Mr. Speaker, first I want to draw your attention to the fact that until the end of the debate Bloc Quebecois members will split their allotted time in two ten-minute periods, followed by a five-minute period for questions and replies.
I am pleased to take part in the debate on the last federal budget, not because I am particularly happy with this budget, far from it, but because it is my duty, as a parliamentarian, to take a very close look at the way the government intends to spend public money. We have to recognize that, over a month ago now, the Liberal government brought down a budget which was very disappointing in several ways for Quebecers and Canadians.
The lack of vision in this budget is distressing, given that, based on its own figures, the government has added over $110 billion to the debt in the last two and a half years, which means $3,700 more for each and every Canadian. These figures speak for themselves. We have not even started paying back the principal on the debt, because the Minister of Finance has been totally incapable of substantially reducing the monstrous deficit of the Canadian government.
It will be remembered that, during the last election campaign, the Liberal party released a so-called plan of action unimaginatively and subtly called the red book. I need not make things even more unbearable by reminding the House of the fact that the Prime Minister never gets tired of quoting this document, as though it were his bedside book.
Let me quote a short excerpt from page 10 in the introduction of the document, which reads:
The Liberal agenda, therefore, is premised on an integrated and coherent approach to economic policy, social policy, environmental policy, and foreign policy. Liberals understand that these policies are and must be linked.
If we compare these claims with the measures contained in the last budget, we can only conclude that the Liberal government did not deliver. While it claims to have an integrated and coherent approach when it comes to implementing measures, the facts say otherwise.
The hardest thing to accept when you take a close look at this year's budget is that there does not seem to be any guidelines regarding the objectives that must be met. At a time when everyone wishes the government would innovate in the field of public finances, at a time when everyone is aware that hard work is required to ensure a decent quality of life to future generations, the Liberal government prefers to improvise and make cuts without thinking things through.
A blatant example of this lack of vision is the decision to eliminate the yearly $7.2 million subsidy to the Canadian centre for magnetic fusion, located in Varennes. The federal government's withdrawal from this area of scientific research is a sad and totally baffling development.
The decision clearly does not take into account the foreseeable spinoffs in development of a new waste free energy system. In signing the death sentence of this research centre, the Liberal government is giving up on 20 years of efforts in magnetic fusion development. It is sacrificing a $70 million infrastructure, including $11 million worth of new equipment which will never be used. Finally, it is sacrificing about a hundred high technology jobs. Such is the Liberal Party's environmental and economic vision.
But there is also a lack of vision and coherence in several other areas. For one thing, the remaining dairy subsidies will be cut. Last year's budget provided for a 30 per cent cut over two years. Yet, we were stunned to learn, when the last budget was brought down, that these subsidies will be totally eliminated, with no compensation at all for the producers.
This decision will be extremely hard on milk producers in Quebec and throughout Canada. Last year, Western farmers received nearly $3 billion in compensation, following the elimination of the grain transportation subsidy. Here again, a double standard is being applied by the Liberal government.
As for its economic and social vision, we must point out the government's poor performance in job creation. Between January 1995 and January 1996, the unemployment rate barely eased in Canada, slipping from 9.7 per cent to 9.6 per cent. What solutions does the government have to offer? Nothing, except the measly $315 million to be provided over three years for summer jobs.
It is rather ironical that the Liberal government is beginning to show concern for students, especially as it had previously reduced funding for summer job creation programs from $86 to $60 million over two years. Moreover, it is imposing drastic cuts of $150 million in postsecondary education funding for 1996-97, the
potential impact of which could be an increase of $1,000 in tuition fees for every student for this year alone.
What is more, it has already announced additional cuts of $300 million for 1997-98, which could lead to new additional costs for students. Therefore, this summer job creation program is a cynical move, since its only usefulness will be to help students pay the additional costs brought about by the cuts the Liberal government made in social programs.
That is not all, however. The Liberal government is again showing inconsistency since it is now going after a major means of creating jobs by lowering from 20 per cent to 15 per cent the federal tax credit related to labour sponsored investment funds and lowering from $5,000 to $3,500 the maximum share purchase in such funds.
Today, there are 19 labour sponsored funds with assets totalling between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. They have invested more than $850 million in the Canadian economy since their creation.
In Quebec, for example, the FTQ fund alone has managed to create and maintain more than 58,000 jobs. This measure will slow down the expansion of these funds, thus decreasing their job creation potential. What makes this decision even harder to understand is the fact that a report by the Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre concluded that governments recover the fiscal costs of labour funds in less than three years.
Instead of being a mere nuisance on the labour market, what does the government intend to do to implement real incentive programs to create jobs?
The Liberal government is also targeting senior citizens. From now on, old age security will no longer be the basic tier of pensioners' income. It will provide replacement income to those who have been unable to save for their retirement during their working life. Through this reform, the government is creating two classes of senior citizens, those who were able to save for their retirement and those who were not.
The important thing is that the new seniors benefits will now be a kind of welfare for senior citizens, and that they will be paid only to those most in need. So much for the consistency and complementarity of economic, social, and environmental measures of the government.
Let us now turn to foreign policy.
Here again, the Liberal government's last budget is a far cry from the commitments made over the last few years. We think the new foreign affairs minister should reacquaint himself with his government's commitments. The Liberals had promised to advocate and promote democracy and human rights throughout the world. But the government's record in this is rather dismal.
With the cuts the Liberal government announced during the previous budget year and confirmed in its last budget, Canada's development assistance expenditures have been reduced to less than 0.29 per cent of the gross domestic product, which is farfrom the 0.7 per cent target recommended by the internationalcommunity.
After making these cuts, how does the Canadian government think it will be able to help the poorest people on earth?
Development assistance is important on a human level, but equally important on an economic level. It provides jobs here at home. As the Bloc Quebecois indicated in its dissenting report on the review of Canada's foreign policy, one out of four jobs in Canada is linked to exports and the increasing impoverishment of the third world will obviously have a negative impact on the employment situation in our country. In the medium term, our own economic growth will partly depend on the increase of the standard of living of about 80 per cent of the world's population.
As you know, the Bloc Quebecois supports and encourages the participation of Canada in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Of course, it is frustrating to see that several states do not pay their contributions to the United Nations, but Canada still has to continue to defend and promote human rights and democratic development.
That brings me to the fact that the Bloc Quebecois supports specific missions, like the one currently underway in Haiti. For instance, already more than 400 soldiers from CFB Valcartier, in the outer suburbs of Quebec City, are over there. The goal of the United Nations mission in Haiti is to consolidate the stability of this new democracy. These are the kinds of initiatives our party supports.
However, Canada could do more to tie its assistance policy and trade measures to the issue of respect for human rights. I am thinking in particular about Mr. Tran Trieu Quan, unfairly incarcerated in Vietnam. Yet, Canada has provided Vietnam with more than $50 million in assistance and development programs since 1994. This large amount of money is granted unconditionally to a country that is unfairly detaining a Canadian citizen and is more or less asking for a $1 million ransom for his release.
This budget is proof that this Liberal government has forsaken all decency when it comes to its relations with countries where human rights are violated.
In any case, after two years when they had to really tighten their belts, Canadians were ready for a third austerity budget on the part of the Liberal government. The latter knew that for a fact and did nothing to dissipate that impression. In fact, it rather encouraged it,
knowing full well that the people would better accept its budget if they really felt they were spared.
At first glance, the budget presented by the finance minister is so conceived as to give the impression that there is something in it for everybody. But if we look closer, we can see that it is in fact an insidious budget trying to hide the bad news or wrap them up with so-called good news.
All the major decisions concerning cuts and tax increases were announced last year and the year before. But they will continue to apply this year and for the next two years, allowing the government to continue to reduce its spending without having to make more unpopular decisions in the second part of its mandate.