Mr. Speaker, a budget, particularly one which we know is a pre-election budget, indicates a party's profound sense of attachment to its ideals. Now, what does this budget really present us with? This budget tells all those people who have paid dearly to reduce the deficit-generally, those people and those regions and provinces which can least afford it-"You are going to have to keep on paying".
The budget speech is full of praise and self-congratulation for the new economic indicators which ought supposedly to create jobs on their own, without the government having to put anything into employment.
Now the same people who have had to bear the brunt of the deficit reduction are the ones cruelly deprived of jobs, which would put an end to their needing the various social programs. But what does the government do in this connection? It announces a new infrastructure program, it announces a project for investing in research and development, but these measures are not in the least sufficient to deal with the problems involved.
The budget also shows a certain degree of cynicism, since there is no indication whatsoever that the unemployment insurance fund surplus is liable to stop growing.
Finally, after having shed a tear over child poverty, the budget says that, this year, the government will invest $50 million.
I will expand on these points. There are more. My colleagues talked about federal intrusion. I want to emphasize these particular points because they affect ordinary people. I wish there were a better word, but I have yet to find one.
Ordinary people are those who need social programs, average citizens. We are all ordinary people but when we use this expres-
sion, I think of those who know they have no power, no wealth, no RRSP and often no house. These are the people who need the government, who need social programs.
So what do these people see nowadays? They see that instead of improving their lives, instead of being able to count on the programs they urgently need, this budget announces that they will continue to experience severe cuts in funding. I am referring to the people of Quebec. They will continue to experience severe cuts in funding for health care, education and social programs.
And they will continue to experience the full impact of employment insurance reform, a shameful misnomer. In fact, they will not be able to count on any help at all. This is outrageous, when we consider the employment insurance fund. Since the Liberals came to power, the employment insurance fund has annually collected $4 billion or $5 billion more than it distributed in benefits.
This year, the surplus is expected to be $5.8 billion. These figures are shocking because they tell us that although the government expects to spend $13.5 billion on benefits, it will collect $19.3 billion, and $5.8 billion over $13.5 is something like 43 per cent. This is outrageous. This is highway robbery and misappropriation of funds. It is intolerable that only workers and the businesses that employ them should pay this special premium to reduce the deficit.
However, the minister is delighted. Did you hear that? The minister is delighted because he managed to reduce unemployment insurance premiums. He is delighted with the fact that he reduced costs. He is delighted with the fact he reduced the deficit. He did not say that this deficit reduction was largely paid for by workers earning up to $39,000, no more. People who work overtime and earn really big salaries do not pay a cent. Businesses that employ people and pay them up to $39,000 are the people who, since Liberals came to power, have paid for most of the reduction of the deficit.
There are really no words to express how unproductive this is from the economic point of view and how unfair it is to the people themselves. In fact, it would make any citizen indignant. I have no hesitation in showing my indignation, because I see it everywhere in my riding as do all hon. members in this House, who can testify to the general indignation of the public.
The Conservative government's withdrawal of the $2 billion paid by the main budget for job training from the unemployment insurance fund had major consequences. Three years later, there was a $6 billion deficit in the fund-three times $2 billion. Because the government was no longer responsible for this area, the unemployment insurance had to pay. Workers and businesses had to pay for job training.
However, since the Liberals came to power, things have been quite incredible. Now, the consolidated fund, the main budget, has little to do with job training, help and active measures, everything comes out of the unemployment insurance fund. In fact, the Minister of Human Resources Development's reform had the effect of having the unemployment insurance fund pay for what previously came out of the consolidated fund.
In other words, this is so twisted that the scandal rages on while all the members on the government side gloat. However, it makes no sense that the deficit reduction effort is not better distributed, including among businesses.
Which businesses pay their employees the most unemployment insurance? The labour intensive ones and the small and medium size businesses. The big ones rarely do. So the businesses providing the most jobs pay the most. Not just for the plan, but for the surplus in the fund, which is used only for the deficit.
When the minister decided to reduce the portion of salary from which unemployment insurance contributions are collected, we in the opposition tried to point out how unreasonable this was. Instead of spreading the costs of unemployment insurance to a population better able to afford it-the higher income earners-the level of earnings not subject to unemployment insurance premiums was reduced to $39,000. This is crazy.
The minister says: "This will continue. There was a $5 billion surplus in 1996; there will be at least $5 billion more at the end of 1997". About 1998-he is telling us what a good job he has done to get re-elected-he is saying nothing. He is saying nothing about reducing it, so there will be another $5 billion. It is turning into a tax, and not a hidden one. Much of unemployment insurance contributions goes to reducing the debt for society as a whole, yet it is workers who earn up to $39,000 who pay.
Those who can, who pay from their first hour of work, the first dollar they earn, they are the ones who are paying down the deficit. Those who earn over $39,000 are not.
I also want to discuss child poverty. This issue also makes me really upset. The Liberal government got elected after stressing how caring it was, how big a heart it had, and how it was going to tackle the issue of child poverty. Back in 1993, one of the initiatives the government promised to take to fight child poverty-I know because I was the critic on that issue and I debated it with the Liberal leading lights of the time-was a national daycare service. Not one penny was ever allocated to that project. Zero. The minister argued that the provinces would refuse to go along, which was true in some, but not in all cases. Be that as it may, not one penny was spent on that initiative. That commitment was going to cost $720 million.
I was astonished when I saw in the budget, that the minister was recycling that promise. The finance minister may not like the comparison, but he is doing with tax benefits what Mr. Duplessis used to do with his promise to build a bridge. Mr. Duplessis would run at least two elections on a promise to build a bridge. The Liberal Party is in the process of running two elections, perhaps three-we will see after the next election-with the same promise to tackle the real causes of child poverty.
This time, the instrument being used is not a national daycare service, but a chid tax benefit. However, what guarantee do we have that the government will fulfil this promise? This year, it will invest $50 million.
There are 1.5 million children in Quebec and in Canada who live in poverty. In its generous spirit, the government says: "We will invest $50 million", which means $33 more per year for each poor child in Quebec and in Canada. When children live in poverty it is because their parents live in poverty, because they do not have a job, because they were cut off employment insurance, because they have problems getting welfare, because they are not in good health. As you know, the causes of poverty are cumulative: one cause triggers another, and so on. Can the government seriously claim to be doing something about child poverty by giving $33 more per year per child? This is the firm part of its commitment.
The other is a promise, said to be carved in stone, a commitment. If this were my first election, I would say: "Let us give credit to the government. After all, there have been some Liberal traditions in the past". But now I do not give credit to the government this time. I have no confidence left in the government and, worse, I am outraged. And I am going to tell you why.
In his budget, the finance minister says that he is proud because, since the government is in office, in terms of deficit reduction, Canada has gone from being the worst country in the G7 to being the best, which means that Canada is the leader in deficit reduction.
Members are aware that international figures always take some time to adjust, but the latest OECD data-what better source can you ask for-show that Canada is the worst not only among the G7 nations, but also among the OECD countries in terms of assistance to poor children.
In what some say is the best country in the world, how can we accept to be the best in deficit reduction, at the expense of the future and the health of our children, given the social impact this will have, because we tried to go about it faster than other countries who were already doing much better that Canada was, at a time when Canada's programs were also doing much better?
I could quote it at length, but I will just point out that, in Europe, when they calculate poverty before transfers and taxes, in France, for instance, in 1984, it was 24.7 per cent before and 5.7 per cent after. In Canada, in 1987, the poverty rate was 18.4 and 12.6 per cent after taxes.
Since then, social programs in Canada have deteriorated. To my knowledge at least, a global evaluation has not been made but it must be made, since future generations are the ones that will pay. We talk a lot about the budget deficit; when will we talk about the health deficit, the intellectual development deficit, the social development deficit that will result from these often drastic cuts? These will be the social costs of the decisions this government is so proud of.
I would have liked the Bloc Quebecois not to be the only party in this House to speak up on this. My colleagues may make as much noise as they want, I know what I am talking about and they know it. They should be happy to have us here, since we are now the only ones to speak for the future of young people in Quebec and Canada in our role as the official opposition.
This is not a good budget for ordinary Canadians. This is a sad budget. All those who have already put enough money aside will benefit from the economic indicators, but everybody else will be hard-pressed to find hope where there is not much hope.