Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-10, which authorizes the Minister of Finance, as of April 1, 1996, to raise such amount or amounts, up to $18.7 billion, by way of a loan or by the issue and sale of securities of Canada, as may be required for public works and general purposes. This more or less defines Bill C-10.
Given the way this Liberal government has managed public finances over the last two and a half years, and given the recent budget brought down by the Minister of Finance, it is difficult for the official opposition to support with enthusiasm a bill that, in our opinion, confirms that the Minister of Finance and the Liberal government did a bad job of managing public finances. Yet, on behalf of Quebecers and Canadians, the government asks that we support this bill.
Let us take a look only at the last budget, which contained sad news for us regarding the debt and the deficit. Indeed, the Minister of Finance has already decided that this year, next year and the year after, he will not fight to eliminate waste, inefficiencies, duplication or, in other words, budgetary expenditures.
One need only look at page 14 of the budget where we find the direct budget savings for 1996-97 to see that, for the fiscal year 1996-97, this year's budget provides for savings of 0.0 per cent.
Another look and we see that for 1997-98, this budget forecasts cuts in government spending of only $200 million. And in two years, they are talking about $1.7 billion in savings based on the budget brought down by the Minister of Finance just a few weeks ago.
Taken over three years, we must conclude that the Minister of Finance is looking for savings of $1.9 billion. Imagine, $1.9 billion. That represents seven-tenths of one per cent in cuts per year. Seven-tenths of one per cent. Not one per cent, not even one per cent, but seven-tenths of one per cent, because we must not forget that federal spending is in the neighbourhood of $160 billion annually. So, for annual expenditures of $160 billion over the next three years, cuts of $1.9 billion mean seven-tenths of one per cent of the Minister of Finance's forecast.
How, therefore, can we give the okay to a Minister of Finance who shows no interest in limiting his spending? He is not interested in creating acceptable annual savings. How can we give him the okay to borrow, on behalf of Quebecers and Canadians, over $18 billion on the market?
Would that normally be done? Would someone who showed himself unable to generate savings, who showed himself unable to manage the public purse wisely, be given carte blanche to borrow, in our name, $18 billion? No.
Would the Minister of Finance be given authority to borrow $18 billion on the market, when during two and a half years of Liberal management he added over $110 billion to the federal debt, which will climb to over $603 billion this year?
Would you give the okay to a manager who has squandered public funds, who has, deliberately for political ends, not assumed his responsibilities with respect to reducing the size of government? Would you give him carte blanche to go and borrow, in your name, $18 billion on the market? The answer is no.
Mr. Speaker, would you give him carte blanche? Now I see that you are listening very carefully to what I have to say because it concerns your pocket book directly, and nobody would borrow, in your name, with this kind of track record in managing the public purse.
Would you give a finance minister carte blanche to borrow $18 billion, when all he had managed to do in two and a half years of managing your finances was to coast along with the growth in the economy, eat into the unemployment insurance fund, take advantage of the surplus generated by this fund to which the federal government has not contributed for several years now? It means dumping the deficit on the provinces, as he is doing.
Would you give carte blanche to this minister, who has made use of everybody except himself, who has put public funding on a healthier footing using everything except his own means, his own solutions?
I would not, and I do not believe Canadians would either. What consummate showmen the Liberals have turned out to be in the past two and half years. Each time, they have presented a budget which disguised the reality. The last budget is a most impressive theatrical production using smoke and mirrors.
They tell us: "We will reduce the deficit by several billion per year, not only attaining our objectives for the percentage of the deficit compared to the GDP, but surpassing it". But let us look more closely at how they are managing to disguise the truth.
If it were not for the cuts I have just referred to, if it were not for the cuts, if it were not for the systematic dumping of the deficit onto the backs of the provinces, if it were not for the Minister of Finance's dipping into the UI fund, if it were not for the economic situation of these past two years, which has brought in three to four billion in revenues this year, the Minister of Finance would not have a $24.5 billion deficit for 1996-97, but a $31 billion dollar one.
If it were not for the UI cuts, if it were not for the surplus the Minister of Finance has helped himself to out of the UI fund, if it were not for the systematic dumping of the burden onto the provinces, and if it were not for the economic situation, the Minister of Finance's deficit for next year would be, not $17 billion, as he claims, but over $27 billion.
In the end, when we look at the real deficit for this year, generated through the incompetence of the Minister of Finance, we see that little has changed since he became head of the department. In fact, if we look at the product of the new revenues arising from the state of the economy, from economic growth, if we look at the unemployment insurance fund, the minister's favourite fund, were it not as well for the shift of his responsibilities onto the provinces, the actual deficit, because we have to include the product of the economic situation, the actual deficit for 1996-97 would be $35 billion.
It seems to me that is comparable to the deficit at the time the Minister of Finance took over the department-it was about $37 billion or $38 billion. There has been hardly any reduction.
Apart from the economic situation and the Minister of Finance's tricks, the promised good management of public funds would never have materialized. It is all smoke. It is all hokum on the part of the Minister of Finance.
He could have cut duplication and overlap. They have long harped on that one. We have long harped at the Liberal Party, the party in power. We have long raised it with the Reformers as well; they prefer to close their minds to anything reasonable.
Instead of setting up a committee to study duplication, overlap and the doubling of positions in federal and provincial governments, the Liberal government, and it added more in the speech from the throne, and in the budget speech, wants to interfere
everywhere. Not only is it going to stay in areas it has invaded, exclusive provincial jurisdictions, but it is adding more.
In the throne speech, it said clearly, and it repeated it in the budget for certain aspects there, that it will, with the support of a majority of the provinces, continue to invade areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, that it will, for example, set up a Canadian securities commission. As if we needed the bureaucracy, the inefficiencies and the duplication of the federal government, when it has a hard time, with what it has, putting public finances in order and making the machinery efficient, so that this huge machine is not constantly seized up. It is adding more: a Canadian securities commission, when all the provinces operate efficiently in their area of jurisdiction.
All the provinces have harmonized their actions for years. Together the provinces have set up a system called SEDAR, which will be operational in a few months and which will eliminate the need for ten different issues, or a total of securities issues; a single one will suffice. This will be done with efficiency and expertise since it has been an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction for several years. This is not the case of the government and the finance minister, who are making it more cumbersome.
Not only will they not eliminate duplication and overlapping, but they will create more of it. They think Quebecers and Canadians love to spend money. Obviously they do not visit their ridings very often.
They mentioned a national revenue agency, as if we needed to add a new administrative structure to the already huge government apparatus, which is gobbling up close to $160 billion a year. The finance minister's managerial attitude is questionable. We should not give a blank cheque such as this to a minister. We should not give a blank cheque to a government which is planning to cover the country with flags-one million, we are told-but which does nothing to put its fiscal house in order.
Where is the finance minister dealing with inefficiencies and waste? Has anyone ever heard him say, for instance, that there is a lot of fat to be cut in the defence department? Has anyone ever heard the finance minister or Liberal members condemn the squandering of two billion dollars on tanks? Has anyone ever heard the finance minister or his fellow citizens, his colleagues in the Liberal Party, in stringent budgetary times, and in peace time to boot, condemn the purchase of antitank missiles at $15,000 a piece? No one, never.
When did we ever hear of such shameful expenditures as those planned to modernize submarines and buy highly sophisticated helicopters in peace time, when our accumulated debt has reached $603 billion and the Minister of Finance is unable to keep this debt from growing? Never. When did we ever hear this government talk about what is happening in the other House or about the money spent on the governor general? Never. It amounts to $50 million a year but it never talks about it. It prefers to continue dealing with symbols, while the other House remains a haven of patronage, a reward for good Liberals-or, in the past, good Tories-who often doze off in front of TV cameras.
Did we ever witness a commitment to sound management of public finances, when the Minister of Finance or the minister of revenue was asked to go after the more than $6 billion in unpaid taxes owed the federal government? I am not talking about controversial matters but about things that are pending because they made lateral staff cuts in the federal public service. They cut staff, but wall to wall, starting at the bottom because it is easier, because the mandarins, the senior officials at the top are in charge so they are not likely to offer their own heads on a platter to the government.
So we get to the point where, at the department of revenue, there are not enough real workers to go after unpaid taxes. As a result, in the last two years, out of more than $6.3 billion in unpaid taxes, only $250 million to $300 million have been collected. Out of $6.3 billion. This is ridiculous.
If there was any reason to believe that they are concerned about managing public finances soundly, about making the optimum use of resources, about looking for money at the right place and taking it from those who have it, we would support Bill C-10. But that is not what the Minister of Finance has accustomed us to over the past two and a half years. We cannot give him a blank cheque when he is asking us to borrow $18.6 billion on the capital markets on my behalf and on behalf of my colleagues, of the people of Quebec and of the people of Canada.
The Minister of Finance is slowly starting to smell the coffee. It is none too soon; we have been condemning this situation for almost three years already. We have been asking him for nearly three years to reform the tax system, and the corporate tax system in particular, because it is full of holes. As usual, instead of taking his responsibilities, the Minister of Finance has decided to set up a task force to eventually look at the corporate tax system behind closed doors, a task force that would not include any parliamentarians-who, I should remind you, are elected by the people to account to them-and to prepare a report in which it would recommend revising the corporate tax system along such or such a line.
This report would be released and we would be expected to do our job based on a document that was biased from the start. How so? For the reasons we have already explained. As soon as the Minister of Finance announced his plans to set up a technical committee on business taxation and made the membership of this committee known, we came out against this committee's membership. Why? Because the committee is made up of experts from various consulting firms, firms advising big corporations on how to take advantage of innumerable tax loopholes to avoid paying Revenue Canada what they owe.
And we would have been gullible enough to accept not to discuss corporate taxation for a year and let these experts look at the issue behind close doors and come up with a report saying: "We reviewed the whole corporate tax system and found that there are not many problems with it".
Such will be the findings of that technical committee on corporate taxation. This is what the minister wants to hear. As we said when the budget was brought down, this is tantamount to a first class funeral for the work of that committee, and also for a true reform of the corporate tax system.
We might as well forget about that. That committee of experts will include people from firms such as Ernst & Young. These firms not only give advice to major corporations on how to avoid paying taxes, they also have subsidiaries in countries considered to be tax havens, where hundreds of millions go in and out. The result is that Canadian businesses that supposedly have to pay a 1.5 or 2.5 per cent tax are not taxed by Revenue Canada because their revenues have already been taxed in countries considered to be tax havens.
And we should have accepted that process? This is making fun of us. It is making fun of Canadians and Quebecers. We are no fools. The Minister of Finance intends to do with this committee exactly what he did with the family trust issue.
You remember, last year: "We are going to comply with the demands of the official opposition, we are going to reduce benefits linked to family trusts". We were pleased. But when he said "in 1999" it was like warning the thief a day ahead that the police were on the way. I would call it laughable. Now they are up to the same thing again.
If we were alone in thinking that the Minister of Finance had not tackled the real problems in two and a half years, we would say: "Maybe we are mistaken". But when we visit our ridings, throughout Quebec, and also outside Quebec, in Canada, and people come up and say: "Keep up the good work, we are very disappointed in the Liberal government", and tell us, often in English, in ridings that are Liberal bastions, in ridings often coveted by our friends in the Reform Party, but that they will never win if they keep on with their rather special attitude of the last two weeks, then we begin to tell ourselves that our message is getting across.
And, although it is not something I am used to doing, I have a fax to read-yes, we in the Bloc also get faxes, not just the Reformers. I got a fax last week from a Mrs. Jansen in Regina, in Regina-Wascana,the riding of the Minister of Agriculture, which reads as follows-please pardon my accent, but I shall try to render the spirit and to some extent the content of Mrs. Jansen's faxed letter. I would like, incidentally, to thank her for her excellent analysis. She wrote as follows:
"This fax is to express my appreciation to you for presenting several important issues during your response to the finance
minister's budget speech. While I recognize that your party, the Bloc Quebecois, has specific aspirations, your comments mirror the concern of many citizens in Canada. The duplication of services and the consequent waste of fiscal resources that might be used by the provinces, the lack of sincerity to attend to the tax break given to large corporations as indicated by the implementation of the secret commission to study this issue, and the $50 million apportionment to the anachronistic Senate are symbolic of a system that no longer works in the best interests of beleaguered taxpayers".
I continue to quote, since I find this letter extremely interesting. Mrs. Jansen continues:
"Cuts are not being made to senior bureaucracy but at the level of direct service providers to the public. The civil service will soon become so top heavy without sufficient support at the bottom that the pretence of providing services to the average citizen cannot be maintained. I have noted that since the election of the present Liberal administration, all programs designed to assist emerging and small firms have either been discontinued or dismembered.
"The rest of this country is beginning to severely suffer from the effects of an administration that does not adhere to the old democratic action of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Rather recent policies lead us to the conclusion that we have a government of the rulers, by the rulers, for the rulers.
"As the middle class and small businesses are increasingly diminished by taxation and outdated regulations, we may soon find ourselves within a feudalistic style of government: the rich and powerful at the top, a few disenfranchised workers in the middle, and the majority enduring poverty".
When a number of us, in Quebec as in Canada-and I could have read other comments from the Maritimes-think that this administration has been remiss in its duty, that this administration which is today demanding a free rein to go after $18.6 billion on our behalf, when we have reached the point, Quebecers and Canadians alike, francophones and anglophones alike, of castigating this administration for not shouldering its responsibilities, it may be time for this government to be brought back in line.
It is perhaps time for all, in Quebec and in Canada, coast to coast as they say, to be a little more vocal in our dissatisfaction with an administration which has not, in two years and a half, done anything more than pretend to Quebecers and to Canadians that everything was fine, everything was under control, when from the point of view of overall public funding, the exercise has barely begun.
As for the increasing debt, the Minister of Finance cannot long conceal from Canadians that this progression is not contained. For this reason, as well as all those I have just enumerated, we in the official opposition, on behalf of the people of Quebec and of Canada, will refuse to allow this irresponsible Minister of Finance, who is not fulfilling his responsibilities, who is not making cuts in the proper places, who is not making the desirable reform in corporate taxation in the timely manner it requires, to borrow $18.6 billion on our behalf. I shall be recommending that my Bloc Quebecois colleagues vote against this bill.