Saint-Jean, Mr. Speaker, not Lac-Saint-Jean. The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean will be joining us at 2 p.m. this afternoon, and we are very proud that he is doing so.
First of all I would like to reassure our friends opposite by saying that, while the budget may contain very few good news, and there is no doubt that there are few, they must not forget either that it is the role of the opposition to assess the budgets brought down by government.
Very seldom does a budget earn government praise for the outstanding job it has done in preparing the budget. In my opinion, it would not exactly be the place of the opposition to say so. We are here, in this democratic system, to point out those budget items that we totally disagree with and to suggest amendments, so that democracy can prevail.
I think that, should this House become Liberal through and through, Canada would be next to impossible to live in. It seemed noteworthy to me. In fact, I have a few points to raise, which are not exactly positive either. I think that raising negative points in assessing a budget is good for democracy and something that must be done.
The budget can be considered from two points of view. There is what I call the macroeconomic view and the microeconomic view. I often look at what impact the budget will have on the people of my riding. That is what I would like to share with you today. I will not be telling you anything you do not know already by saying that the riding of Saint-Jean has always been, in my words, a disaster area. We will recall that, with its very first budget, this government closed down the Collège militaire in Saint-Jean. This keeps going on. The hon. member for Terrebonne mentioned a few similar points.
Let me tell you about the issue of milk subsidies, which is very important in my riding, where there are many milk producers. These people will be faced with a 15 per cent cut in their subsidy. This amounts to an annual dead loss of about $1 million for the riding of Saint-Jean. There will be $1 million less in Saint-Jean's economy, in addition to the $32 million loss suffered with the closure of the military college. And all this will keep going on, because the milk subsidy reduction is not just a one time cut: it will be implemented over a number of years until there is no subsidy left.
Therefore, the riding of Saint-Jean will not just lose $1 million this year: it will lose $1 million this year, next year, the year after, and so on until there is no subsidy left. This will result in a $4 to $5 million cut for the riding of Saint-Jean, without compensation. Once again, there is a double standard.
The government says that it will put an end to the Crow benefit in western Canada. Of course, this measure will have an impact on producers, who are told that they will get $2 billion to make the necessary transition, diversify their economy, etc. However, no such assistance is provided in the riding of Saint-Jean and in Quebec, among others, who is the primary milk producer in Canada with 40 per cent of the country's milk production. Once again, Quebec is being targeted and more specifically the riding of Saint-Jean.
The military college is not the only institution to be closed. This year, it was announced that Saint-Jean's employment centre would also be closed. Thirty second and third line employees from the employment centre are to be redeployed throughout the Montérégie region and will have to move. These people are wondering whether they will follow their jobs. They are wondering whether they will move to Saint-Hubert or Longueuil.
In the meantime, industries and the jobless go to the Saint-Jean employment centre where there is only first line staff to take note of their plight and concerns. However, when the time comes to follow up on these cases, the employees are no longer there.
The second and third lines of service have gone somewhere else in the Montérégie area. This is utterly deplorable. We could understand it if the unemployment insurance account were in deficit. We could understand even more if the government were contributing to the unemployment insurance account, but this is not the case, in either instance. The government is not contributing to the account, and the account is showing a $5 billion surplus every year. Not only was there a $5 billion surplus this year, there will be one next year also with the new proposed measures. They want to dip even deeper into that account, not to take care of the unemployed but to help wipe out the government deficit.
In Saint-Jean, an area still facing closures, it is hard to accept-and this is an acid criticism levelled at the government-that it could say: "Listen, we have to cut unemployment insurance; we know that you need it, but unemployed people will get better benefits". Yet, just the opposite is happening.
The customs office in Saint-Jean is closing down. There were two customs officers. The Saint-Jean office was the oldest inland customs office in Canada, but it just closed down. The industries in Saint-Jean that are experiencing difficulties in matters of customs clearance have been told: "Listen, we will do it by computer. Also, you will send your files to the officers in the Lacolle customs office, who will come if there are are problems".
In that regard, I can tell you that all the industries in the riding of Saint-Jean are opposing this measure. The area is like a sieve, in any case. The Richelieu River flows by the city of Saint-Jean. In Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, we have a customs office on a wharf that extends 300 or 400 feet into the river, which is about one mile wide. I am convinced smugglers go by on the other side of the river. All the customs officer can do is call in the RCMP. But the RCMP has not been spared by the cuts, and it takes a few hours before it starts going after the smugglers. So, anybody can go through. The government loses large amounts of money customs could collect. That is just another disaster for Saint-Jean. Saint-Jean is once again under fire, and the customs office there was closed down.
The Fonds de solidarité and the CSN Fondaction, which is just starting out, are also under attack. The minister told us these funds have proved their value, and they no longer need the same level of incentive. Let me remind the minister that the CSN Fondaction is just starting out and that the Fonds de solidarité is the pride not only of Saint-Jean, but of Quebec as a whole.
The Fonds de solidarité, the CSN Fondaction, and the Caisse de dépôt are all part of the distinctiveness of the Quebec society. That is what the distinct society is all about. We should not keep trying to water down its meaning, and try to replace it with the concept of principal homeland of the French language, which is the new buzzword.
I am sorry, but the distinct society has always been a reality, and it means what it says. Concerning these funds, I feel it is important to point out that they are a feature of the distinct society. They are a way to handle the economy in Quebec which is clearly distinct and different from what is going on in the rest of Canada. It thought it was important to mention it in passing because it was sheer nonsense for the Quebec Liberal Party to say, during the week-end:
"We will no longer talk about a distinct society". For now, we will talk about a cultural homeland and, next year, if English Canada still has a problem with that, we will just use the expression homeland. And then, we will water it down until there is nothing left. Let me say that the Bloc Quebecois will closely watch how things evolve on this issue and will oppose any such proposal.
On the last point, Mr. Speaker, I beg your indulgence.
Mr. Speaker, I will speak to you in English because I am taking some courses in English at the language school base militaire in Saint-Jean. They say my English has improved. I have a very nice teacher, Brenda Hunter. She told me that if I want to follow these courses next year I had better say a few words in English in the House, not reading but expressing myself without any notes.
I decided that for the last part I would denounce the measures in the budget concerning the language school in Saint-Jean. Earlier there were almost 150 teachers in Saint-Jean and nowadays there are around 75. The numbers are falling. The Department of National Defence is trying to extinguish the language school in Saint-Jean and we do not know why.
Why are more people not coming to Saint-Jean to take these courses? We have a most modern laboratory and some very competent and knowledgeable teachers who do a great job. That is why I have to say once again that it is a scandal to try and close down a very important and very effective institution like the one in Saint-Jean.
Mr. Speaker, I think you will agree that my first words of English in the House were not too bad.
Finally, we consider this budget to be totally unacceptable. I feel that I have been fully mandated by the constituents from Saint-Jean to vote against this budget, but my colleagues across the way need not be afraid since we have come up with some positive amendments. That is what I call democracy.
I will, of course, be very pleased to vote in favour of the amendment put forward by the Bloc Quebecois in order to make the changes needed in the budget. I hope my colleagues opposite will support this very important amendment. If not, they will have to understand that the constituents in my riding have mandated me to vote against this year's Liberal budget.