Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-72, an act to amend the Income Tax Act and that implements certain other measures announced in the 1998 budget.
I would mention right off that it is very difficult for the Bloc Quebecois to support Bill C-72, because we realize once again that the government's priorities are not in the right place.
There are certain aspects of it worth keeping, but the bill does not resolve the situation of Quebeckers entirely.
Although I have been here only since June 1997, I realize that the same thing happens all the time on the other side, regardless whether the year is 1997, 1998 or 1999.
Yesterday, I was invited to comment on the 1999 budget. Often the agenda of the government across is hard to follow. They are trying to bring us back to 1998 provisions, when the fact of the matter is that, whether it be 1997, 1998 or 1999, it is always the same thing.
This government used the money in the employment insurance fund, cut transfers to the provinces and, through all sorts of little indirect taxes, managed to bring its deficit down to zero.
However, if this government had wanted use the surpluses at its disposal in a more logical way, not just now but also in the 1998 budget, we would find much more interesting measures for Quebeckers and Canadians.
For example, last year, in 1998, the budget did not provide anything for the unemployed, the students and the sick. These people thought that this year, in 1999, the Minister of Finance would announce measures that would be much more fair and just, measures that would allow them to breathe a little more easily.
Last year, the unemployed, the sick, the young, the students and the poor realized that, perhaps, one more effort was necessary to enable this government to achieve a zero deficit.
Incidentally, it is difficult to understand how this government plans its budgets. I do not know of any Quebec or Canadian business that would remain in operation with such forecasts. It is easy to predict a zero deficit in 1998, 1999, and again in the year 2000. But then, what does the Minister of Finance do with his officials? He fiddles with the figures. To fiddle with the figures means to manipulate them on all fronts. First, the government claims there is hardly any surplus in the employment insurance fund. But this year, in 1999, surpluses will reach $26 billion.
Last year, they were also very high and I am almost certain that, in the document tabled this morning by the Minister of Human Resources Development on the current status of the employment insurance program, we will find things that need to be corrected.
Since it came to power, this government has been trying to create two classes in Canadian society: the rich and the poor. The worst of it is that the money of the least well off is being used to benefit the most well off. For several years now, whenever there have been tax breaks, the Bloc Quebecois has asked that they be targeted so as to help those who have paid down the deficit recover some of their money. But this is not what has be happening. It is not what happened in 1997 and 1998 and it is certainly not what happened in 1999.
The EI fund belongs to unemployed workers and employers. This government has not put one red cent into it. What is it doing with the money in the EI fund? It is siphoning it into the consolidated revenue fund, not just to be able to hand it over to the richest members of society but also to use in its forays into areas of provincial jurisdiction.
The examples are numerous. Well we remember the September 1997 throne speech where it was already apparent that this propagandist government was prepared to interfere in provincial affairs.
The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs told the House that our constitution was one of the most decentralized in the world. They are working daily to take this increasingly unitary Canada and use the constitution to centralize the government. Why? Because they are going to negotiate internationally. International law will play a role.
The people on the other side of the floor, and those in English Canada, do not understand the globalization issue. But we know very well that if they turn up at negotiations without having remedied that lack of understanding, they may be told “Put your own constitution in order; put your own affairs in order; respect your partners and then we will start negotiating”.
Every day this government is involved in meddling into areas of provincial jurisdiction, so that it can show internationally that it is now a central government with a constitution that allows it to do so.
This is how all of its actions are carried out, and this is why, within the framework of a bill such as Bill C-72, we find only minor measures, mere crumbs thrown at those who need help.
Getting back to employment insurance, is there anything more distressing in life than losing one's job? With the restructuring and readjustments that are going on in many companies, people are losing their jobs and need retraining. They need a chance to catch their breath. But when they turn up at the Human Resources Development offices, they are not sure whether they will get any EI benefits. The concerns of our unemployed are increasing. We know that only 40% of workers who pay into the plan are entitled to benefits. This is a matter of concern.
What is even more disgusting is that the little people are making sacrifices, the least well off, the unemployed, the single mothers, the students, and now they are seeing the money going instead into the Canadian government's consolidated fund, from there the Minister of Finance can distribute it anywhere and everywhere.
Bill C-72 is silent on the millennium scholarships. Yet, that program was announced in the 1998 budget. We know it will soon be implemented. What does that mean for students in Quebec and in the rest of Canada?
In Quebec, we have a very good loans and scholarships program, one of the best in North America. Now, the federal government will get involved, through this scheme, in a provincial jurisdiction. A student who will apply to the foundation will have to make a report to be eligible to the loans and scholarships program. Some young people may be penalized by this administrative ambiguity, particularly since the Quebec government already has an infrastructure, through its loans and scholarships program, that provides very good services.
Who, at the federal level, will administer the foundation? It is a private body headed by the president of Bell Canada. This is worrisome. We do not know how much it will cost. We do not know how it will work, but we do know that it will deprive Quebec students from hundreds of millions of dollars.
Members will understand that, when the government came up with its social union, when it negotiated with the other provinces, the Premier of Quebec, Lucien Bouchard, could not sign that agreement. We saw what happened with the last budget.
We can also see how this government is putting itself into the position of being able to distribute gifts in all provinces and especially to meddle in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
A business facing financial difficulties usually looks first within the organization to see if it can cut expenses in order to increase revenues.
I have sat on the public accounts committee, and I realized on many occasions that the departments had not yet made the effort. They did make the effort when it came to cutting personnel and services to the public. However, when it came to big salaries, managers and money that could benefit those who make significant contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada, the government has a very hard time housekeeping.
What is the government doing to eliminate its deficit? It pumps off the surpluses in employment insurance. It made draconian cuts to transfer payments in health care, education and social programs. In addition, this government has became expert at adding little taxes to public services, such as passports, national parks and so on.
Today the government has stopped providing services free of charge. However, in a society such as ours, the government has its share. We are having to keep paying for services paid for by taxes that come out of the pockets of taxpayers and, moreover, we are overtaxed.
I will not get back to Bill C-72. Another ploy the federal government used to get more money into its coffers was to harmonize the GST. In New Brunswick, it was smooth sailing, but not in Quebec. Figures and statistics were trotted out.
The current Minister of Finance is a creative bookkeeping artist. He is tops in his class. For the 1998 budget, the difference between forecasts and the actual figures varied from 40% to 50%. How can we believe such a Minister of Finance? An entire country does not know what to think.
The most important minister after the Prime Minister is the Minister of Finance. However, his actions and the fact that his forecasts are not more rigorous undermine the credibility of the entire government. We have denounced this situation countless times in the House, before the Standing Committee on Finance, and wherever we got the chance. People are clearly having trouble understanding what is going on and they are having particular difficulty figuring out what this government is really trying to do.
In September 1997 we saw that it was getting ready to interfere in provincial affairs, strengthen its Constitution and try to show the rest of Canada that the country was a unitary state, but fortunately Quebeckers saw through this. In fact, the Globe and Mail recently published the results of a poll showing that, if a referendum were held, 49.2% of the population would vote in favour. This poll was taken before Bernard Landry, Quebec's Minister of Finance, brought down his budget.
This same government sent its ministers, senators, secretaries of state and private members to fan out through Quebec during the break and still they dropped 4% in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois now has 46% of voting intentions in Quebec.
This proves that, even if the government is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the other provinces, Quebeckers can still see clearly and understand that, if they want Quebec to take its rightful place in the world market, there is but one solution: Quebec sovereignty. It is the way we will be able to continue to put forward the ideas of the great Quebeckers who have, since the quiet revolution, seen things clearly and have seen that Quebec no longer had a place within the present federal system.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot, therefore, give full support today to these small amendments to the Income Tax Act, in the form of Bill C-72. Possibly we would like to see other provisions in the 1999 budget that would meet the needs of the least well off. There could be targeted tax reductions, not the general ones that were the result of taking money contributed by the unemployed and their employers from the employment insurance fund. There would have to be a general redistribution to everyone, starting with the poorest members of society, who have paid for the richest.
My fears about this government, particularly with all that is coming up to do with globalization, is that, despite all of the economic upheavals there are going to be in the years to come, this government is already taking steps to create two classes in Canada, the rich and the poor.
We in the Bloc Quebecois, a party more open to the middle class, hope that people, whether rich or poor, can be treated fairly and equitably. This is not going to happen with what the federal Liberal government is introducing this morning.