Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today as part of the debate on the budget speech. However, I am less than delighted with the budget.
In fact, I have a short anecdote for you. One or two days after it was tabled, an accountant was to come to the chamber of commerce in my riding to make a presentation on the budget. In his introduction, he said: "When I learned I would be doing this presentation, I was quite anxious thinking there would be a lot of elements that would be difficult to integrate. My problem this morning is that there is nothing new in the government's budget, so there are few elements. It is a budget on automatic pilot".
The problem is that we do not need budgets on automatic pilot in Canada and Quebec at the moment, we need budgets that address the main problem: jobs. In past years, a lot of work was done on the issue of the deficit with some results, although much was done on the backs of the provinces through cuts to transfer payments and on
the backs of the unemployed through the unemployment insurance reform.
As far as jobs are concerned, this time, the issue on the table, the main concern of the people in my region, in Quebec and in Canada is, how are we going to use the human potential available? And how is it that the unemployment rates are acceptable?
The government is arguing that it can do no more. It is setting up attractive conditions, and it is up to the private sector to create jobs. The private sector has a responsibility in job creation, but the government also has the responsibility of tackling this problem.
The first step would be for the Prime Minister to say: "We will indeed make it a priority, we will set up objectives to ensure we put the same energy in job creation as we may have put into deficit reduction in the past". The tools are there. We can suggest some to him. On the weekend, at the Bloc Quebecois convention, there was no shortage of solutions proposed at the workshop on employment.
We are not saying that it is an easy matter, but there are things that the government could do, but chooses not to simply because it lacks the political will to do so. For example, it could very substantially reduce unemployment insurance premiums, which would result in the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. It could create an employment RRSP, as suggested by the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, the Bloc Quebecois' finance critic. We made this proposal to the minister. What did he do with it? He forgot about it. They decided it would be business as usual. They stuck to the traditional course, and did not bother with that.
Jobs have been created in the past and are still being created, but a whole class of people, all the unskilled workers who have been affected by technological change, are being ignored, much as if they were so much cast-off furniture. This is unacceptable.
Society must be able to react more rapidly if we are to have an agreement on manpower. A system which takes as long to react as the Canadian one does is unprecedented. For the past five years everybody in Quebec has been saying that common sense requires Quebec to be responsible for manpower, but the federal side is still hemming and hawing, trying to ensure that it will have some control over it, while it really falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec.
This is another tool which has to be handed over to ensure a better match between workers' training and available jobs. The employment insurance fund surplus must be used to this end. It must be used not only in the financial statements, to reduce the deficit, but above all to launch dynamic manpower training initiatives, to allow workers to get a training and keep their jobs. We must be proactive and take action before problems appear.
There is nothing of that kind in the budget and I think the federal government should do its homework to ensure that interesting solutions are found.
Other means were suggested in a workshop on employment during the Bloc Quebecois convention, this past weekend. For example, we could do something to reduce drastically the red tape for small and medium business. I challenge the members to go through all the administrative steps that must be taken when a business is established. The number of governmental organizations to communicate with and the number of forms to fill up are enough to discourage any entrepreneur from creating jobs.
A progressive retirement plan proposal was also put forward. Why not allow people who are at the end of their careers to gradually reduce their job schedule to four, three or two days for the last five years and to use their RRSPs to make up for the difference without having a tax penalty. That would be an incentive for them and an opportunity for young people. Again, this is an interesting solution.
Mutual fund or investment fund management is another issue that must be looked into, even though it is more complex. Many funds invest on the American market and other markets around the world. As the government here in Canada, we have a duty to provide interesting conditions to make sure these funds invest in Quebec and Canada so that our savings support our own development and not the development of others.
There is another avenue to explore. Look at what is happening today: while jobs are being created for individuals with postsecondary education, the situation remains dismal for those without high school education. Literacy needs to be improved. Does this budget contain any major initiative providing for the federal government to withdraw from this area, give the budgets back to the provinces and let them take over? No, not a word.
They are leaving it up to market forces without making any attempt at enabling those who have been a little left out because of their lack of education to train, get back in the race on the labour market and finally get work. There is nothing to that effect in this budget.
There is another instance where, in my opinion, the Minister of Finance lacked compassion. For nearly a year now, questions have been asked and letters written to the minister about American pensions. While the minister acknowledged there were iniquities in the new tax treaty between Canada and the U.S., nothing has been done. This matter should have been addressed in the February budget.
The tax treaty between Canada and the U.S does have to be amended, reopened if possible, or reviewed from an administrative point of view. While we are still waiting for a final decision on this, there are people who have been living on $6,000 a year for the past
two years. They used to receive $8,000, a small pension if you consider that some of them do not yet qualify for old age security. Members should try working out a household budget of $6,000 a year, just to see.
Before, people did not have to pay taxes upon receiving their cheque from the American government. They would receive the whole amount and declare half of it the following year, in their tax return. This taxation method allowed low income people to be a little better off, thanks to their tax refund. This is no longer the case. Now, 25 per cent of the amount of the cheque issued by the American government goes directly to the U.S. treasury, and Canadians have no way of getting that money back.
What is rather unfair is that people who worked and earned a good salary for a long time, and who are now getting a big pension, are in a better financial position than they were in the past. However, low income people, that is those who receive $8,000, $12,000 or $15,000 per year, or a support income of $3,000 or $4,000, are now being deprived of an essential part of that income.
The Minister of Finance should have spent as much time looking at this issue as he gave some people to take advantage of tax loopholes. A change must be made as soon as possible. I am asking the minister to get the unanimous consent of the House to correct this situation, through the budget or through a short term measure, at least on a temporary basis.
We made suggestions, including a proposal whereby the income supplement would be calculated on the net amount received by the individual, thus allowing senior citizens to get their supplement more easily. Such a solution would not solve the problem, but at least it would make it easier to give back money to those who need it on a daily basis. We are not talking about family trusts, we are not talking about billions of dollars: we are talking about people who need that money to buy milk, to buy butter and to pay their rent. The federal government is showing an unacceptable lack of compassion toward these people.
For all these reasons, I feel the government did not do its homework with this budget. It merely lets the train follow the tracks without changing the speed. We have a new problem called non-employment. This shortage of jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, keeps us from putting to work citizens who are ready and willing to serve their community.
We must create opportunities, we must create a dynamic. The government must really make this a priority and follow up on the slogans used during the election campaign. Imagine the impact, on the credibility of parliamentarians, of the slogan "jobs, jobs, jobs" used by the Liberals in the 1993 election campaign now that, four years later, there are as many people out of work as there were back then.
During the next election campaign, the Conservatives will use the speeches made by the Liberals in 1993 to talk about change, while the Liberals will use the Conservative rhetoric. This is a tradition among old line parties. However, it does not solve the problem.
What is required in this budget are clear and specific decisions and commitments on the part of the government to make employment a priority. For these reasons, we will support the amendment tabled by the Bloc Quebecois.