it look scientific and serious.
There is another issue that is probably scandalous and that, in my opinion, will floor the average person who ponders the issue and that is that they predict a drop in the rate of job creation. This year, it will be about three per cent; next year, it will only be about two per cent.
They forecast an unemployment rate of around 9.4 per cent. That is no low rate. In fact, 9.4 per cent represents only the unemployed workers who are included in the survey, but many of them are not. This means that regions like mine will again face real unemployment rates of 15, 16 or 17 per cent.
The budget tabled by the Minister of Finance offers no comfort to those who want to work to support themselves and their families.
I have two last points to make. This budget does not offer solutions to the debt problem. Why not? Perhaps because the budget is based on a number of assumptions, which do not take into account the Bank of Canada's potential influence on the monetary policy.
Many financial players say that making the monetary policy more flexible would stimulate the economy by reducing interest rates so that people could invest in and revitalize the business sector. In an approach that I would describe as doctrinaire, the Minister of Finance refuses to make any change to the monetary policy, in spite of the fact that there is no inflation, so to speak, in Canada. So, it would be time to cut some slack in that area to give the economy a chance.
I will conclude on this. I suggest there is another solution that we, Quebec sovereignists, could bring about. We think Canada is in need of economic restructuring. I think that Quebec's achievement of sovereignty, which will no doubt happen within a few years, will provide a welcome opportunity to restructure the economy, start over based on new presuppositions, review our policies and build on new bases.
For all the foregoing reasons, I will be voting against the budget.