Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate, but I am not delighted to rise today in this House to speak to Bill C-36.
It implements certain provisions in the latest budget of the Minister of Finance including the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. I will return to this a little later in my speech.
Perhaps you would allow me right off to put all the nonsense in the latest budget into perspective. The government opposite is continuously heaping praise on the Minister of Finance for his work in balancing the budget.
Let us get things clear from the start. There is no question of congratulating a government so irresponsible about the job it has to do as to have others do it, namely the provinces. This, in my opinion and that of the Bloc, makes the entire budget operation totally unacceptable. The federal government achieved its zero deficit by scandalously dumping its financial obligations and responsibilities into the yards of the provinces.
To eliminate its deficit, the Liberal government has cut annually, since 1994, $7.2 billion in transfers to the provinces, which represents 52% of all the federal government's spending cuts. In its two terms, the government opposite will literally have chopped $42 billion in social transfer payments to the provinces.
In 1995, the federal government promised, through its finance minister, to cut departmental expenditures by 19% over three years. Once again, it did not do its homework, since it cut only 9%, proving yet again that nearly all efforts to improve government finances came from elsewhere.
What this year's budget neglects to say, and the public must be aware of this, is that there will be an additional $30 billion in cuts by 2003 to the health, education and social assistance sectors.
To give an idea of the size of the cuts, for Quebec alone, between 1993 and 2003, a cumulative total of $13 billion will be cut from the budget for transfers to Quebec. It is not for nothing that the Quebec minister of state for the economy and finance, Bernard Landry, told the federal government that its federalism was “predatory and abusive”. I will add “irresponsible, centralizing and creating poverty” to that.
If we examine the effects of these cuts in the daily lives of people in Quebec and Canada, we will see they are totally devastating. We must keep in mind that, when the Liberals took office in 1993, 61% of the unemployed were eligible for employment insurance benefits. Now, five years later, fewer than 40% of them are.
The latest employment insurance report states in black and white that young workers are the age group most affected by this drop in eligibility.
But what is most objectionable about the employment insurance situation is the surplus accumulated in the fund, which is up to about $14 billion at this point. It is expected to hit $25 billion by the year 2000. Imagine what could be done with all that dormant money.
Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been shouting itself hoarse about the budget cuts being made at the expense of the disadvantaged in our society, and here is proof of it. I would describe these budget practices as fraudulent and a real theft.
The Bloc Quebecois is therefore attuned to the problems of the population, unlike the government over there, which keeps its head buried in the sand. Proof of this is the number of occasions we have begged the federal government to stop using the employment insurance fund to balance its books. The Bloc has always maintained that these funds are there to support the unemployed and to help get them back into the work force.
In addition, the Bloc Quebecois, with the backing of the labour movement, businessmen and the general public, has fought constantly to get the federal government to substantially cut workers' and employers' EI contribution rates, which are currently far too high and hamper job creation.
The Bloc Quebecois has picked up on the signals coming from the public by proposing concrete and practical measures including a $3 billion overall reduction in contributions, which represents an additional cut of about 35 cents in the contribution rate. Compared to the present rate of $2.70, the planned drop to $2.60 by the year 2000, or a mere 10 cents, will have no significant impact on job creation.
In spite of the unprecedented room to manoeuvre it has in the current budget, the government opposite chose to do nothing to stimulate job creation. No tax reform geared to job creation, no special budget measure to improve the fate of thousands of unemployed Quebeckers and Canadians.
In short, when it comes to job creation this budget is a failure. And yet the unemployment rate is stuck at around 9%.
Instead of creating jobs, the government prefers to create new programs resulting in more duplication and interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, and keeps on doing what it knows best, namely how to spend somebody else's money.
A case in point is the hasty purchase of submarines to the tune of $750 million, a real bargain. After cutting billions of dollars from social transfer in the areas of health, education and welfare, the federal government is investing in youth and job creation by purchasing armament. These are the real priorities of this government.
Imagine what we could do with the $750 million it sunk into ships. I am asking the members opposite: Why not invest this money to feed the 1.4 million poor children we have in Canada?
This is one child out of five. Imagine all this money to help the five million Canadians who are living below the poverty line, which is 17.4% of this country's population. These are the priorities of the government across the way.
Another reason people in Quebec and Canada have been getting poorer since this government came to power is probably the $30 billion more they have to pay in taxes to the federal government.
In order to help stop this hemorrhage, the Bloc Quebecois asked the finance minister and other ministers to stop creating new programs. But of course, he did not listen and set up new programs including the millennium scholarships, a cornerstone of Bill C-36. This $2.5 billion fund, which will only come into force in the year 2000, is an unprecedented and blatant intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, education.
The Prime Minister of Canada knows very well that, for over 30 years, we have had in Quebec the most comprehensive loans and scholarships plan in Canada.
Federalists, sovereignists and the education circles in Quebec have voiced strong opposition to this federal visibility campaign. This program does not in any way meet the needs of Quebec and its quite distinct education system. That is why Quebec rejects this program and wants to opt out with full financial compensation.
This is not a whimsical demand. It is part of a rational effort aimed specifically at meeting the immediate needs of the education system in Quebec and compensating for the $10 billion in federal cuts to transfers for education, with Quebec's share of these cuts amounting to $3 billion between 1993 and 2003.
This is outright hypocrisy. But students and the general public in Quebec will not be fooled. They know very well that these scholarships are a blatant effort to win the support of students in Quebec and in Canada. But sooner or later, the government will pay for these serious mistakes. Quebekers will understand once and for all that the only way out of this federal quagmire is Quebec sovereignty.