Mr. Speaker, there is a very specific context for today's motion; for the first time in three decades the federal government has a surplus—I shall return to this point shortly—at the very same time as all the provinces, and more specifically all the people in Quebec and in Canada, are faced with serious problems in the health area.
There is a connection between the surplus accumulated by the federal government and all these social problems, those relating to employment insurance and health, in particular, and that is why we are proposing this motion.
Six months into this year, the government had already accumulated a surplus of $10.4 billion. The Minister of Finance told us so last week. Yet, one month ago, the Minister of Finance himself told us he did not foresee any surplus this year or next year, just as he had done last year and in the past five years.
This minister wants us to believe that things are going better than he predicted. In my opinion, it is impossible within three weeks for a Minister of Finance not to have noticed this $10.4 billion difference, unless he is totally incompetent. Incompetent, or cooking the books. What is more, those two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. It is possible that the minister is incompetent, and that at the same time he is hiding the truth from us.
This $10.4 billion surplus was built up in the following way. Over all those years, the employment insurance fund was building up a surplus, one which has now reached $20 billion, and seems likely to reach $7 billion this year alone.
What we do know is that it has already reached the $5.1 billion mark, that is one-half of the total surplus. This is money that has been taken from the pockets of the unemployed, money that has been taken from the provinces, since this year alone $6.3 billion has been cut from the transfer payments for health, post-secondary education and social assistance.
The government took this money as well from the pockets of the middle class, since, for the past year, that is since this government has been in office, personal income tax has increased by $20 billion—simply because personal income tax is not indexed. The government wants us to believe that it has lowered income tax, but by not indexing the tax tables, it increased taxes.
This is where the surplus comes from. The consequences for the provinces in terms of health care are enormous. For the country, it means that since 1993 cuts have totalled some $17.2 billion. In Quebec alone, the cuts represent $4.6 billion. A huge amount.
For this year—as I said earlier—the cuts total $6.3 billion, and for Quebec, $1.8 billion. In Quebec the curve is climbing. It will not be long before the proportion of federal cuts to the Canada social transfer aimed at Quebeckers reaches 30%.
Last year, the Government of Quebec had a deficit of $2.1 billion, if I remember rightly, and this year the federal government cut $1.8 billion. Had it not been for this government, there would have been no deficit.
Then there are the remarks by the Quebec Liberal leader, Jean Charest, so vigorously supported now by the federal Liberal Party. In the 1997 election campaign, in a leaders' debate and here and there across the country—and he was right to say it—he said “The problems in health care are not Harris' fault, they are not Klein's fault, they are not Rochon's fault, they are not Bouchard's fault, they are the fault of the Prime Minister of Canada”. That is what Jean Charest said.
I hope he will continue saying it now that he wants to be the great defender of Quebec's interests. He can replay this speech he used throughout Quebec in an effort to win votes. He was right them. But I would not say this applies only to Quebec. This problem is occurring everywhere in Canada.
Newfoundland, for example, is reduced to asking army doctors to replace civilian ones. Brian Tobin, “Captain Canada”, is now critical of his former colleagues in the federal government, saying “Enough health care cuts, I cannot handle any more in Newfoundland”.
He is having such a hard time that, in his economic statement yesterday or the day before in St. John's, his minister of finance gave no figures.
This is reminiscent of the health minister here, in Ottawa, who addresses health issues without showing any compassion for the victims of hepatitis C and responsibility to the provinces.
What is true in Newfoundland is also true in Manitoba. People in Manitoba now have to cross the border, to Dakota, to get treated, and they end up in some shack. In Manitoba, moving toward ambulatory care means going to the U.S. to seek medical care in some shack because of the cuts imposed by the Canadian government. So, this is also happening in Manitoba and just about everywhere else across the country. That is why the premiers signed an agreement when they met in Saskatoon.
I would point out that the premiers of all the provinces except Quebec are staunch federalists. This is not a sovereignist conspiracy. The social union agreement is predicated on something Quebec has been demanding for a long time, a principle it has been fighting for, that is the right to opt out with full compensation, in provincial areas of jurisdiction like health and education.
All premiers agreed on this. They also asked that funding for health be restored following last year's $6.3 billion cutback in transfer payments. All the premiers are calling on the government to reinvest in health care, starting with $2 billion right away.
For Quebec, $2 billion represents the wage envelope for all nursing personnel. Members can therefore well imagine the hardship caused by this bunch of irresponsible politicians. That is what lead the Prime Minister to say, when he met President Chirac in France at a time when there were demonstrations in that country: “We do not have these kinds of problems in Canada because we have found the perfect solution: we make the decisions in Ottawa and then force the provinces to implement them. We wash our hands of everything”. That is exactly what he said, and he was right.
For once, Jean Chrétien expressed himself clearly, without pepper spray and without a baseball bat. He spoke his mind.
You are giving me the sign, Mr. Speaker. I am sure it is the victory sign because that is what is coming in Quebec.