Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-76. For the benefit of those who are watching us at home, let me repeat that this bill deals with budget measures, notably the important issue of transfer payments to the provinces.
I would like to remind them that, when we talk about transfers to the provinces, for this past year at least, we are in fact referring to three main sets of programs. We are referring to three categories of transfers, namely those under established programs financing, which the federal government has reduced by $21 billion for 1995-96, under the equalization program, which the government has reduced by $8.87 billion, and, finally, under the Canada Assistance Plan, which the government has reduced by $7.95 billion.
It is important to remember that transfer payments to the provinces are a matter of particular importance in a federal system, since, in a federal system, the relationship between the federal government and the provinces is absolutely crucial. Whenever financial considerations are involved, we must bear in mind that a federal system is a system made up or based on three components. In any federal system, first of all, you have two main levels of government: a central government and the so-called subordinate administrations.
Depending on the particular system, these lower levels are called provinces, or landers, or cantons, but where there is a federal system, there are at least two levels of government, each of which is supposed to have sovereign authority over every areas of jurisdiction prescribed in the constitution. In the Canadian Constitution, these areas are listed in section 91. Section 91 lists the powers of the central government and section 92, the provincial areas of jurisdiction.
Finally, the last characteristic of federalism is the constitution, which is designed to delineate the respective powers of the two levels of government. Why do I feel the need to give these elements of historical background and political definition? Because, if the Canadian federal system were harmonious and responsive to the provinces, a system in which the jurisdictions established under the Canadian Constitution were respected, we would certainly not be passing or debating a bill like Bill C-76.
Why am I saying that? Because, in a federal system with two levels of government, where each level has specific responsibilities, financial equilibrium is understandably a matter of great importance. We can appreciate that, when one level of government decides unilaterally, without consulting the provinces, as this government is doing, to cutback transfer payments to the provinces, this is designed to have a destabilizing effect. We must keep in mind-and we will have an opportunity to say it again during the various debates to come-that, for all practical purposes, the federal government plans to use this bill to cut transfers to the provinces by $7 billion.
Let us recall the three programs through which funds are transferred. First, there is the Established Programs Financing for which the federal government plans to set aside $21 billion. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Established Programs Financing in place since 1977, is the government vehicle for financing health care and post-secondary education. Of course, we know
full well that, under the 1867 Constitution Act, these sectors do not come under federal jurisdiction. Yet, over time, they have interfered in these areas of jurisdiction. So the first vehicle is Established Programs Financing.
The second vehicle is very well-known because, for a very long time, the champions of Canadian federalism told us that an original feature of the system was equalization, for which the federal government plans to set aside close to $9 billion. Equalization was born shortly after World War II. We must keep in mind that this transfer system was aimed at giving all Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia access to the same range of services. Equalization saw the light of day because Canada is an impossible country, a country of regional disparities.
Because the provinces do not have the same ability to collect taxes, because they do not have access to the same resources, nor the same tax base, we decided to develop a redistribution mechanism so that funds would be redistributed from wealthier provinces with access to a broader tax base to poorer provinces.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, the equalization formula is extremely complex, involving some 40 factors, so that as we speak, since 1989, in fact, the beneficiaries of equalization have been Quebec, the Maritimes, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Again, to make it clear to those who our listening, there is a third transfer mechanism, namely the Canada Assistance Plan, which was established in 1966 and which is the solution found by the federal government to get involved in the financing of social assistance. Under the Constitution, as you know, the federal government has no business in the financing of social assistance programs in Canada; yet, it finances about 50 per cent, or half of the welfare costs of the provinces.
Why do I point this out? It is, of course, because this bill seeks to unilaterally deprive the provinces of some $7 billion.
Why did we end up with transfer mechanisms such as the established programs financing, equalization and the Canada Assistance Plan? It is because there was an imbalance between the tax resources of the federal government and the provinces. That imbalance must be viewed in an historical context. After the first and the second world war, the Federal government took advantage of the exceptional crisis situations generated by these conflicts to move into direct and indirect taxation.
In the fifties, the imbalance became very obvious to the provinces, which were considered somewhat like large municipalities. Consequently, some mechanisms had to be devised to transfer the wealth. These mechanisms are the three to which I referred earlier.
The federal government was urged to spread the wealth and therefore decided to finance sectors which did not fall under its jurisdiction. This created a situation whereby the provinces would provide services to their population with budgets allocated by the federal government. Again, it is worrisome and even catastrophic to see that the federal government now intends to unilaterally cut $7 billion in the transfers to the provinces.
Do you think that the federal government consulted the provinces to make sure that this measure would cause the least amount of prejudice? Absolutely not. The provinces found out, when the Minister of Finance tabled his budget last February, that there would be a cutback of $7 billion, that would break down as follows: in 1996-97, $2.5 billion would be cut from transfers to the provinces; and in 1997-98, something like $4.5 billion. That is the scenario we are given in Bill C-76.
If we consider Bill C-76 and, more specifically, its impact on Quebec, we realize that Quebec will have to absorb $650 million in forgone revenue for 1996-97 and $1.2 billion for 1997-98.
Even more alarming is the fact that the federal government is intervening in areas over which it has no jurisdiction. This intervention, which has continued to this day, has a long history. The provinces have, to a certain extent, remained dependent on the federal government for these transfers which were used to help develop health care and education services.
There are not many examples of federalism left in a continental country with a low population density and most of its population concentrated along the U.S. border. All of a sudden, because the federal government is in trouble, because this federal government is an impossible government, the government, with obvious contempt for federal-provincial diplomacy and oblivious to the impact that these cuts may have on transfers to the provinces and specific services provided to users, decides to cut $7 billion.
The federal government, centralist as always, has gone even further. It says: There will no more established programs financing or Canada Assistance Plan. Instead, there will be a new program called the Canada social transfer.
However, we do not know what criteria will be applied to redistribution of the amounts the CST will contain. Our position is that the Minister of Human Resources Development and the provinces will have to consider the criteria for redistribution of these funds, without necessarily being bound by an agreement.
The official opposition believes-and as you know, the official opposition's predictions tend to be very accurate-that the Minister of Finance, the hon. member for LaSalle-Émard, a Montreal member, may wish to put on the table a redistribution rule that might severely penalize Quebec. We think that redistribution of wealth might be based on population.
As several speakers have said in the House, the Minister of Finance, who has systematically refused to exclude the possibility of dividing the Canada social transfer envelope on the basis of population, may well decide that Quebec will have to absorb 41.7 per cent of the cuts in transfer payments to all provinces in Canada in 1997-98, which would mean that in 1997-98, if that is the basis on which the government intends to operate, Quebec will have to absorb not $1.2 billion but $1.9 billion in forgone revenue. And that is why the Quebec government has reacted very negatively to Bill C-76.
What is most absurd in this situation is that the federal government intervenes in the area of health. Here again, any outsider looking in the Constitution Act of 1867 or the one of 1982, to find the authority, legitimacy or jurisdiction behind the government's involvement in the field of health would be searching in vain.
But everyone knows that there is a Department of National Health in Ottawa, Health Canada, which requires about $1 billion just in order to operate, to pay the salaries of the public servants there. This figure does not include the money allocated by the Minister of Finance in his budget to run its various programs.
According to an article published last month in a learned publication there were more public servants at Health Canada than in the individual provincial departments of health.
This is not the least of the contradictions. There is a two tier structure, with the result that, even before any thought is given to transferring funds to the provinces so they can actually provide health care services to the public, funds must go to a structure that requires $1 billion simply to operate. This is the same sort of absurdity we find in the fight against AIDS.
The federal government is trying to establish a continent-wide health policy, which is impossible, because the level of administration in the best position to be effective and provide the finest and most useful service to Canadians, cannot be the government farthest removed from them. And the government farthest removed from them is the government in Ottawa.
The federal government's attempt to set up a national health policy, which aims necessarily at meeting the needs of communities from Newfoundland to British Columbia, is just as absurd as what it is doing in the fight against AIDS.
What happens when the government tries to intervene in the health field? Let us have a look at Canada's strategy in the fight against AIDS. In the early 1980s, with the appearance of this most terrible disease, which will cruelly mark the turn of the century, the government decided it should act.
Instead of using its tax leverage to mandate the provinces and transferring additional resources to them so they could be the real agents and fight AIDS intelligently, the federal government established a national strategy.
It is an extremely loose national strategy, which really lacks substance and is extremely inefficient, since we all well know that the governments of Newfouland, of Quebec, of Ontario, of Saskatchewan would have been better suited than the federal government to lead the campaign, given their expertise in the area of palliative care and health care.
The result is that the government has to maintain an extremely cumbersome administration and that situations arise like the one that arose last year. The federal government voted in its AIDS strategy, and allocated it a budget of $42 million which was not spent. The federal government, because it is the government level furthest removed from the people and because it has nothing to do with health care, is unable to deliver services in the field, and the concrete result of this is that it is not able to spend the allocated budgets approved by Parliament.
I see that this surprises government members, but it is nevertheless the case. I will conclude by saying that last year, of the $42 million that the government allocated for the AIDS campaign, only $34 million were spent, and not in the most useful ways. This is why people have gotten the impression that the federal government is not the most efficient level of government.