Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak tonight to the supply motion. But, as you may well understand, this motion would not have been tabled without the budget since the amount of money set aside is based on what is in the budget. I will therefore establish a very close link between the two and talk about this budget, as my hon. colleague did at length.
I know that, the day the budget was tabled, many Canadians and Quebecers were relieved to learn that there were no tax increases. This is quite a normal reaction at first. Nonetheless, for all curious but perceptive people who call a spade a spade, this budget contains bad news, which were announced last year.
Since the bad news was announced last year but included in the budget this year-it has even started to bear fruit-the government says that there is no bad news since it was announced last year. We should find an appropriate adjective to describe this way of submitting budgets, because, since taking office in 1993, the Liberals have brought down three budgets.
In only one budget out of three did the bad news it contained materialize in the year in which it was announced. And I must say that this first budget, tabled in 1994, was pretty terrible, in that it stuck a direct blow at the unemployed, those jobless men and women who need the kind of assistance provided through the UI program. It struck a direct blow at the people of the Maritime provinces in particular, who had voted Liberal full spin, yet finding themselves, without having been consulted even for five minutes, faced with a budget announcing a $630 million cut in UI benefits for Atlantic Canada.
That was the first budget, the one containing the bad news for that year and years to come, because the big cut, on which the government's claims of sound management are based, the bulk is in the UI program: $2.4 billion per year to begin with.
Then, in 1995, the bad news having already started taking effect, more bad news was announced for the following year, this year, in the form of additional UI cuts, on top of the Canada social transfer: $2.5 billion this year and another $4.5 billion next year.
As a result, this year's budget looks pretty good, because the bad news, the worst part of it, news that can be the dramatic in some cases, was announced earlier. Now, they can rub their hands contentedly and say: "This is a good budget".
We should find an appropriate adjective for a budget which does not really say things, a budget which announces now reforms that will affect pensions in five years, a budget which merely says that things will be done later. Some people think: "Whew, it will be for later". And since the other measures were announced last year, or the year before, some say: "Things are going well".
This type of management has little to do with transparency, to say the least. If one reads this budget without knowing what is said in the budgets of the last two years, one cannot see that the bad news was announced before and will be implemented this year, often in a pretty dramatic way.
Can the ordinary citizen figure out what is really going on? It is pretty hard to see through this budget. There is a place where he will figure it out though. It is in his workplace, assuming he has one. There he will realize that this good budget will cost him dearly, especially if he is a low or middle income earner.
There are some who pay a high price for the feeling of satisfaction of our Minister of Finance, who proudly wears a carnation on his lapel. I am not referring to businesses or high income earners. Not at all. The fact is that those who are paying that price should not be the ones affected by such drastic cuts.
Take the UI reform for instance. This cut was announced last year, so much so that it was already factored in-the government was so sure of itself that the House of Commons and everything else did not mean a whole lot-so the cuts were factored in the budget for 1996-1997. This means an additional cut of at least $800 million for this year and of $1.9 billion in the years to come. But what does that mean, in the years to come? In three years, or four years. In fact, it will be in the year 2000. But as soon as next year, these cuts will already reach $1.2 billion.
What does that mean? Let me repeat this, since, as we all know, repetition is the mother of science. Let us take the maritimes and the province of Quebec for example. In the maritimes or Atlantic Canada, since 1995, UI benefits have decreased by $630 million every year. This is a lot of money for Atlantic Canada, especially
since the unemployment rate is very high in these areas. And starting this year, there will be a new cut that will reach, in three years time, $944 million a year.
For Atlantic Canada, a cut of $944 million distributed among all its regions will mean that a lot of people will be affected. It also means that these people, who would have had otherwise hundreds and thousands of dollars more to spend, will have to do without. We are not talking about cuts of $100 a year, or $200 a year, but rather cuts totalling hundreds and thousands of dollars every year in provinces that can ill afford it. And to pay what? To pay the deficit. We finally get to the truth here.
This seems like a good budget, where we all wash our hands and nobody pays. But it is not true. There are people who pay. Quebec got $735 million less in 1994. And now the federal government is taking away $640 million more from us. Do not tell me that this $1.375 billion cut will have no impact and that ordinary people, folks who are not at all well off will not suffer from that.
But that is not all. It has an economic impact. You cannot deprive an economically weak region of that kind of money without weakening its economy even more.
Let us get back to the main objective of these deficit related cuts. Is it a sound decision to force regions whose economy is already in trouble into a situation that will inevitably worsen the general state of the economy and increase social spending in these areas? It is not a sound decision. I am sorry. The minister, Paul Martin, may be proud of himself, but I find this rather tragic. There are people who pay, and they pay dearly.