Madam Speaker, I will begin by saying that it is obvious to everyone that the government had one thing and one thing alone in mind when it brought down this mini-budget, and that was the upcoming election. All economists and editorial writers today would agree.
With the staggering, not to say exploding, surpluses at the disposal of the Minister of Finance, we were expecting that he would do something for those who were really responsible for helping put the fiscal house in order, those whose efforts have made the last three years of zero deficits possible and are still being gouged by the federal tax system, those who are the reason the Minister of Finance can stand here today and boast about surpluses.
We thought that the main beneficiaries of these tax cuts would be low and middle income families, not families at the top end of the scale who can take advantage of tax loopholes not those earning $250,000 and up, not millionaires and friends of the Minister of Finance.
This year he dares to say that the surplus will reach $6 billion only, whereas close to $12 billion is already sitting in the federal government's coffers. This is more than double his forecasts for this year. He could have done twice what he is doing now.
He could have helped the most disadvantaged, low and middle income earners, the folks who pay EI premiums, and the small and medium size businesses which are now footing the bill for tax cuts for the rich.
He could also have helped the unemployed men and women who are not receiving any EI benefits because of the drastic cuts made in the system and because of the tighter eligibility criteria.
It is the families in rural areas, young people, women and seniors who are paying for the income tax cuts of the rich.
The government wanted to upstage the Canadian Alliance before the election call and woo its voters. The government seized on the idea of the flat rate proposed by the Canadian Alliance, which was strongly criticized because it favours the millionaires, and incorporated it into its mini-budget.
It took the $100 billion in surpluses from the pockets of low and middle income taxpayers, off the backs of the unemployed, women, young people, the sick and the disadvantaged. It is totally indecent.
Do not get too excited about the tax cuts because we are not going to get them right away—only in a year and a half. It could have presented the same budget in February, but the wealthiest in society will not really feel the effect of this mini-budget for a year and a half.
According to the information in the Minister of Finance's economic statement and budget update, a single parent family with an income of $250,000 or more will enjoy a tax cut 40 times greater than a family with one dependent earning $30,000. In the case of an income of $250,000 the reduction represents $20,000 net in income tax, and in the case of an income of $35,000, it represents a mere $500, when there is one dependent involved.
The government is giving millionaires a $20,000 cut in income tax and middle income and disadvantaged families a $500 cut. What is even more disgusting is that the government will give the most disadvantaged families a government cheque for $125 because of the current oil crisis. This is really disgusting.
The minister kept telling us that people earning $35,000 did not pay taxes. We questioned him on several occasions, because we knew that these people were in fact paying taxes, but he kept telling us that they did not.
Oddly enough, now he admits that they do pay taxes, since he just told us that they would be paying less. If this is not trying to fool people, I do not know what it is.
This budget also shows that the government continues to accumulate surpluses shamelessly because, as I said earlier, the tax cuts will occur in one and a half year. Once again, the government continues to fiddle with the figures by using tax deductions as tax cuts. This has to be seen. Members should take a look at page 97 of the minister's economic statement, where a chart shows that the employment insurance fund is being used as a form of tax relief.
The government is dipping into the surpluses of the EI fund to grant tax cuts to high income earners. Moreover, it is fiddling with the figures and using the child tax benefit.
The GST, a tax that should not exist when a government is enjoying such surpluses, is part of the tax relief scheme. Even the auditor general condemned this dubious practice and told the government not to resort to it again. The government then brought down a mini-budget and again fiddled with the figures to create a smokescreen. It hid the real figures because it was afraid to have a real debate on the real issues.
I currently am a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. I was at the in-camera presentation of this mini budget, before the Minister delivered his speech in the House. Out of curiosity, I immediately checked where was the support promised to women's associations that met with the Prime Minister last week.
These women had 13 basic claims. They met with the Prime Minister who told them to wait and see what would be in the mini budget. That was the first thing I did. Believe it or not there was nothing and even less than nothing.
There is nothing for low income single mothers who should pay no income tax, nothing for social housing and nothing for the former older workers of the Celanese plant in our region, which has closed down. These people contributed to employment insurance for 30 and 40 years. They were given a severance cheque, which they were told was a gift that they should use, and later we would see if they were entitled to employment insurance benefits.
These people, aged between 55 and 57, will have a hard time finding a job because, as we know, entrepreneurs and employers do not hire people of that age, whom they no longer trust. This government had a duty to establish a program like the modified former older workers program.
There is nothing in there for the former workers in Drummondville, Jonquière or other areas who suffer the hardship of plant closures.
There is nothing for employment insurance, parental leave, foreign aid or for ordinary people who paid for those surpluses. Nor is there any basic financing provided for associations working with women.
The government cut all forms of assistance and core funding to these women's groups when it asked them to submit projects. It assesses the merits of each project and then tells the women that it will be sending a cheque with a maple leaf.
The women who work in these organizations put in between 70 and 80 hours a week to come to the rescue of other women faced with some very basic needs. Instead of spending their time helping other women, they now have to develop projects to find the money they need. They would not always have to look for money if the government had taken its responsibilities and extended core funding to help these organizations.
I want to remind the House that these groups that help women in need are the keepers of the fundamental values of our society. When a government has been able to generate a surplus on the backs of low and middle income taxpayers, as this one has, one of its priorities should be to meet the demands of women's groups; it has a duty to do so. I imagine the government will pay for this on November 27, the night of the election.
The Prime Minister laughed at them. Women's groups got slapped in the face by the government. The Prime Minister knew full well that women would get nothing from the budget update. He does not care at all about the demands of women. This government is laughing. Women's groups are of no interest to it.
Yet it is the women who raise children and support society, but that is not of any interest to the Liberals. They prefer the people earning $250,000, those who have easy lives, those who have no trouble getting around the taxation system in order to pay less tax, and those who have no trouble keeping a roof over their heads. They prefer to give presents to these people instead of going with the real priorities.
It is indecent to present a budget like this one. There is nothing for the provinces as far as health is concerned. A transfer has been made, $21 billion put back in the Canada social transfer, and now they are patting themselves on the back for that. Yet this is just the money that had been cut from the provinces. It is not even the government's money. Ottawa's money is the taxpayers' money and it must be returned to them via the provinces for health and education. Brutal cuts were made and now the $21 billion is being given back to the provinces.
Today, in spite of the accumulated surplus, they cannot even index the Canada social transfer. The provinces still have a great deal of difficulty delivering services in the health sector because of the aging population, the high costs of the new technologies and the high cost of drugs.
The provinces are still having serious difficulties and there is not an ounce of compassion being shown toward them. They are being given back the $21 billion that had been cut and ought not to have been. With the surplus, as we can see, the provinces are being dragged down, are being strangled. The provinces are being made to bear the brunt of the burden; they cannot deliver all of the health services they would like because they cannot afford to, while the federal government is busy congratulating itself. This is disgusting.
There is no reference in this budget either to the indexing of funding to universities for post-secondary education. This is at a thirty year low. Nothing is said about that. They are patting themselves on the back about their $100 billion surplus.
There is absolutely no indexation of the Canada social transfer for health and the youth. The budget provides a one-time allocation for heating costs. What a sham.
At present, a single elderly woman who has only her pension cheque to get by on is living under the poverty level. A recent study has shown that 47% of single elderly women are living under the poverty level. Those who have an oil furnace will get a small $125 cheque, with the all important maple leaf to boot, when their bill has in fact doubled.
In 1999 the bill was between $500 and $600. This year it will be over $1,000, $1,100, or $1,200. In colder areas, bills will be even higher. Yet the government claims to be giving a generous gift, a $125 cheque. That is absolutely unacceptable.
In the budget, senior citizens living under the poverty level are also ignored. There is nothing in this budget for these elderly men and women who have a made a contribution to our society. The government should make them one of its priorities.
What will low income single mothers who spend 30% of their income on housing do when their heating bill doubles? Will they deprive themselves of food toward the end of the month or freeze in their homes? The $125 cheque from the government will not be a big help. One hundred and twenty five dollars does not even cover one grocery bill for a single parent family with two children.
The Liberal government has reduced the income tax for the rich and the friends of the party. It has done just like the minister who cannot understand that, because he has his ships built somewhere else. He could not care less. That is also the reason why there is nothing in this budget for shipbuilding yards; nothing for the one in Quebec City and nothing for the other yards across the country. He does not care. He has his ships built elsewhere, just like he pays his income tax elsewhere.
These surpluses do not come out of his pockets. It comes from the taxpayers, from the unemployed and from the workers who contribute to the employment insurance program.
This right wing budget is an insult to all Canadians. It is a budget that ignores the least advantaged members of our society.
The minister could have done a lot more. We have been putting forward the figures he is proposing now for a long time. We have been doing so for years. We have been telling him for at least four years that he will have all those billions in his coffers. He has always laughed at us.
While our figures match now, we in the Bloc Quebecois do not have the same priorities. If I had more time, I would give you a list of our priorities. With $147.5 billion, our priorities would target women, the disadvantaged and the low and middle income earners. For the government, it is the opposite. While we concentrate on those with an income of up to $80,000, for the government that is the level at which tax reductions start.
We would also invest in tax reductions, and we will discuss our true priorities during the electoral campaign.