Mr. Speaker, this motion comes at a rather particular juncture today, because the women are in Washington today. They were there yesterday as well. They marched in Ottawa as well, as they did in Montreal on Saturday, and in Quebec City on Friday and in all regions of Quebec and in all neighbourhoods of Montreal and in other regions in Canada. In fact, pretty well around the world. On Saturday, over 30,000 women demonstrated in Brussels. Tomorrow, all these women will be in New York.
The Bloc Quebecois members are proud of the fact that this initiative originated in Quebec. It was the Fédération des femmes du Québec and its president, Françoise David, who had the idea and linked up with women around the world in order to blend the demands they were making of their respective governments and of international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. Tomorrow they will be meeting Secretary General Kofi Annan at the United Nations.
Many people feel that the women's demands are nothing but wishful thinking and that, while we agree in theory, it is impossible in practice because we cannot afford it.
We in the Bloc Quebecois have checked whether indeed we had the funds and the means to respond to the women's demands. Looking at the surplus in the hands of the Minister of Finance and the government—and it is important to say this today because we are apparently going to be having a mini-budget on Wednesday—it is up to $165.8 billion according to our figures. Without taking the agreement with the provinces relating to the Canada social transfer into consideration, the figure comes to $147.9 billion instead.
This represents a lot of money that can be used to meet the demands the women have made. This is not a debate about whether we have or do not have the means, it is a matter of whether we do or do not have the political desire to respond to the women's demands.
We have taken great care in calculating the surplus. For example, last year we stated that the figure would be $11.5 billion while the Minister of Finance was announcing $3 billion, knowing as well as we did that it would be far more. He did not want it known, in order to avoid a debate like the one we are having here today. In the end, the figure was $12.3 billion. Looking at the Minister of Finance's five year forecasts, I see the figure is in the order of $160.8 billion.
Taking the agreement out of the equation, as I said earlier, the figure comes to $142 billion and a bit, which is about $5 billion off the figure we had predicted. This opinion is shared by some of the leading economists as well. Last week, in a debate at the Conseil du Patronat, the same figure was reached with the same evaluations. It seems likely that this is what the Minister of Finance will be telling us on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, however, it is my impression that he will not reach the same conclusions as we on how to use these surplus funds. Women are asking, among other things, for a review of the whole employment insurance issue. If the federal government is currently enjoying surpluses, it is because it created them at the expense of the provinces.
It was the case with the Canada social transfer. The federal government finally recognized that it had taken money from the provinces, but even more so from the employment insurance fund, where it took more than $30 billion from the poor and also from businesses. The result is that the employment insurance program has become a tax on employment, with over 60% of contributors being penalized, since they contribute but do not qualify for benefits once they are out of work.
The changes announced by the government regarding employment insurance have only a very marginal and temporary impact on seasonal workers. Does the government realize that over two thirds of women who contribute to the program do not qualify for benefits? This is blatant injustice and must be corrected. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is saying that the government must reinvest $25 billion in the employment insurance program, over a five year period.
As regards transfer payments for health, post-secondary education and income support, women are asking the government to invest, to take into account the fact that there are enormous needs in the health sector, that the provinces must provide services without having enough money, while the federal government does not have to provide such services, at least not much, but has the money to do so.
The federal government announced $17.9 billion over five years. We believe that this amount must be indexed on the basis of the cost as it was in 1994, which would mean an additional $10 billion, and that the federal government must put $27 billion into the social transfer because it affects the health of families, and of men and women in an aging population.
Speaking of an aging population, one of the important demands being made by women—I will not go over all the demands because my colleagues will be doing so in the course of the day—has to do with old age security so that older women do not have to live in poverty.
Forty-two per cent of single women over 65 in Canada are living in poverty because many of them did not work outside the home; they worked in the home and this is work that is unpaid. Not that they worked any less, but they do not have a pension plan. These women are living under the poverty line. We must invest $3 billion to ensure that those who raised children, who raised our families, who helped build the future, are not abandoned to unacceptable and appalling conditions.
Despite what some say, when all these demands from women are factored in, there is certainly enough both for paying down the debt by $21 billion over five years and for tax cuts. We know the Minister of Finance will be announcing $58 billion in tax cuts with his plan to lower the capital gains tax from 66% to 50%, but the rate of taxation on employment income is 100% and low and middle income Canadians will not benefit.
What is needed are tax cuts and that is something that we can aim for, all the while balancing the budget and holding the line on the deficit. We do not want to go back to a deficit situation. In my view $73.8 billion could be set aside for this. This is in no way incompatible with the duty—and I do consider it a duty—to invest in the social, economic, education and health fields.
As far as the $73.8 billion allocated to the middle class is concerned, they are the ones who have borne the brunt of the deficit reduction, because they do not have enough money to take advantage of the wonderful tax loopholes that companies like Canada Steamship Lines can because it earns so much that it pays no taxes. The middle class has borne the brunt of it and must get some help.
When I speak of the middle class, I mean the many single mothers who cannot make ends meet because they have to pay income tax while the rich companies do not. This is social inequality and it is unacceptable.
For example, a family of four, two adults and two children, pays no income tax in Quebec if their total income is less than $30,000. On the federal level that same family starts paying tax at the $14,700 level. In most cases, women and children are the ones who suffer. Often women are raising children on their own.
That is why we must make an effort to respond to women's demands, while at the same time not neglecting to cut taxes for the low and middle income groups. We can afford to do so.
I will close on that point. It is not a matter of wishful thinking. This will be addressed in the election campaign. I do hope the government will settle this for us this week. The opposition would lose a point of argument but women would gain. I feel that is more important.
If the government does not settle this we will not hold our tongues. What is more, as Ms. David has said, women are determined to follow the candidates in this election and to let them know that there is a sizeable surplus, that there are priorities to be respected and that the wealthy friends of the party in power and the companies are not the only ones that vote.