That this House denounce the will of the federal government to restrict the provinces to the role of mere consultant by imposing on them new national standards for all social programs through the introduction of the Canada Social Transfer, which will enable the federal government to interfere even more in such areas as health, post-secondary education and social assistance, all of which come under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
Mr. Speaker, this motion is presented by the official opposition as part of a very important debate that started recently with the tabling of Bill C-76 by the federal government.
We are accustomed to seeing all sorts of things in politics, but I must say that in this case, the discrepancy between what the government says and what is actually going on is beyond belief.
Last Sunday, at a meeting of the provincial wing of the federal Liberal Party in Trois-Rivières, the Prime Minister made an extremely aggressive speech-and this is an understatement, considering the tone and the content of what he said-in which he accused the present Government of Quebec of ignoring the acute poverty problems of Quebec. The Prime Minister based this accusation on the fact that Quebec has a very substantial level of poverty, borne out by the announcement the week before that more than 800,000 people in Quebec were living on welfare.
The Prime Minister exclaimed, to the sound of thunderous applause by his supporters, that the Government of Quebec was to blame, the government of Mr. Parizeau who was so obsessed with the referendum question on sovereignty that he ignored his basic duty which was to deal with the issue of poverty in Quebec.
Personally, as I listened to the news Sunday night on television, I had the impression that I was watching an arsonist accusing firefighters of doing a poor job, because in this particular case, the government that is most at fault, a government that, since it came to power, has been totally aggressive in its treatment of the vulnerable and unemployed members of our society, a government that has done more than any other to aggravate poverty in Canada and Quebec especially, since Quebec is still part of Canada and is still in a position to be treated this way by the Canadian federal system, by decisions that are made in Ottawa, that government has hit hardest at the unemployed.
We had an election campaign in which the Liberal Party of Canada very skilfully read the mood of the people and realized that Canadians and Quebecers had serious concerns about jobs, maintaining social programs and maintaining the federal government's contribution to the implementation of its own programs. The Prime Minister managed to get elected on the basis of three words, which were always the same: jobs, jobs, jobs. All this is in the so-called red book which contains the Liberal government's promises.
However, for some time now there have been no more references to the red book. I remember that during the first year we were here in the House, practically every speech by a Liberal minister or member ended with an enthusiastic reference to the Liberal Party's commitments in the red book. The red book has now become invisible. All we have now is a black list of social program commitments abdicated by the Liberal government.
The facts are there. The figures are eloquent and irrefutable. What has this government done to alleviate the problems created by poverty? What has it done? In fact, every action taken in the budget, every policy is aimed at aggravating the situation.
Let us go back to the beginning. In January 1994, the Liberals tabled Bill C-3 which extended the ceiling on equalization payments, so that the provinces would receive $1.5 billion less during the next five years. We have no figures for this year, but experience has shown that when equalization payments are cut, Quebec has to pick up at least 40 per cent of the slack.
There is more. This was a good start, but there is more. In February 1994, the federal government's first budget did what? It started by cutting $5.5 billion at the expense of the unemployed, which means the UI system had to do without $5.5 billion, while an additional $2 billion was cut at the expense of welfare recipients and the education system, all in the same 1994 budget for the years 1994-95 to 1996-97.
Furthermore, according to an internal document of the Department of Human Resources Development, in 1995-96, Quebec alone will be stuck with 31 per cent of the cuts in unemployment insurance benefits made in the Liberals' first budget. This is stage two of the federal Liberal plan to aggravate the situation of the poor and the vulnerable in our society.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we come to the February 1995 budget, a federal budget carved out with a really sharp axe. It reduced program funding transferred to the provinces by an additional $7 billion, and this translates into a reduction in benefits for people on welfare, for students and the sick. In addition, funding for the unemployment insurance system was cut by another $700 million. You may say that is quite a sum. I just hope that enough is enough. But no, I do not think that the Liberals will stop at
that, because one group has not been hit hard enough in their opinion, and that is seniors.
Obviously, in this case, they realize how sensitive the issue is, that it is particularly despicable and that they are walking a fine line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Nevertheless, they will not hesitate to make the move because they have already announced it. They said in the February 1995 budget that they were going to re-examine the old age pension plan. Who could be so naive as to think that a government which has done nothing but cut social programs since it came to power will actually increase old age pensions when it scrutinizes that program? Nobody.
Therefore, why the review if they are not going to increase pensions? The answer is quite clear. They are reviewing them in order to axe them. Obviously, old age pensions will not be spared by the Liberals, who realize that after cutting funding for the sick, recipients of welfare and students, another potential target for cuts remains: pensioners.
They accuse me of demagogy. But, after citing all those facts and figures, I challenge any Liberal member to stand in front of me and deny even by one iota what I have just said, because I have just given a truthful rendition of the Liberals' actions. It is recorded in the public accounts, it is written in the reports to the House. It is part of the harsh, day-to-day reality of all those who suffer the consequences of this reprehensible attitude towards social programs.
I regret that the government decided to hit old age pensions. It is obvious that the government is initiating a far-reaching operation, but it will encounter an opposition blockade when push comes to shove.
At any rate, they have already cut the net income of seniors by $500 million through the tax increase they imposed on them in the 1994 budget. And the same Prime Minister leading the same government stepped up to the microphone one fine Sunday at the end of April in Trois-Rivières in Quebec, in an area hard hit by this problem, to say to hundreds of people frantically waving small Canadian flags that the Government of Quebec and the sovereignists are to blame for this.
Quebec is not yet a sovereign state. Our current state of affairs and all of our problems and social traumas are the federal regime's doing.
To refresh the memory of Liberal members, the truth is that for the next three years, if we add up all of the cuts contained in the last two budgets, Quebec will be deprived of close to $10 billion in social program financing for those years. It will be deprived of $9.7 billion, I repeat, $9.7 billion. That is what the arrival of the federal Liberals in Ottawa has brought.
We can look at all of this in terms of percentages, one simple figure to sum up the past 15 years. We all well know that the federal government has justified its existence and seen its role in relation to its contribution to social programs for a long time now. This used to be one of the federal regime's good points, which, we recognize, helped to make this country more civilized and a place in which wealth was more evenly shared and the less fortunate were treated with compassion. But for 15 years now, this has no longer been the case and the government has been moving away from these principles at a dizzying pace.
Take Quebec for example. In 1980, the federal government's share in funding for Quebec's social programs was close to 50 per cent. In 1997, the government's share will be only 28 per cent. This represents a drop of close to half of its contribution, an amount that will continue to shrink because we know that the federal government is leaning towards withdrawing its share of funding for programs, although they are essential.
Figures do not lie. We are talking about statistics, amounts of money, resources and percentages. And other figures are so much more telling, more dramatic: they are about people. In the end, it is not a matter of things being left up in the air, of things being left at a level of an academic discussion or of things not going beyond debate in the House. No, in the end, it is a matter of people getting it in the neck, and this is what the Liberals do not understand. But they used to understand, and that was one of the grand traditions of the Liberal Party, which set it apart from the Conservative Party and from the Reform Party. Now, they are all one and the same, because it means nothing to them anymore. They forget, for example, that, in Quebec, since the Liberals came to power, the number of people on welfare has increased by 53,590. Almost 54,000 more people now live on social assistance in Quebec since the arrival of the Liberals.
We are well aware that the new social assistance recipients, those new people on the welfare rolls, come from the ranks of the 40 percent of former UI claimants whose benefits were cut off. This too is one of the fine achievements of the Liberal Party in Ottawa. Not only did they reduce unemployment insurance benefits, they raised unemployment insurance contributions. What is more, they tightened restrictions so that fewer and fewer people can access UI benefits. Conclusion: people have stayed on welfare.
When the Prime Minister, whom I might call the social arsonist, arrives in Trois-Rivières and blames the Government of Quebec for the increase in poverty, there is no doubt in our minds that he is the one responsible for the growing numbers on the welfare rolls through his hateful restrictions. The Prime Minister of Canada is turning people into welfare cases.