Mr. Speaker, this budget is a disappointment. It raises ire and promises the worst.
This budget is a disappointment because, once again, the unemployed are footing the bill. They will be paying for federal generosity, because the employment insurance fund will remain the government's cash cow, and the Minister of Human Resources Development will continue to be the valet to the Minister of Finance.
There is nothing for the unemployed in this budget. According to the forecasts, the government will be taking $4.9 billion from their pockets. In fact, by the end of the fiscal year, it will be more than $6 billion, probably $6.5 billion or $7 billion. That means that there will be in the unemployment insurance fund, what they call employment insurance—it is shameful to have such terminology for such purposes—somewhere around $25 billion taken from the pockets of the most disadvantaged.
There is no relaxation of this plan, which is pushing individuals and families into poverty, misery, despair—as I have seen in the Gaspé and in my riding. Children come home from school hungry because their parents are no longer entitled to employment insurance benefits.
Only 36% of those who have contributed and are unemployed are entitled to benefits. If an insurance agent charged two or three times the amount of the premium, compensated two victims out of five and pocketed the profits, as the Minister of Finance is doing, he would be taken to court and he would end up in jail. Yet, this is what the Minister of Finance, who is more interested in looking after his ships than after the unemployed, is doing.
We are also disappointed because the government made the deliberate choice of helping the rich rather than the middle class, by abolishing the 3% surtax instead of indexing the tax tables. Ever since the government stopped indexing the tax tables, the middle class has been paying ever increasing taxes. There have been no tax cuts. There are more and more middle class people whose salary has gone up, but their financial situation has not improved, since the price of consumer goods has also gone up. These people are paying more taxes because the government did not index the tax tables. This means that the tax burden of the middle class remains excessively heavy.
To be sure, the Minister of Finance will tell us about the child tax benefit. But let us not forget that this benefit only applies to low income families. After all, could it be that, if children are poor, it is because their parents are poor? Could it be that many children are poor because the Minister of Human Resources Development, another bad choice of words, is devoid of compassion and cold-hearted? He is a technocrat.
This minister is making sure that some men and women no longer qualify for EI benefits and therefore have no money to look after their children. And then he sheds tears and laments the plight of children who live in poverty. Do members know what this sort of behaviour is called? It is called hypocrisy, and this is what we get from the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance.
This budget is outrageous, because it clearly shows that the federal government does not care about the provinces and that social union will, to all intents and purposes, lead directly to a unitary state. In fact, we are seeing the first fallout from the social union because nowhere in the document, with its constant references to the social union, is it stated that Quebec did not sign the agreement.
The government refers to it repeatedly, but fails to mention that Quebec never signed such an agreement, and a good thing when we see what is happening to the other provinces, always of course with the complicity of the Premier of Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow.
They will never get us to believe that this agreement runs for only three years and that federal interference in provincial areas of jurisdiction will therefore be limited to three years as well. We know this is not true.
We know that these are institutions that will become permanent and that will sanction the presence of the federal government in the health sector. In fact, what the federal government is trying to do is to slip the social union past Quebec.
Ottawa's strategy is to put $1.4 billion into health, although this is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction, through various initiatives. One of the programs announced was the national health surveillance network. Ottawa knows best. Big brother is at work.
Now, the federal government is going to link up public health laboratories. Why? So as to be better able to impose its own priorities. Yet there is no serious problem with the interprovincial exchange of information on serious illnesses and epidemics. We do not need the federal government creating another bureaucracy, particularly in health because, as I said the other day, in biology, the function creates the organ, but in Ottawa it is the reverse. As soon as they have any money at all, they create another bureaucracy.
There are already all sorts of mechanisms at the interprovincial and federal-provincial levels for these purposes. What is the reason for these initiatives by Ottawa at a time when emergency rooms are overflowing and waiting lists for surgery are growing? What does Ottawa do? It carries out new studies and collects more statistics.
But the provinces know where the problems lie. They do not need a federal big brother to do studies for three or four years and then tell them emergency rooms are overcrowded. They know that already. So should Ottawa, because it was the one that cut health funding by $6 billion in Quebec alone over the last four years. And now it expects us to thank it for giving $1 billion back. It is a bit like expecting someone who has had $6,000 stolen to thank the thief for giving back $1,000, leaving him only $5,000 short. And the spineless Liberal Party members from Quebec give it their seal of approval.
What is even more disgraceful in all this is that the real needs are being felt throughout the health system, but a new bureaucracy of statisticians is being created. We do not need statisticians; we need doctors, nurses, specialized health care providers and support staff. Ottawa gives us numbers, paper and bureaucrats. Some priority.
There is another program called the NURSE fund, whereby the federal government is trying to do indirectly what the Constitution prevents it from doing directly, namely interfere in health care management through the role it assumes with regard to our nursing staff, something a minister was bragging about a few moments ago.
I will read an excerpt from a budget document dealing with this issue. It says, and I quote:
—better enable nurses to deliver quality care—
—in an environment of health care restructuring; identify approaches to retrain—
—the existing workforce; and attract new members to the profession.
In one sentence, we see interference in three different areas, namely health, education and manpower training. If we want to attract new members to the nursing profession, we do not need statisticians, sociologists or rocket scientists from the federal government. Give us back the money and we will know what to do with it. We will give nurses higher salaries and hire more of them. We need money, not far-fetched ideas from the finance minister and his accomplices.
In the computer age where communications are transforming our society, the federal government will use new technologies to further interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction. I am thinking of the telehomecare, telehealth program. Ottawa can now have a physical presence in CLSCs and is in the process of creating virtual CLSCs. This is unacceptable, especially the unfair treatment Quebec is getting in the distribution of additional health transfers.
First of all, I must point out the hypocritical methods used by the federal government in announcing, without ever consulting Quebec, how it will distribute the $11.5 billion that will be put back into the health care system. Quebec was not consulted, probably because this was part of the federal government's overall strategy regarding the social union issue. Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia were given kickbacks and asked to sign. That is what the arrangement was, as we now know.
The document on health, signed by the ten premiers, specifies that any amount paid back through the Canada health and social transfer was to be reinvested in health on the same terms and conditions as before. Once again, the Prime Minister broke the promise he made, when he signed, but he has done that on many occasions before. His whole career has been marked by such actions.
On the social union, consultations and a a one-year notice are provided for. The agreement was signed on February 4. The budget was brought down on February 16. The whole method of funding health care has been changed. That is how Ontario's support was bought, and we have seen that the stage was set for Mike Harris' comedy. That is how British Columbia and Alberta were bought as well.
We only need a few figures to illustrate this. In 1998-99, of the extra $2 billion in transfers for health, $150 million will go to Quebec and $949 million will go to Ontario. As for the $11.5 billion over five years, $950 million will go to Quebec and $5.5 billion to Ontario. That is billion, not million. Overall, Quebec will receive 8.3% of the transfers, while Ontario will receive 47%.
Whatever the period considered, Ontario receives six times more money than Quebec. That is what this good budget for Quebec is about, apparently. Of course, the spineless Liberal members we have here in Ottawa, these federalist yes-men, will contend that Quebec is getting an extra $1.4 billion in equalization payments, which is nothing but money owned to Quebec for the miscalculations the federal government has made three years in a row.
I heard the Minister of Immigration state, yesterday, that they are trying to repair a historic injustice. In fact, they are creating another one for Quebec. This is disappointing on the part of a former health and education minister in Quebec. This kind of attitude is disappointing, appalling and sad. We are expected to be pleased this consolation prize, because that is what equalization is, a consolation prize for other policies.
A few years ago, I heard the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs say that, to bring Quebec nationalists and even federalist nationalists to take a more realistic view, Quebec would have to suffer. I think he has achieved his goal this time. His prescription has been filled by federal bureaucrat pharmacists, “Quebec is getting what the doctor ordered”. That is strong medicine. This is the sort of utter nonsense this minister utters; however, cabinet accepted it.
It is a short term solution. Ontario will receive ongoing transfer payments now and not just on the 50% provided for last year by the Minister of Finance in the social transfers, but on the whole thing, all 100%, not only for education or health, where there is a certain rationale for a per capita basis, but also for social welfare.
Should a province have 23% of the social welfare cases because it represents 23% of the population? That is the sort of nonsensical reasoning of the government and the Minister of Finance.
Let us take a look at what this per capita method would mean overall. If it applies to social transfers, will it apply to current federal spending on goods and services, where Quebec receives 20% instead of 24%? Will it apply to federal capital assets and spending, where Quebec receives 19% instead of 24%? Will it apply to federal subsidies to business, where Quebec received 18% rather than 24%. And to federal laboratories, where the figure is 16%? And to research and development, where it is 14%?
In the national capital region, of 43 research centres, 42 on the Ottawa side and one in Hull. Is that chance? We do not think so. It is not a matter of chance, this is traditional Ottawa politics. That is 13% of federal personnel in science and technology, and I am not including the army.
Let us have a look at regional development. In the maritimes, the per capita amount from the federal government is $1,074; in Quebec it is $325. In this case, the per capita basis is not a good thing. They forget the per capita basis when it is worth their while, and the Liberals from Quebec, marching merrily along, have not a word to say about it. They will agree to anything. This sort of attitude is shameful.
This government and this Minister of Finance in particular, with his henchman, his shylock in human resources, are shameless. Political schemes are now what guide the Minister of Finance in determining how the accounting should be done.
The Minister of Finance tells us he is going to stay the course, creating trusts like the millennium scholarships, in the name of good public health and transparency. When we ask questions here in the House about the millennium scholarships, we are told that we must ask the foundation. What is transparent about that? When we notice surpluses, later on, they will tell us there is a foundation, that they cannot answer our questions.
They call that transparency. I have another word for it, like the term fair play they use so often. Unfortunately, fair play seems to be the best we can come up with in French as an equivalent for the English, but 90% of the time these people use the expression fair play to mean what we call hypocrisy in French. That is the only word for it.
We know that surpluses will magically materialize next spring. The Minister of Finance will say that the government has done much better than he expected it would, and that he had no idea three weeks earlier that there would be a $15 billion surplus.
The Minister of Finance may be a lot of things, but he is not unintelligent. He is not lacking in the brain department. He knows how to count, we know that. He is a good counter, but we do not have the right accounting book. This is because, every year, the minister indulges in a game of cooking the books. It reminds me of the recipes of a chef named Pol Martin. I can mention that name, because there is indeed a chef named Pol Martin.
The minister underestimates revenues, overestimates spending, dips into the employment insurance fund of his accomplice, all this with a good dose of political cynicism seasoned à la Pol Martin, the chef, not the Minister of Finance, of course.
He tells us he is being cautious, but his figures no longer mean anything. One cannot be off the mark by $15 billion or $12 billion year after year. People know that what is being announced now is not what will be announced in March and in October, when the last quarter will end. Last year, the Bloc Quebecois said the surplus would be at least $2.5 billion. We were told “No, no, no, this is wrong”. Well, in October, it turned out to be $3.5 billion. This is the reality. The minister uses the same trick every year.
So, surpluses will appear once again and what will the government do? It will set up new trusts. Last year, the government got involved in education, while this year it is in the health sector. What will it be involved in next year? Perhaps in municipal affairs, road infrastructures or whatever.
Things are becoming more and more clear with this government. We can see why the Prime Minister was anxious to hold a last minute meeting, on February 4, after refusing to do so just before the budget. It was to bribe the provinces that would sign the agreement and keep quiet afterwards. This government is rebuilding Canada for Canadians, for the nine other provinces that are working together.
I have nothing against their wanting to build a Canada in their own image. I have known for a long time that Quebec has no place in there. We are in each other's way because we are two different peoples with two different ways of doing things. And there are nine allies on the other side who sign documents, only to go back on their word afterwards. The Prime Minister did it yesterday by not adhering to the social union agreement with regard to transfer payments.
The Prime Minister told us that the Constitution's general store was closed. I can tell you that the Prime Minister's boutique is open for business and that federal officials are getting in through the back door and getting ready to change everything in this country, trying to impose upon Quebec their own vision of Canada. They are telling us: “You will comply. You will be pleased to get equalization payments. You will be pleased that there is no productive policy for Quebec. You will be pleased with things such as the energy line in the past, even though you are not getting your share of the research and development envelope. But you have equalization payments. You have more employment insurance, more unemployment insurance”.
Could it be because unemployment is on the rise and federal policies have something to do with it? All the yes-men, all the happy beggars, Liberal members from Quebec, applaud their leader.
Quebec's motto is “I remember”. I can tell you that this budget will not be well received in Quebec, that we will remember it. If they think they can impose their own vision of Canada, the Bloc will be here to defend Quebec's true interests.
We will not give in, as those on the other side constantly do, thinking that 74 Liberals out of 75 signed the Constitution in 1982. We called them “the 74 nitwits”. I think we are not through seeing nitwits among federal Liberals from Quebec.