Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today as part of the debate on the budget announced on March 6 by the Minister of Finance.
Unlike the hon. member who spoke before me, I have no congratulations whatsoever for either the Minister of Finance or the government for a budget I find deplorable, inequitable, regressive and inhumane in a number of ways. The main victims of this third Liberal budget are the ordinary folk, the workers, the unemployed, the welfare recipients, the elderly, the immigrants, the low income families.
The other main victims are the provinces, all of the provinces, Quebec in particular, which will see their transfer payments reduced.
The massive cuts in this Liberal government's three budgets, in particular the last one, are doing great harm to the people of Canada and the people of Quebec, and in particular to the ordinary folk in my riding of Bourassa, in Montreal North. My riding contains many single parent families, many retired people, many unemployed people and many, very many, immigrants. These cuts do great harm to the 600 people who are on the Montreal North waiting list for low rental housing.
As I have said, this is an inequitable and unjust budget. The unemployment insurance reform and the reduction in transfer payments to the provinces for social assistance, health and post-secondary education have already sent shock waves through the population, and continue to do so. It is my belief that these brutal cuts may well trigger a major social crisis in this country.
There have been many demonstrations everywhere in Canada against the cuts in social programs and against the cuts in unemployment insurance, particularly in the Atlantic provinces. Everywhere in Quebec, including Montreal, Shawinagan in the Prime Minister's riding, Quebec City, the Gaspe, and in Ontario.
I believe that these brutal and inequitable cuts are coming close to the limit Canadian and Quebec society will tolerate. As we can see everywhere, the social situation is becoming increasingly explosive, particularly because people can see that the budget is unfair, that the major companies, like the banks, and the people in the upper income brackets are either not affected at all or only barely so.
Instead of the government talking with workers or organizations representing them, the Minister of Human Resources Development is directing insults and accusations at the union leaders, particularly the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the union that represents most Canadian workers, with its 2.4 million members.
On top of that, the Minister of Human Resources Development, who should be advocating dialogue among all sectors of society, is refusing to meet with the president of the CLC to discuss the cuts in social programs and the cuts to unemployment insurance.
It is incredible that the government, which is no longer contributing to the unemployment insurance fund, is making improper use of the $5 billion surplus in the unemployment insurance fund, and it is unacceptable. A number of members have said here that Quebec receives more in unemployment insurance than it contributes. I tell you that, in 1995, employers and workers in Quebec paid $4.530 billion dollars into the fund. UI claimants in Quebec received only $4.340; a difference of $195 million, which was not returned to Quebec. This, despite the fact that, for February, the rate of unemployment in Quebec was 11.3 per cent, or 414,000 workers actively seeking employment. There is no mention of those who are leaving unemployment insurance to go on welfare.
For Canada, the unemployment rate in February was 9.6 per cent, or 1,539,000 unemployed workers. That is a lot. It is scandalous. What is more, in 1995, the figure was only 1,514,000.
I was a UI referee for eight years in Montreal, and all those I met-the recipients and the lawyers-used to tell me about the need to improve-and not decimate-the UI program, which was set up under pressure from the labour movement and the workers. The Liberals are in the process of destroying this important social benefit.
When the Conservative government was in office in 1990, 87 per cent of unemployed workers were receiving benefits. In January 1996, under the Liberal government, 46 per cent of unemployed workers were receiving benefits. Less than half. That is outra-
geous. That is why the Bloc Quebecois, like the labour movement as a whole, demands that Bill C-12 be immediately withdrawn.
In this budget, we expected the government to submit a plan to revive the economy and create jobs. Yet, there is nothing of the sort in his budget, despite the Liberal Party's famous election promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs".
I take this opportunity to salute those attending the summit on the social and economic future opening tonight in Quebec City. This is a Quebec government initiative involving the participation of unions and employers, among others. I hope that the results of this summit will benefit all the people of Quebec and that those taking part will take adequate measures to revive the economy and create jobs.
One of the things that I found most shocking in this budget is that it reduces the tax benefits for labour sponsored venture capital funds. There is nothing to create jobs in this budget, which cuts moneys to the very organizations that seek organizations that seek to create and maintain jobs. These labour sponsored venture capital funds are effective tools to create jobs. Yet, the government is cutting the federal tax credit rate for these funds from 20 to 15 per cent and lowering maximum investment from $5,000 to $3,500.
There are 19 workers' funds in operation in Canada. The funds' assets amount to $2.5 billion or $3 billion. They have invested more than $850 million in the Canadian economy since they were established. In Quebec alone, the fund established by the FTQ, or Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, has helped maintain or create about 40,000 jobs. Forty thousands jobs in a single province, that is very significant.
The government claims it wants to get Canadians back to work. But why hit workers so hard, and their funds, which are used mainly to invest in small and medium size businesses? What is terribly unfair in all this is the fact that these cuts affect mostly Quebec, where half the money in these investment funds comes from.
In response to a question by the Bloc Quebecois a few days ago, the Minister of Finance said that this kind of tax incentive would be reduced, since these funds are now very well established. But it certainly is not the case with the CSN's-the Confédération des syndicats nationaux-action fund. This is a new fund, which is not yet very well established and therefore requires government support.
I worked on establishing the Fonds de solidarité de la FTQ when I was a servicing representative, and this fund has helped thousands of FTQ members, people who do not make a lot of money, in allowing them to put money aside toward their retirement. It also helped maintain or create 40,000 jobs, as I mentioned earlier. Why attack this fund? The proposed cutbacks will slow down job creation in Quebec, and particularly in regions where economic growth is sluggish.
A study conducted by the Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre shows that the government recoups the tax costs relating to workers' funds within three years or less. This study takes into account benefits such as the following: with these funds, tax revenues increase as a result of investments being made; also, reliance on the UI system is reduced because more people are at work and fewer claim UI benefits.
But the government did not attack the registered retirement savings plans, the RRSPs, in its budget. As we all know, such tax deductions can help create employment, but 20 per cent of this job creation could take place abroad. Twenty per cent of RRSP contributions can be invested abroad.
Why cut in investment funds then? As I said earlier, unemployment is at 11.3 per cent in Quebec, and more than 800,000 Quebecers are on social assistance.
The FTQ had the extraordinary idea of setting up this Fonds de solidarité a few months ago. I was there, to help complement this initiative by establishing regional funds. Nine of these regional funds, which will be set up everywhere in Quebec, have already been created. I congratulate the FTQ and the officials of the fund for their extraordinary contribution to promoting job creation. I should point out that the Quebec government and the administrative regions are partners in these regional funds.
What does this budget provide regarding old age pensions? The government creates a new seniors benefit to replace old age security, guaranteed income supplement, age credits, as well as pension income credits. The most dangerous aspect of this budget is that this new seniors benefit puts an end, once and for all, to the universality of benefit programs for seniors. This is very serious and simply unacceptable. The principle of universality applies to all social security programs.
The minister tells us that most of these measures will not affect current retirees, but future generations will be severely hit by these changes. In my riding, in Montreal North, the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées opposes the federal government's decision. It is firmly opposed to any reform that would undermine the benefits program for the elderly.
As for corporate taxation, we, Bloc Quebecois members, and myself in particular as the member for Bourassa, expected the government to review the corporate tax system. There is currently a shortfall of close to $10 billion. We must put an end to tax havens. There is no reform in this budget, only promises and commissions.
There is nothing concrete. Meanwhile, the profits of major banks exceeded $5 billion in 1995.
This explains the tax revolt. Everyone knows that banks do not pay their fair share of taxes. The banks that registered these sky-high profits are the same ones that made massive layoffs. We demand a true corporate tax reform, as well as the establishment of a minimum tax for corporations.
According to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration's estimates, expenditures for 1996-97 will reach $621.5 million. The budget for ICSI will be $76.8 million. This is $8.1 million in additional resources for that activity. I do not see the reason for spending more to promote citizenship.