Mr. Speaker, today will be my first speech in this House as the new Leader of the Official Opposition. I imagine hon. members will be interested to know where the member for Roberval will be coming from.
Let me reassure the House, first of all, that I intend to continue the tradition of respect and deference for the institution. Above all else, we in the official opposition want to contribute towards raising the level of the debate. We look forward to a debate that is calm and respectful of the rules of this House, in the same democratic spirit that has always characterized the Bloc Quebecois, even when addressing its fundamental opposition to this country. We expect and look forward to seeing the same respect and a similar spirit among our colleagues opposite and of course among the members of the third party.
I may add that while we will undoubtedly represent the interests of Quebec, we also intend to promote and defend the interests of Canada as a whole, as we have done for the past two years. We will do this systematically, case by case. In other words, although mindful of our roots, we are the official opposition and we willingly accept a role that goes well beyond the party line.
Yesterday when we heard the speech from the throne read by the Governor General of Canada, we had the distinct impression the government does not realize something has changed profoundly in Canada since the Quebec referendum on October 30.
Since then, the final outcome of that battle has led many Canadians to see the sovereignty of Quebec as inevitable. The reactions of Canadians to that event were at times diametrically opposed to those of their leaders.
We saw our English speaking fellow citizens getting together to form new interest groups such as Dialogue Canada, British Columbians for Canada, Canadians Together and Civitas Canada.
Their members meet to discuss ways to define a new Canada, often without Quebec. The reactions of political leaders, however, have been immature and sometimes inconsistent. Verbal overkill and aggressive language have reached heights never equalled in the history of a country that has enjoyed such a long tradition of democracy. We saw ministers contradict each other, even today. We even heard a new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs mention the partition of Quebec as a possibility.
We saw a good example of the conciliatory approach in a recent statement by Ovide Mercredi, the Chief of the First Nations, who in no uncertain terms condemned the remarks of the Minister of Indian Affairs, and I quote:
"The minister of Indian affairs does not speak for the Indian people when he raises the spectre of violence. I take great exception to that. He had no business to heighten the tension between us and the people of Quebec".
At the same time he launched an appeal for a dialogue with Quebecers and the government of Quebec. That is the kind of consistent approach this government has sadly lacked during the past few weeks.
However, one would expect our leaders to set a premium on wisdom and calm, especially the Prime Minister, who now seems unable to control either his ministers or his own actions. We on this side of the House draw some consolation from the fact that English Canada does not resemble its leaders and has shown it understands what is really at stake: the need for coexistence of the two peoples.
The inevitability of Quebec's sovereignty is only a first step. For us in the Bloc Quebecois, sovereignty is as unavoidable as partnership is desirable in the interests of Canada and Quebec. We know that partnership implies respect for the other partner and it is that new wisdom we would like to see demonstrated on the part of the government.
The inevitability of Quebec's sovereignty is only a first step. For us in the Bloc Quebecois sovereignty is as unavoidable as partnership is desirable in the interests of Canada and Quebec. We know that partnership implies respect for the older partner and it is that new wisdom that we would like to see demonstrated on the part of the government.
Sovereignty and partnership are both part of the same equation and part and parcel of the strategy of the Bloc Quebecois. Meanwhile, we have a mandate to defend the interests of Quebec and condemn the inequities and injustices that are often its lot. We must not forget it was the exercise of democracy that made the Bloc Quebecois the official opposition, a status we fully intend to keep.
But what will it take for the other side of the House to start to recognize that federalism cannot be changed?
What will it take for the other side of the House to start to recognize that federalism cannot be changed?
Stéphane Dion said not long ago that the Massé Committee had A and B plans to deal with the problem of Quebec. Is he not aware of all the commissions and committees we had in the past: Laurendeau-Dunton, Pepin-Robarts, Charest-Spicer, Castonguay-Dobbie, Beaudoin-Dobbie, Beaudoin-Edwards? The federalists have had as many plans as there are letters in the alphabet. The real solution, the longlasting solution, the real plan is sovereignty for Quebec with an offer of partnership.
Following the referendum result, we have to wonder at the attitude of the Prime Minister of Canada. He has knowingly kept Canadians in ignorance of what is happening in Quebec; the increase in the number of sovereignty supporters caused in part by the dissatisfaction of Quebecers. With the federal government policies this very significant phenomenon has been concealed by the Prime Minister.
This refusal to explain the situation clearly to Canadians during the referendum campaign largely explains English Canada's reactions now.
The Prime Minister acted like nothing had happened in this country in the past 15 years, as if he himself had not had a major role in the course of events. He is, however, an integral part of Canada's problem; he seems to have forgotten that. Maybe he was not involved in the unilateral patriation of 1982. But he was one of the signatories as we well know. Maybe he did not speak out on the Meech Lake accord, but he was one of those who helped bury it. Maybe he played no part in the Charlottetown referendum; except that we know he did everything possible to reduce Quebec's share in this agreement, which was rejected. And, while we are at it, maybe there was no referendum in Quebec. Maybe the surveys are not indicating that support for sovereignty continues to rise.
This irresponsible attitude coupled with the deplorable prevarication so ably exemplified by the Minister of Canadian Heritage in her remark to the effect that it was the fault of the separatists that the unemployed were demonstrating all across the country. Any unemployed individual in the Prime Minister's way deserves to be grabbed by the throat, as are all the unemployed as the result of the minister's reform. In any case, it is always the fault of the separatists, and for the Deputy Prime Minister this justifies all actions.
We can only hope that cabinet pulls itself together and returns to an analysis of the situation that considers what is really going on.
Until Quebec becomes sovereign, we will play by the rules, especially because it is our best interest to have our future partner in optimum political and economic health. The fact that Canada's economic health is of concern to us is in large measure due to the actions of the present government, which, in 1993, made firm and specific commitments it subsequently failed to keep for the most part. Had it done so, our economy would have grown, but it did not. Two years later, let us have a look at what the government did with its own commitments, those in the red book and those in the first throne speech.
Quebecers and Canadians thought there was hope when the Liberals undertook in their red book to, and I quote, "-redistribute opportunity more broadly so that many more people have a decent standard of living and can build good lives for themselves and their families, allowing them to live with dignity and respect-". Yet, with the first Liberal budget, barely a few months after an electoral campaign waxing passionately over the disadvantaged, our fellow citizens were blown away.
The Minister of Finance announced up front that he was going to cut $5.6 billion from the unemployment insurance program. Last fall, he added to that by introducing into this House Bill C-111, commonly and cynically known as the employment insurance bill. It too provides for major cuts in funding to those who are or could become the victims of this scourge of underemployment.
Never once, during the electoral campaign, in the fall of 1993, or in the speech from the throne was there any hint that the fight against the deficit would involve humiliating those in need, who are trying desperately to avoid abject poverty.
Quebecers and Canadians did not suspect that, when the government said it wanted to achieve sustained economic growth by counting on human resources, it meant that it would, through Bill C-111, launch an attack against the unemployed now and in the future, as no Canadian is immune from this plague.
No one suspected that Quebecers and Canadians would face a substantial increase in the number of weeks of work required to qualify for benefits, that this government would drastically reduce the level of benefits, or that it would force tens of thousands of households onto welfare in the next three years.
This government did not make a commitment to attack women. Yet, women are the big losers of this reform. It did not make a commitment to rob the UI fund-to which the federal government
stopped contributing several years ago-of its annual $5 billion surplus, which comes solely from worker and employer contributions. Yet, that is what it has done.
Few people would have believed that the Liberals who solemnly rose in this House to condemn the Tories' actions would do worse in two years than their predecessors did over two mandates. It is certainly not on that basis that the Liberals gained the trust of Canadians in October 1993.
As for the commitment to keep the deficit under control through sound management of government finances, we are far from it. They are reducing the deficit mostly by unscrupulously using UI fund surpluses and by cutting $7 billion from transfers to the provinces for health, post-secondary eduction and social assistance. In Quebec alone, these drastic cuts will translate into an additional tax burden of $650 million in 1996-97 and a $1.2 to $2 billion shortfall in 1997-98, depending on how the cuts will be distributed. If it is done based on the population, Quebec alone will sustain 40 per cent of all cuts.
On October 20, 1993, during an interview on the television program "Canada AM", the current Prime Minister had this to say about transfers to the provinces, and I quote:
"We said in our platform we do not intend to reduce the transfer payments. What I said in the program, and I intend to keep my word, is we do not intend to cut further".
In fact, budget targets are not pursued through sound management but by cutting benefits to the unemployed and transfers to the provinces.
The Minister of Finance's commitment is to limit debt growth. Our debt will exceed $600 billion this year.
As far as employment is concerned, the promises made to Canadians and Quebecers have not been kept, although the Liberals had made it the cornerstone of their election platform. But what really happened on the labour market, while Quebecers and Canadians were hearing that tune ad nauseam? Decline and stagnation.
Our economic difficulties have had serious consequences on the employment situation. In the last 12 months, only 120,000 new jobs have been created in Canada, almost four times less than the year before. Not only was employment stagnant, but participation in the labour force dropped. This situation cannot be tolerated in the long term, because it would impoverish the entire population.
In fact, Canada's unemployment rate has not budged and, if we take into account the reduction in the labour force participation rate, it has even risen by half a point. It is not the federal government but exports that drive the economy and keep it from sinking into a recession.
As for Montreal, the Liberal government did nothing to improve the situation in that area and to prevent one of the worst employment crises in its history. What did the government do to help Montreal restructure its economy? Nothing, Mr. Speaker.
Two years after the Liberals came to power, the people of Montreal are still waiting. In light of this neglectful attitude, is it any wonder that the greater Montreal area, which was to be the driving force of the Quebec economy, has the highest unemployment rate of any major urban centre in North America, or 10.1 per cent? That is unacceptable.
Is it any wonder that the labour force participation rate has dropped from 67 per cent to 63 per cent since 1989? This means that four per cent of the labour force, or 40,000 people, have given up all hope of finding a job. They do not even show up in official unemployment statistics any more, but they remain jobless, discouraged and underemployed, and are gradually being dragged into the vicious circle of poverty.
If you include those who have stopped actively seeking work since 1989 because they have given up hope, the unemployment rate in the Montreal area actually rises from 10.1 to 15 per cent. What is the federal government doing about that? Absolutely nothing. This is one more promise the Liberals have broken.
What has become of the promise to eliminate the GST? We will recall that the red book stated, on page 20, and I quote:
-the GST undermined public confidence in the fairness of the tax system.
The GST has lengthened and deepened the recession. It is costly for small business to administer and very expensive for the government to collect.
What did this government do? Nothing. What did the government do in 1993-94 to collect $6.6 billion in unpaid taxes? Nothing, or almost nothing. Only $250 million was collected on $6.6 billion in unpaid taxes. A mere $250 million amounts to almost nothing in that case.
Also, what has become of the fairer tax system we were promised? We will come back to it later because this is a very important issue that needs to be discussed further.
As for culture, we would have expected such a significant vote for a sovereignist party to bring about a more open-minded attitude toward the people and culture of Quebec. What did the government do about that? Nothing. The Canadian heritage legislation totally overlooked the existence of a Quebec culture.
The Liberals promised $1 billion would be earmarked for the science and technology policy. God knows how important it is to invest in that area, for the future of the Canadian economy and our
ability to create good steady jobs. We are still waiting. Nothing has been done.
The list goes on and, while listing all the promises this government has not kept during the first part of its mandate is certainly tedious, it is nevertheless necessary in order to see the extent to which they failed to honour their commitments. Canadians deserve to know where they stand in this regard.
The January 18, 1994, throne speech read in part, and I quote:
On October 25, 1993, Canadians chose a new Parliament and a new government. The Government has made a number of commitments to the people of Canada. They will be implemented.
That is what the last throne speech said, yet the list of commitments that were not fulfilled appears endless.
How can the people of Quebec and Canada believe in the policies and commitments set out in this speech from the throne? How could they be expected to trust a government that trampled most of its commitments underfoot? That was the government's record of unfulfilled undertakings.
Yet, some things needed to be done in the last two years. We kept saying that, to put our fiscal house in order, a tax reform was necessary, particularly as regards tax expenditures, which include all the exemptions granted to individuals and businesses.
Mr. Speaker, do you know that, in a December 1993 document on tax expenditures, the Department of Finance listed 288 tax exemptions available to businesses? The department candidly admitted that 176 of these exemptions cost over $17 billion, adding that it did not know the dollar figure for the other 112 exemptions. This is unbelievable. And what has the government done since? Absolutely nothing.
The lack of accurate information on tax expenditures compels us to demand that a review and a reform of the taxation system be undertaken. In fact, we suggested that even before this comprehensive reform the government should set a minimum tax on corporations' profits, not to unduly increase their tax burden, but to ensure that each and everyone of them makes a contribution to the Treasury.
Last December, the International Monetary Fund, which is not recognized for its social-democratic convictions, proved the Bloc Quebecois right as regards corporate taxation. The December 8 issue of La Presse provided a summary of the IMF report, which made a comparison between Canada and the other OECD countries. The article read: ``Corporate taxation represents a smaller proportion of the GDP in Canada. This leads us to believe that it may be possible to reduce some of the tax benefits granted to companies''.
Let me also say that, under my leadership, tax reform will be, in 1996, the official opposition's main target as regards public finances. We do not seek to impose an unfair tax burden on businesses. We simply want them to pay their fair share. Corporate income tax now accounts for a smaller proportion of the federal government's tax levy, while the contribution made by individual taxpayers has increased.
This means that the government is overburdening the middle classes with taxes, while also targeting the poor in order to reduce its deficit. This does not make sense. Contrary to what was said in yesterday's speech, this lack of compassion for the poor is, in the case of this government, also accompanied by a tax avoidance policy that benefits the most powerful people, this at a time when major companies are reporting record profits and laying off people.
The government's approach, which is patterned on what is being done abroad, protects the corporate tax system in the hope that large corporations will create jobs. But the fact is that, while profits are increasing, jobs are disappearing.
GM Canada reported record profits of $1.39 billion, while at the same time laying off 2,500 employees. Total profits for the five major banks reached $4.9 billion, but 2,800 jobs were cut. In 1995, Bell Canada recorded profits of $502 million, but also eliminated 3,200 jobs, this in addition to the 8,000 already lost since 1990. Petro-Canada's profits totalled $196 million in 1995, but the company eliminated 564 jobs.
In conclusion, the time has come for the government to review its analyses and its priorities, so as to ensure that all businesses do their share as regards taxation and job creation. We have no choice but to say that, in this regard, the Liberal Party's economic program is a dismal failure.
Unfortunately, in light of yesterday's speech from the throne, the government seems to be deliberately pursuing a tax avoidance policy which benefits large corporations and which even condones such practices as the use of tax havens, practices that are questionable, to say the least.
In the July 1995 issue of the trade journal of the Canadian chartered accountants-not so long ago-it was recognized that almost all of the major multinational corporations of Canada used foreign affiliates as part of their financial strategy.
In plain language, one could say that a Canadian corporation that operates a foreign affiliate under certain conditions can practically get away with paying almost no tax on the profits its affiliate made outside of Canada. However, we do have a few indicators that give us an idea of the amount of tax revenue that can be lost this way. The auditor general told us that, according to the most recent statistics, Canadian companies invest billions of dollars in non-resident corporations and that these corporations have received
hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends they do not have to report.
These tax havens, which are well known to the financial establishment, have very nice names like Barbados, Cyprus, Ireland, Liberia, the Caiman Islands et even Switzerland.
Tax havens have never been so popular. Here are some figures I hope the Prime Minister and the government will take time to consider.
According to International Privacy Corporation, a company specializing in tax havens, it deals with hundreds of Canadian clients. Moreover, of the 16,000 companies incorporated in Turks and Caicos, the majority belong to Canadian interests. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested outside Canada.
A few years back, the tax section of the Harris & Harris law firm, in Toronto, had 30 to 40 client companies set up for tax avoidance purposes. It now has more than 300.
Interestingly enough, of the 119 branches of the six major Canadian banks, 57 are operating in the West Indies, in the Cayman Islands. Over there, they have 28,000 corporations for 30,000 inhabitants. The number of companies increases by 4,000 every year.
Under these circumstances, the Minister of Finance could have a more balanced tax policy and go easy with cuts to the Canada assistance plan and established program financing. He could show some compassion, let the unemployed and the welfare recipients breathe a little easier and go after the right targets.
In 1996, in what the United Nations call the International Anti-Poverty Year, it is deplorable that the federal government chooses to go after the poor instead of tackling poverty. Given the employment crisis, this is not a good time to reduce the deficit by cutting programs for the unemployed, especially since there is a surplus in the unemployment insurance fund.
As for the shortage of jobs, the performance of the Liberals has been worse than that of the Conservatives. The rates under the Liberal government are worse than what we saw under the Conservatives. This same Liberal government has tried in almost every way to show its interest in the jobless and its commitment to job creation.
At the end of 1995 the major Canadian urban centres, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, had unemployment rates higher than that of the large American cities.
The situation in Canada is worse than anywhere else in North America. The deficit shovelling into the provinces' backyards, undertaken by the Conservatives and carried on by the Liberals, has led to an increase in welfare recipients. The number of welfare recipients in Canada went up by 800,000 between 1990 and 1994, an increase of 35 per cent. In Ontario, their number rose by 45 per cent over the last five years. To make matters worse, provinces have had to cut benefits because the federal government has reduced its transfer payments. In 1993, the Liberal Party promised to give Canadians the dignity of a job. Can you imagine that, Mr. Speaker.
What it did, really, is introduce a new poverty culture. In 1980, 16 per cent of Canadians were below the low income cut off. In 1994, 17.1 of them were, and that is more than 5 million people. Not only is poverty not declining, but the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider.
There is no improvement in sight either for those most in need, that is single parent women. In 1994, 56.4 per cent of them were below the low income cut off, a percentage that has not fluctuated for years.
As if things were not bad enough, Statistics Canada reported on January 24 that poverty is a status that is hereditary. Those who are poor have every chance of staying poor.
The feature that used to set Canada and the U.S. apart, that is our safety net, is collapsing. More and more, in both countries, poverty breeds poverty and wealth breeds wealth, and the middle class in slowly but surely sinking into poverty.
The Bloc Quebecois does not oppose social program reform. Indeed, it repeatedly reaffirmed that all social programs should be modernized, and adjusted to our way of life, to the labour market and to the economy of the 1990s.
The government has to acknowledge the consensus that has emerged in Quebec that it should be the sole policy maker as far as manpower and occupational training are concerned. This means that Quebec must regain control and administration of employment and manpower services. These matters should be under Quebec jurisdiction, unconditionally. I certainly hope the federal government will finally understand that.
That is why the official opposition asks the government to do its homework, and not reinstate Bill C-111. We think this bill is unjust, regressive, detrimental to jobs and a source of poverty. Let the government drop that bill.
Instead of cutting social programs, the Minister of Finance should turn to the national defence budget. There, he would find plenty of savings to be made. For example, the government should give up this idea of buying or leasing, at any price, submarines it has never been proven we need; it should replace only a limited number of shipborne helicopters and it should not insist on submarine warfare capability for them. In the current state of world affairs, it is a luxury we cannot afford. We could have saved $2
billion by not ordering the new armoured vehicles. That purchase was never really justified. And what about the 1,600 new anti-tank missiles, ordered at a cost of $23.6 million in an overall weapons acquisition program of $230 million. These are expenditures a government that respects its citizens could reconsider instead of cutting benefits to the unemployed.
Instead of taking money away from the unemployed and the welfare recipients, the government should review its strategy, impose a moratorium on new purchases, and allow its acquisition projects to be debated in the House so that members of Parliament can discuss them and indicate to Canadians why the government should stop pouring their money into projects of dubious importance.
In foreign affairs, the Liberal Party has, in the last two years, put an end to the very old Canadian tradition of giving top priority to human rights.
The new foreign policy statement "Canada in the World" confirms the about-face of the government which is now pursuing only its commercial interests at the expense of promoting democracy and human rights, as is shown by Team Canada's commercial missions.
From now on, human rights will come after commercial imperatives. Let me give you two examples that clearly show this new attitude on the part of the Canadian government. While in India, the Prime Minister was reminded by a young Canadian of the mass exploitation if not the enslavement of children. It is appropriate here to pay special tribute to this 13-year old Canadian, Craig Kielburger, who, by his courageous condemnation, reminded the Prime Minister that Canada's foreign policy used to promote human rights.
Everybody recognizes the importance of opening our country to international markets. Exports are the backbone of the Canadian economy. But, even when he is doing what is best, the Prime Minister has to turn everything into a show. During his trips abroad with Team Canada, the Prime Minister makes sure that human rights are well out of the spotlight and takes care to surround himself by a huge propaganda machine that streeses the form rather than the substance of the agreements. That is the lesson that the young Kielburger taught the Prime Minister.
Finally, the Bloc Quebecois will be the defender of the cultural uniqueness of Quebec. In North America, Quebec's culture is unique and must be treated as such. As communications and new information technologies become more and more important, Quebec's culture must take the place it deserves. Quebec must not be kept out of the decision-making process in this area. Yet all the powers in the area of telecommunications, which is vital to the future of Quebec's culture, are in the hands of the federal government.
Quebec must no longer be considered as a province just like any other province. The Bloc Quebecois must force the federal government to recognize Quebec's cultural uniqueness. It intends to hound the federal government until the funds allocated to francophone cultural institutions are readjusted to reflect the need to protect Quebec's culture which is constantly threatened in a mostly anglophone environment of more than 250 million people.
Right now, at the CBC, the English network receives double what the French network receives on average for one hour of production. This inequity is unacceptable and unjustified, especially considering that, in 1976-77, the average hourly cost of programming was shared equally between the two networks. Equity must be restored.
The Bloc Quebecois must also ensure that federal decisions relating to the information highway preserve the cultural uniqueness of Quebec. The federal government is giving private businesses complete freedom for defining the content of the information highway. Yet the government has certain means at its disposal for the development of a Canadian and a Quebec content in the area of radio and television broadcasting. The Bloc Quebecois must see to it that the federal government does not rob Quebec's culture of its importance by lowering it to the level of a Canadian subculture. Quebec's culture is the culture of a people, of a real people.
In its speech from the throne, the federal government has finally admitted that it has interfered, and still does, in areas under exclusive provincial jurisdiction. In the same breath, it undertakes to withdraw from certain areas and it even has the nerve to claim that it will turn over these areas of jurisdiction, which are not its own, to municipal governments or to the private sector. This is a strange way indeed of reversing policy.
This behaviour is in line with the federal government's historical tendency to mess up federal-provincial relations.
Once again, the federal government is trying to isolate Quebec, by suggesting that it could use its spending power to create new cost-shared programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. What takes the cake is that creating new programs would only require a simple majority of provinces.
Worst of all, the government is intimating that it might hold a cross-Canada referendum. It must be clearly understood that Quebecers will never let their future be settled by a Canadian referendum.
In conclusion, we believe it to be essential for the House to be presented with a plan containing the following elements. This might provide the Prime Minister with food for thought and it might steer him in the right direction. First of all, the federal government must put its fiscal house in order by reducing its expenditures and eliminating waste; re-establishing tax justice in this country, especially with regard to big corporations; implementing a true and moderate reform of social programs instead of cutting them; creating jobs, especially in the high tech sector, since Canada is the OECD country which invests the least in this area. This is incredible. Should the government be reminded that grey matter is this country's main resource?
Consequently, we want to move the following amendment to the throne speech. I move, seconded by my colleague, the House leader and member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie:
That, the following words be added to the Address: This House deplores that Your Excellency's advisers have demonstrated a lack of vision in the face of the fundamental issues confronting Quebec and Canada, such as job creation, better administration of public funds, the re-establishment of fiscal justice for all, the recognition of Montreal as the economic hub of Quebec society, the need to protect Quebec culture;
And show a lack of sensitivity toward the poor by proposing a reform of the social programs that strikes at those who are unemployed or on welfare, as well as seniors and students;
And show a total lack of understanding of the referendum results.