Mr. Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board told us a few minutes ago that Canadians are not interested in flowery rhetoric. And yet, that was what I seemed to be hearing last March 6 when I listened carefully to the finance minister's budget speech.
It was a lovely speech, but now we must go over it all again today, because today is when the real budget measures are being tabled in this House, in the course of the debate on Bill C-31, while most of the members of this House are in committee. And I have the feeling that that is exactly what the government wanted.
It seems to me that this Bill C-31, tabled yesterday at first reading and submitted to the House today at second reading, is a tactic by the President of the Treasury Board, who is doing the dirty work for the Minister of Finance, whose erratic management has not really succeeded in reducing the deficit to date.
The bill is an example of this government's inability to control the deficit and the debt through concrete measures and a fiscal policy that is consistent and fair for all groups in our society.
To put it another way, when we see the measures contemplated in this bill, the number of acts amended, the number of federal ministers and federal agencies affected, the staff upheavals, the planned cuts, this bill starts to look like a fire sale by a government that has lost control and that is trying with varying degrees of success to stop the leaks in the fast-sinking Liberal boat.
This Budget Implementation Act, 1996, will enable the Treasury Board to ensure the transition of human resources in the context of what is described as the diversification of ways of providing services. The Financial Administration Act is amended; it will allow tens of thousands of employees to be laid off, public services to be transferred in some cases, and measures designed to facilitate these transfers to be taken.
The Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act are amended so that collective agreements and labour representation can be maintained when personnel is transferred to other employers as part of the public service restructuring described by the President of the Treasury Board.
Public servants who are transferred will lose certain rights. The changes made to the Public Service Employment Act will allow the Public Service Commission to delegate powers to non-public servants, thus eliminating de facto the right to appeal an appointment.
Transfers to the private sector must of course be made attractive, which means that benefits enjoyed by public servants must be reduced.
This is all that is being done here. The freeze on the salaries of non-commissioned members of the Canadian Armed Forces is ended. Instead of conducting an objective inquiry into the blunders of the army, particularly in Somalia, the government rewards first the military responsible, whose salaries will be the first to be unfrozen.
An amendment to the Public Sector Compensation Act will make these changes possible. A right for which workers fought hard is withdrawn for a period of three years. Indeed, an amendment to the Public Service Staff Relations Act will suspend compulsory arbitration.
We are told that the Public Service Superannuation Act is also being amended to facilitate the transfer of individual and collective pensions, and provide the flexibility required to maintain or suspend the application of the act to an entity and to its employees.
Transfer and flexibility: these are the key words. The government is cutting in the rights and pensions of its employees to better transfer them to the private sector. These transfers will affect thousands of public servants. According to the bill, collective transferability will be made possible thanks to amendments aimed at facilitating the conclusion of agreements between the government and eligible employers.
The government could not make it more clear that it intends to transfer a number of its responsibilities to the private sector. We are told about transitional protection, but what are the guarantees for the employees affected? The bill is silent on this and no transfer procedure is specified.
This bill also confers upon the Minister of Transport the power to dispose of railway cars belonging to CN which are used to move grain.
To show you the extent of the sales that will be coming, the bill states: "It would also provide for an increase in the maximum rates for movement of grain after at least 10,000 of the railway cars or rights with respect to at least 10,000 of the railway cars are disposed of".
All of this goes to show, without a doubt, that the government is selling out our heritage, the train-which was the first link between the various regions of our country-our assets and the government employees' expertise built up over the past decades. These massive sell-outs will only pay the grocery bill. The government's fire sale will not, in the end, reduce the deficit by any significant amount.
Another blow, this time not against its employees but against all workers. After having laid its hands on the $5 billion surplus in the UI fund, the government is changing the Unemployment Insurance Act by setting maximum insurable earnings for 1996 at $750. It also sets maximum weekly benefits at $413 for recipients who start receiving benefits in 1996, i.e. new recipients.
Bill C-31 also implements a number of measures with budget impact. The government is taking advantage of this bill to push a number of extremely controversial measures through. It is trying to use a back door approach, to rush through unpopular measures including some that penalize the unemployed.
The historically maintained tax pact between Ottawa and the provinces is being shoved aside. The Federal-provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act is amended. The Canada social transfer for 1997-98 through 2002-03, as well as the method for calculating the amounts to be transferred to the provinces, is defined.
All that this fine business reveals is that federal transfers to the provinces are in free-fall. In the end, all this complex accounting will simply produce smaller envelopes: $26.9 billion in 1996-97, $25.1 billion in 1997-98 and each year thereafter until 1999-2000. For each of fiscal 2000-01 to 2002-03, the calculations used will merely reduce the Canada social transfer even further.
The transfer to a given province is related to the calculation of a weighting value that decreases from 1.0 in 1997-98 to .5 in 2002-03. In other words, the amount will be reduced progressively by 50 per cent over five years.
The Government of Canada is changing the rules for distributing the Canada social transfer among the provinces. The new rule is based on the size of the population and no longer on need, as should be the case for social programs. Quebec, once again, is hardest hit by the cuts. The Canada social transfer now benefits the wealthiest provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, whose populations are growing the fastest.
By cutting its transfers to reduce the deficit, the federal government is passing the bill on to the provinces, dumping the deficit in their lap. There is less and less redistributing in the federal transfers. The cuts and the new rules for distribution mean in fact the end of fiscal federalism.
The only measure that is fair for taxpayers in Bill C-31 is the amendment to the Old Age Security Act, which will change the pension paid to people with fewer than ten years' residence in Canada after their 18th birthday. This pension will now be calculated according to the number of years they have actually lived in Canada after this birthday. This is only fair to all taxpayers.
The Canada assistance plan, the Radiocommunication Act and the Student Loans Act are amended, with the last one being changed to provide stricter terms for the repayment of student loans.
This all-purpose bill amends various acts and has a single purpose: to reduce the amounts spent by the federal government to pay its employees; to cut the number of federal public servants; to undermine the rights of those who will survive the cuts; to chop transfer payments to the provinces. National standards remain, but related funds are falling.
UI benefits are also being cut in order to augment future surpluses in the UI fund, where the Minister of Finance will take the amounts needed to hide his mismanagement and his real deficit. The deficit will also be reduced by selling crown assets, like the thousands of railroad cars used to transport grain across the country.
Collective agreements are being tampered with and the rights of public servants undermined. The right to appeal on appointments
of priorities is being eliminated and, more importantly, binding arbitration is being suspended for three years to make federal organizations more attractive to private sector buyers.
All this shows a blatant lack of respect for public servants, something the President of the Treasury Board did not brag about a few minutes ago. This bill mixes the sale of railroad cars with the doctoring of collective agreements so that entire components of the public service laboriously developed by the country since the 1940s can be sold off.
Above all, this shows the finance minister's inability to carry out his mandate to balance the federal budget. In fact, clause 64 in this bill provides for the payment of $961 million to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland as adjustment assistance for the purpose of facilitating their participation in an integrated national sales tax system.
The Liberals never keep their election promises, to say the least. After condemning the Tories so strongly, they are doing the exact opposite of what they promised.
As members may recall, in 1979-80, after vigorously condemning the 18 cent increase in the price of a litre of gasoline called for by the Tories, the Liberals were quick to raise the tax on a litre of gasoline even higher after returning to power in 1980.
History repeats itself. After slamming the GST during the 1993 fall election campaign, the Liberals are again trying in 1996 to harmonize the various provincial taxes with billions in hidden subsidies to the provinces.