Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on the prebudget report. Naturally, I support the Bloc's dissenting opinion expressed in the report of the Standing Committee on Finance entitled "The 1997 Budget and Beyond: Finish the Job".
This government has made unprecedented cuts in health, social assistance and higher education, but we still have double digit unemployment. Compared to the 1989 employment situation, we are still 925,000 jobs short. The federal government is forcing the jobless onto welfare and forcing the provinces to make the most difficult choices in its place. We will recall that Liberals ran on a platform of "jobs, jobs, jobs".
Today, three years into the Liberal government's mandate, the unemployment rate, at more than 10 per cent, remains outrageously high, roughly double the American rate. We must recognize that, in the area of employment, this government's record is poor. I watched, last night, the Prime Minister's interview on the CBC. Several questions were about Canada's high unemployment rate. We heard accounts of the hardship individuals and families are going through across Canada today. The CBC itself just announced job cuts affecting more than 1,000 people.
It should be pointed out that the cost of high unemployment has become huge, totalling some $91 billion a year. This figure, taken from a study conducted by the Department of Human Resources Development, includes the costs of lost productivity and crime, health costs and all the social costs associated with an employment crisis.
One of the social costs associated with the situation the jobless are in is malnutrition, which can result in chronic illness. Unemployment can also cause severe stress in some individuals, as well as mental disorders, alcoholism, suicide, accidents and heart disease.
These social and health problems associated with unemployment represent additional costs to the federal government. In the end, the taxpayers have to foot the bill for this increase in costs. We find ourselves in a situation where not only citizens are provided with fewer and fewer services by the government, but they are paying more and more taxes.
I agree with eliminating the deficit and putting the federal government's financial house in order. But I disagree with the way the government is going about it. They are penalizing the unemployed, welfare recipients, seniors, immigrants and the most disadvantaged in our society, while at the same time protecting and favouring the wealthy.
More than five million Canadians are living below the poverty line, including more than 1.5 million children. I should point out that 1996 was designated International Anti-Poverty Year by the United Nations. Yet, poverty is growing in Canada.
The government tells us that fighting poverty, particularly among children, is one of its priorities. Let us not forget, however, that the federal government's Canada social transfer cuts have increased poverty among children and adults alike. This indicates that the government's choices are not consistent with the objectives of employment and fairness that it claims to be pursuing.
I also condemn once again the decision to use accumulated surpluses in the employment insurance fund to reduce the deficit. The government is reducing its deficit by about $5 billion every year by dipping into this fund, to which only workers and employers contribute so they can have a social safety net.
By reducing the accessibility and duration of benefits, the federal government deprives a considerable number of claimants from money they have already paid into the fund. This is a disgrace.
The situation will get worse as of January 1, 1997, with the implementation of new drastic unemployment insurance measures. The unemployed and their families will have a rough winter.
The Liberal majority report mentions that the technical committee on corporate taxation will only submit its report by the end of 1997. This committee is not at all impartial. Indeed, it is made up of experts from the private sector whose role is to provide advice to major corporations on how to pay the smallest amount of tax possible. Some of these members are clearly in a conflict of interest.
The government has shown that it has a soft spot for major corporations. These are almost unaffected by cuts made to improve the state of public finances. By contrast, the federal government cuts into social programs and targets workers' rights. The only protection for wage earners is their right to collective bargaining,
particularly under the Canada Labour Code. However, this right has been violated by the government on a number of occasions.
In the dispute opposing Canadian International and the Canadian Auto Workers union, the CAW, the government once again sided with the employer. The labour minister unduly interfered in the union's internal affairs. It bypassed the action of CAW's democratically elected leaders by exerting unwarranted pressure and threatening to invoke some obscure section of the Canada Labour Code to force them to hold a vote on major wage concessions.
A duly signed collective agreement is in effect between the parties. For political reasons, and to favour Canadian International, a western company whose head office is in Calgary, the government resorted to political interference and forced the union to hold a vote. I hope this government will have the courage to demand from Canadian International officials a restructuring plan that will protect the jobs of its 16,000 employees.
I want to salute the courage of CAW's leaders, who stood up to the company and to the government. I also condemn the unjust attacks in this House by the leader and the reform members against this union, and particularly against its president, Buzz Hargrove, who is defending the legitimate interests of those of his members employed by Canadian International. These employees have already taken several pay cuts to keep this airline afloat.
As for the overhaul of the taxation system for corporations and for individuals, the government does not seem to be in any hurry. It does, however, seem to be in quite a rush to reduce UI benefits and transfer payments to the provinces for health, higher education and social assistance.
The federal government must clean up its own act and reduce its own spending. There are still too many examples of taxpayers' money being wasted or used inefficiently. This is why, year after year, the auditor general criticizes billions in unnecessary spending, and tax loopholes.
For over three years now, the Bloc Quebecois has been condemning family trusts and tax havens. It has been calling for an overhaul of the Canadian corporate taxation system. Federal tax revenue from corporate taxation has dropped considerably in the last 30 years, going from 23 per cent in 1961 to 9 per cent in 1995.
In addition, Canada is one of the G-7 countries where corporations pay the least tax. Its taxes are also well below the average for OECD countries. The same also holds for Quebec. The tax rate on profits is lower than elsewhere. The impact of federal cutbacks on Quebec is substantial. These cuts are reflected in a major shortfall in revenue for this province, estimated at $16.3 billion for the period from 1982-83 to 1995-96.
Quebec will suffer cuts totalling $636 million in 1996-97 and $1.2 billion in 1997-98. If the federal government had not offloaded its deficit since the early 1980s, Quebec would now have a balanced budget.
These federal cuts dramatically reduce the resources available to the Quebec government to pay for the social programs its population needs. I want to take this opportunity to condemn the attitude of a government that has laid off 45,000 employees in the federal public service. And for many years, it has refused to increase the salaries of its remaining employees.
I hope that the upcoming negotiations with the Public Service Alliance of Canada will lead the government to grant reasonable salary increases. In March 1997, the Public Service Alliance of Canada's 135,000 members will start their negotiations with Treasury Board. For six years, salaries have been frozen, there have been cuts in service and a huge reduction in the number of employees. They are asking for wage increases, the introduction of wage equity, reinstatement of the guidelines on workforce adjustment, employee training, and so forth.
I would also like to say a few words about the incredible salaries of business leaders, salaries we can only dream of.
The president of a large company earns more than the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. They make at least $300,000 or $400,000 a year, in addition to all their other advantages. And these advantages are often considerable: stock options, production bonuses and premiums, social benefits, and so forth.
I would like to give a few examples of well-heeled executives, and that is an understatement. The president of the National Bank, Mr. Bérard, takes home an annual salary of $1.4 million, while his counterpart at the CIBC had a salary of $1.83 million in 1995. Laurent Beaudoin, the president of Bombardier, earned a total of $19.1 million, one of the highest compensation packages in the country. This $19.1 million includes a salary of $900,000, a bonus of $525,000 and $17.5 million in profits on options. The former president of Bombardier, Raymond Boyer, received an annual salary of $7 million, including $5.9 million in profits on options.
Frank Stronach, founding president of Magna International, made $47.2 million in 1995, including option profits worth $32.3 million. Gérald Pencer of Cott Corporation received $13 million, including option profits worth $12.5 million. David Walsh of Bre-X Minerals Ltd. got $10 million, all in stock options.
There are more heads of companies who earned very attractive salaries, often more than $1 million per year. These include William Doyle and Charles Childers of Potash Sales Ltd.; Pudy Crawford at Imasco; George Petty, Repap Enterprises Inc.; James Dougham of Stone Consolidated Corporation; Larry Solari of Domtar, and so forth.
According to a study of 268 corporations whose shares are traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the presidents and CEOs received an average salary of $776,000 last year. This is an increase of 32 per cent over 1993 and 12.6 per cent over 1994.
These incredible salaries are huge, compared with the earnings of those who work for the minimum wage, which varies between $5 and $7 per hour, depending on the province. These differences are out of all proportion.
The extremely high salaries of heads of companies are also a strange contrast with the social conditions of the unemployed and welfare recipients. While the first group lives in luxury, the second is working very hard just trying to find ways to survive each day.
This government's first priority should be to shrink the huge abyss separating the richest and the poorest. This concern must always be taken into account when difficult choices are made about reducing the deficit. The government must have the courage to ask the upper strata of society to make a little effort to help reduce the debt. This in turn would mean that fewer Canadians and Quebecers would be living in abject poverty.
On December 1, I held a brunch with the theme of social solidarity in my riding of Bourassa. More than 300 persons attended. They came from very poor backgrounds, community organizations, the Montreal North AQDR, business and unions. The subject was sharing the wealth and protecting workers and social benefits.
We had distinguished speakers. Clément Godbout, the president of the FTQ, spoke of workers' rights, as did Monique Simard, and Jean Campeau, a former Quebec minister of finance. I discussed the issue of social solidarity and the solidarity of the people of Quebec.
I invited the federal government to use this solidarity to revive the economy and especially to create jobs. The speakers also criticized the huge profits of Canadian banks: over $6 billion for the six main banks.
On the other hand, cuts are being made to welfare, unemployment insurance, the system of subsidies, and so on. Things are tough. On the eve of Christmas, many people will be unable to buy gifts and to partake in the festivities.
In closing, I would first like to wish Merry Christmas to all my constituents in Montreal North and to the people, immigrants, seniors, young people and those hardest hit especially.